Cochon555 is a culinary competition and pork feast that champions heritage breed hogs. However, an incident during the Atlanta stop of the tour, during which more than 30 well-known Atlanta chefs participated, has angered some Asian chefs, who are calling for the need to champion racial diversity and inclusion in the kitchen.
On Oct. 28 during a “Late-night Asian speak-easy” dinner at Muss & Turner’s, a photo was taken, with one individual wearing a kimono, conical bamboo hat and costume glasses with slanted eyes that appear stereotypically Asian.
The individual has since been identified as Todd Mussman, chef and co-owner of Muss & Turner’s. Other chefs, including Atlanta veteran chef Dennis Lange, Andre Gomez of Porch Light Latin Kitchen and Muss & Turner’s chef de cuisine Dameren Parenteau, as well as Cochon founder Brady Lowe, posed for the picture. The intention of the dinner was to pay homage to the diversity of Asian cuisine.
The photo was posted on Instagram and reposted on the Cochon555 Instagram account but has since been removed.
As The Washington Post reported, the photo angered chefs Erik Bruner-Yang, Jonah Kim and Danny Lee, all former D.C. winners of Cochon555, who view the photo as racist and offensive. All three chefs reposted the photo on their Instagram accounts and expressed their disgust with the image.
Bruner-Yang has since reposted the photo a second time, calling on Cochon organizers to “have a dialogue about this.”
I posted this photo three days ago. This photo is a @cochon555 event in Atlanta for their Late Night Asian Speakeasy Event they do across the country. I am one of the THREE BACK TO BACK Asian chefs in Washington DC that have won the Cochon 555 event in DC. I can't argue that winning cochon has increased my visibility and has brought business to my restaurants but it doesn't mean that Brady and his company can't be called out for this. I am reposting this because even though they have taken the photo off of their instagram they still have not made the attempt to have a dialogue about this and/our has still not addressed it publically.
Lowe issued the following statement in response to the incident:
“Both myself and @Cochon555 would like to apologize for the inappropriate representation of race that took place at our recent ‘Late Nite Asian Speak-easy’ event in Atlanta. This demonstrated a lack of sensitivity and poor judgment, and it is not something we are proud of in any way. The celebration of global food cultures has always been at the core of our mission, and we will continue to strive to bring people of all backgrounds together in celebration of safe, honest, and authentic eating.”
He also released a video apology:
Todd Mussman released the following statement:
“I would like to say I’m sorry for my inappropriate and thoughtless actions during the recent Cochon Late Nite Speakeasy event at Muss & Turners. While it was never my intention to be disrespectful or demeaning to anyone or any culture, by wearing the tasteless costume, I did exactly that: I offended, hurt and disappointed many people. I am embarrassed and deeply sorry for my lack of sensitivity and my ignorance.”
Gomez declined to comment on the photo. Attempts to reach Lange have been unsuccessful.
Some Atlanta chefs of Asian descent hold mix feelings about the incident.
The New York City-born Tang is of Chinese and Vietnamese descent. He has lived in Atlanta for the last 18 years. Tang is the only chef of Asian descent to have participated in this year’s Cochon event line-up. He was not a participating chef at the Asian speakeasy dinner.
“Maybe we should invite people who do Asian food,” Tang added regarding the lack of representation of Asian chefs at that particular event.
Chef Mihoko Obunai was invited to participate but declined due to responsibilities in readying for the opening of upcoming restaurant Nexto. “I was like ‘Well, so what?’” said Obunai regarding her reaction to the photo. “Probably he did it just for fun and joke.”
Like Tang, Obunai expressed more concern about the lack of Asian chefs cooking at the pork-centric dinner than the photo in question. “They should realize the chefs who are into Asian-Japanese cuisine,” she said. “In Asian culture, we eat pork all the time.”
“In this day and age it’s kind of bullshit that it happens,” said Nhan Le of Octopus Bar, Soba and the recently opened 8Arm, who noted the diversity of Atlanta and specifically East Atlanta where Octopus Bar and Soba are located. “I’m surprised they’d do something like that. I think they should be better than that. It’s like me making fun of somebody else. We’re too far beyond that.”
Restaurateur Guy Wong, who competed in Cochon a few years ago, expressed frustration. “I’m disappointed. We still have a long way to go,” he said about cultural respect and inclusion in the culinary world.