A former Eleven Madison Park cook is alleging racist behavior in the kitchen when he worked there in 2013. In his upcoming memoir Notes From a Young Black Chef, Kwame Onwuachi accuses chef Chris Flint of making a racist comment toward Onwuachi and preventing his advancement in the kitchen.
“No black people eat here anyway,” Flint allegedly said in response to Onwuachi asking to not refer to a specific grater as its common name “mouli” in front of diners, since “moulie” is a racial slur historically used by Italians against black people. It’s a shortening of the Italian word melanzane, which means eggplant.
Flint denies ever saying that, though, or anything of that nature. He calls the allegations “devastating.”
“This is incredibly shocking and makes me really sad, because I’ve always tried to give the most of myself to these restaurants that I’ve worked with and tried to do the best for the team around me,” Flint says. “It’s just hurtful that someone would think that it’s a race-related issue. I’m sorry if I ever made anyone feel like that.”
It was a comment that Onwuachi alleges came after Flint was promoted to EMP’s chef de cuisine that year. Onwuachi claims he was on the “fast track” to promotion until Flint took the reins, after which he stalled out on the smoke station for months on end while others got promoted around him.
“The most insidious kind of racism isn’t always being called the N-word,” Onwuachi writes in the memoir. “At least that’s shameless enough to get you fired. It’s the unspoken shit, the hard-to-prove, hard-to-pin-down, can’t-go-viral day-to-day shit. It’s being passed over, time and time again. It’s having opportunities you know you earned never materialize. It’s that no matter how hard you work, it’s never good enough. It’s not even seen.”
He also accused Flint of aggressive behavior such as punching walls. Flint acknowledges that he could be “tough,” but that “it wasn’t about race.”
“It’s about bringing everyone to a level more than they think they could achieve themselves,” he says. “I cared about Kwame. So it’s very hurtful to me to say I would try to not bring him up throughout the kitchen because of his race. That’s just not true.”
An Eleven Madison Park spokeswoman notes that Flint is no longer with EMP and calls the allegations “deeply troubling and contrary to our values.” They say it’s the first time owners Daniel Humm and Will Guidara have heard about the allegations and “will investigate them.”
“We were aware that Mr. Flint could be tough at times but had not heard that his conduct could go beyond being a tough boss demanding excellence. His leadership style needed to change to treat everyone more respectfully and to operate the best kitchen possible,” the EMP statement continues. “As the entire industry has been evolving for the better, so have we. We can always be better, and we work hard at it.”
In another section, Onwuachi talks about even more subtle racism at Per Se. He worked there as an apprentice during culinary school.
“There were other moments too, when I felt like I was being called the N-word with no one actually saying it. No one had to and maybe they were too smart to,” Onwuachi writes. “So it was left to me to decide whether it was because I was black or because I was just me that I was the only one greeted with a growling ‘Get the fuck back in the prep kitchen!’ when I ran food out to chefs on the line.”
Per Se has not returned Eater’s repeated requests for comment.
Onwuachi’s memoir reflects on his time in culinary school and working his way up in the restaurant world. He is now the executive chef at acclaimed DC restaurant Kith and Kin.