Chef César Ramirez of swank New York restaurant Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare has been sued by his former sous chef, a prep cook, and several servers for alleged discrimination.
The suit claims that Ramirez was discriminatory against Asian customers and “Upper West Siders” at the Michelin-starred restaurant, where customers eat a $US255 (plus tax and tip) per person prix fixe meal at an 18-seat kitchen counter.
Emi Howard, a former server, claims in the suit that Ramirez referred to Asian customers as “s*** people” and would instruct her not to place them near him at the exclusive table.
Another time, when Howard did seat Asian individuals close to Ramirez at the counter, he subjected her to “a wild verbal tirade” and took control of the seating, the suit alleges. Howard herself is Asian.
The suit also claims that “when a large piece of meat was cut into many pieces for the guests, Defendant Ramirez instructed Ms. Howard to give the worst pieces of meat to the ‘s- -t people,’ i.e. Asian people, and to Upper West Siders.”
Ramirez and restaurant owner Moe Issa are also accused of illegally withholding defendants’ tips in the suit. The prix fixe meal does not include a 20% service charge, which averages to a little over $US50 per customer. No tips were distributed to the service employees, according to the lawsuit, even when the customers paid extra.
Furthermore, the former employees claim owner Issa and Ramirez refused to pay staffers overtime, even when they worked more than 70 hours a week.
Howard, Kyle McMahon, Loren Mash, and Santos Hernandez are seeking unspecified back pay and damages.
Ramirez released an open letter denying the claims on Eater (read the full letter here). He wrote, in part:
I am deeply saddened to write that it has been reported that former employees have filed a lawsuit with allegations of racism and wage withholding against me. I am writing to say that these allegations are false.
With great humility I write here today to ensure all who are reading this that I am not a racist and I have never been. I am fortunate to work with a talented staff who come from all over the world and I value each and every one of these individuals and the knowledge and experiences that they bring. I myself immigrated to the United States as a child and it is a culmination of many cultural experiences that have guided me professionally and personally. My culinary skills and inspirations are derived from working for and learning from professors during my apprenticeships in Japan, Europe, and across the United States. The Chef’s Table began as a vision that stemmed from these dynamic experiences that have made an impact in my life.
The suit was brought forward by Maimon Kirschenbaum, an attorney who has made a name for himself for filing class action lawsuits against some of the country’s fanciest restaurants, including Nobu, Jean Georges, and Daniel Boulud’s restaurants.
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