by Nikki Miller-Ka
For the past 10 years I have crafted my career specifically around food. I have paid my dues in more than one way to commit myself to the industry. After graduating from East Carolina University, I spent thousands of dollars to attend culinary school, just on the chance that someone would take me more seriously as a food writer. I have washed dishes, seared my arms on the line, been yelled yet, asked to retrieve left-handed knives, had gas blow up in my face, slipped on errant French fries, cut myself, motivated and managed waitstaff and acted as a gatekeeper, administrative assistant and restaurant consultant in all different roles inside and outside of restaurants… all just so people I have never met and do not know will take me seriously.
I have been loving on and applauding the area’s restaurants since 2007. My food blog, which is my job, started almost 10 years ago, too. I wanted to work my way up. And I’ve done nothing except that. I have traveled all over the country to eat in the best restaurants and enjoy the finest craft beers and handmade spirits. I can do my job anywhere in the world and I choose to do it here. In Winston-Salem. I have respect for all business owners because I know it is not easy.
The food and restaurant community in the Piedmont Triad is a small one. A microcosm of restaurateurs and owners within the central business district of downtown Winston-Salem have recently had a Maglite of national and regional attention shine down upon them via television and print news. Overall, these trailblazers and culinary artists hold themselves to higher standards, higher real-estate leasing fees and are the most visible of all restaurants within the city limits.
Patrons hold these places to higher standards as well. Downtown is the epicenter of the city’s cuisine. Essentially, we are a coffee-drinking, bread-loving, hot-dog slinging, doughnut-eating town. Now that the Camel City is on the radar of food writers, bloggers and has been highlighted in a few highly lauded publications, we are a veritable culinary destination.
Restaurateurs, cooks and chefs have attempted to step up the game to lure customers in with New South cuisine; highlighting North Carolina farms and producers seems to be the end game. So many establishments are transforming the food we have been eating for over three centuries into something new again.
And yet, many other restaurants have been phoning it in, producing boilerplate menus and grasping at straws in order to try to figure out what customers want and what they’re willing to pay for. One menu in particular caused many divisive opinions on Facebook recently when I posted it mid-afternoon on 9/11.
In an attempt to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the largest terrorist attack on the United States, Hutch & Harris published a menu with items such as “Ladder 1” blackened mahi mahi and a “Never Forget” omelet. Later that day, they issued an apology to all those who were offended by it.
I published a photo of the menu accompanied by the words: “What’s this, you ask? Oh, it’s just my 2nd least favorite downtown Winston-Salem restaurant and their RUDE AF menu to ‘commemorate’ 9/11.” I wanted my Facebook friends to see what the restaurant had done. I wanted all to know I did not condone this menu and did not particularly care for the restaurant either. I was not alone in believing the menu to be in poor taste. I was correct in my assumption. I was incorrect in thinking my opinion would not matter.
After a few hours, the post received more than 22 shares and more than 300 comments. In addition, the menu received front-page news attention and I added a Facebook post to say that I was putting the city’s restaurants on notice.
I’ve watched restaurants open and close. I’ve seen food that’s bad, ugly and everything in between. I never knew how many people cared about what I had to say. My informed, yet carefully crafted opinion is just that: an opinion. I am just one voice among many and while I do happen to have a legion of followers, there are more than that who have no idea who I am, what I do and probably do not care. I say “good luck” and a hearty “bless your heart” to any place that wishes to ban any person from your establishment that decides to issue an ill word or contradiction to you. I would, however, like to take this opportunity to let the owners and staff responsible for the curation of the 9/11 menu at Hutch & Harris know that while I do not agree with what you did, I would like to apologize for my words that accompanied the post with your menu.
A large portion of what I do is help promote Triad restaurants. I am a professional and I will continue as such in the future. I believe I am very good at what I do and I challenge anyone to prove contrary. I love what I do and I will not change how I conduct my business but I will be mindful of all restaurant dealings. I will be mindful that people near and far are watching and waiting in the wings. Hopefully those wings will be double fried, covered in sauce and served with the best hospitality one can find in the South.
Nikki Miller-Ka is a chef and food blogger who gives food tours and also writes about food for the Greensboro News & Record.