Havana hookers rob US chef in art show

Not funny, says critic of trips to Cuba

05/25/2012 5:00 AM

05/25/2012 6:15 PM

Celebrity chef Tom Colicchio jokingly tweeted, “I was no where near Cuba.”

So who was the New York chef, or assistant chef, who went to Cuba for a bit of food diplomacy and wound up being robbed by the two hookers he took back to his hotel room?

It seems like nobody is willing to tell, although reports on the misadventure have been making the rounds of foodie blogs and websites and drawing jokes, insider jabs between chefs and at least one serious reproach of the trip to Havana.

Ten prominent New York chefs flew to Cuba earlier this month for the 11th annual Habana Bienal modern art show, to put on a piece of performance art with 10 Cuban counterparts — cooking in a kitchen built into a cargo container.

But New York chef Sara Jenkins on Wednesday cast a different light on the visit when she tweeted, “So one of the American chefs in Cuba took two whores home with him and then got robbed of all his money #butofcourse #icantsaywho!"

The restaurant, bar and nightlife blog Easter National swiftly published the tweet and began speculating on exactly which chef had been robbed, because some on the list of 10 never made it to Cuba and were replaced by others. Some also took assistants to Havana.

Among the names mentioned were the chefs of famed New York restaurants like Hearth, Terroir, Sueños and Sunday Night Dinner and Alma de Cuba in Philadelphia, Eater National reported.

Colicchio, a long-time judge on the reality TV show Top Chef, was not on any of the lists and his tweet was clearly a “not me” joke.

After the brouhaha erupted, Jenkins, the chef at Porchetta in New York, sent a tweet apologizing “to all the chefs and colleagues who helped put together this amazing cultural exchange for indiscreetly calling out the behavior of one member.”

“What was meant to be some collegial ribbing in fact has instead reflected poorly on all the chefs who donated their time and energy to this project,” she added. “And while I don’t condone the individual’s behavior, I do regret airing it publicly on Twitter. Social media lesson learned.”

One reader’s comment posted on the Easter National site said, “If it’s good enough for the Secret Service and the DEA…” referring to the recent scandal involving the agencies and prostitutes in Cartagena, Colombia.

The kitchen performance, named “Project Paladar” after Cuba’s family-owned restaurants, was part of a program designed to use food, cooking and eating to improve relations between the people of Cuba and the United States.

The project was curated by Elizabeth M. Grady, an adjunct professor of art history at the State University of New York. She is also project manager for smARTpower, a U.S. State Department-funded initiative to use visual arts to bring people together, although SmARTpower was not involved in the Cuba project. Brady could not be reached for comment on this story.

But the program drew fire from Mauricio Claver-Carone, director of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy Political Action Committee, which favors strong U.S. sanctions on the island’s communist government.

The chefs flew to Cuba under a new category of U.S. Treasury Department license approved by the Obama administration to promote so-called “people-to-people” contacts between Cubans and Americans.

Too many U.S. visitors on those licenses are in fact engaging in pure tourism, which is illegal, and sometimes hiring Cuba’s famously cheap hookers, Claver-Carone has complained.

“As if serving gourmet meals while regular Cubans struggle to serve themselves any meal wasn’t insulting enough, at least one of the chefs took the ‘people-to-people’ definition too literally,” he complained Thursday in his blog, Capitol Hill Cubans.

“Boy, these “people-to-people” programs are really winning the hearts and minds of the Cuban people,” he joked. More seriously, he added, “Could this new policy be any more insulting and counter-productive?

Correction: A previous version of this article contained an error. SmArtpower was not involved in Projecto Paladar.

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