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Former Merrill Lynch CFO Turned Restaurateur Apparently Thinks NYT Food Critic Is John Thain-Level Terrible

Ahmass Fakahany doesn't go to Pete Wells office and knock the Duck a L'Orange out of HIS mouth.

When New York Times food critic Pete Wells essentially accused Guy Fieri of trying to poison innocent diners in Times Square, Fieri ran his fingers through his frosted tips and said nothing.

When Wells told Larry Gagosian he was co-owner of a criminally overpriced sushi restaurant that represented everything evil about modern day NYC, Larry likely wallowed in his sadness by selling Steve Cohen another Jeff Koons sculpture, but he did not respond to Wells.

But Fieri and Gagosian never worked on Wall Street, so Wells went unopposed.

Until now.

Here's a little taste of what Wells wrote last week about Upper East Side French eatery Vaucluse:

A critic could run out of new ways to express disappointment in Altamarea Group restaurants if Altamarea didn’t keep coming up with new ways to disappoint.

It's pretty vintage Wells. Dryly snarky and delivered with almost immaculate zip and edge. It pairs well this line from later in the review:

If all you ask of a pork chop is for it to be round, pink and wet, the one at Vaucluse will meet your requirements.

But the Altamarea Group is co-owned by former Merrill Lynch CFO and Co-President Ahmass Fakahany, and he's not about to put up with what he sees as Wells' tired-ass bullsh!t.

Here's what Fakahany wrote in an open letter to Wells about his review of Vaucluse:

Though we have never met, I have read much of your work or opinions over the years, much of which does not necessarily cover food or the joy of food. I am writing you because over the course of time you need to know you are losing credibility and, in a sense, degrading the very institution that gave you the privilege and mandate to be a food critic. The New York Times Dining review section is at its lowest point, and the subject of much industry chatter in this regard. Congratulations. You have managed to do a fantastic job of getting it there. 

While the letter lacks a Wells-ian level of concise razor wit, it is fulsome with a "What, bitch?" flavor.

In his letter, Fakahany alleges that Wells has grown lazy with his critiques and fact-checking, has fallen in love with his own authorial voice and doesn't even understand the pricing on a Duck a L'Orange.

Or even recently, on Vaucluse you smirk at why we serve the duck for two and charge accordingly double price for the Duck a L' Orange. It has to be served for two, as it is dry-aged and roasted whole on the crown and cannot be served for one. A simple question on technique during your fact checking process would have served you well. But you don't take the time to understand fully or want to.

Fakahany's letter has gotten some media attention, and while some are reveling in the vicarious thrill of telling Pete Wells to shut the f#ck up, there has also been chatter suggesting Fakahany is using Wall Street rules in the genteel food game.

Dealbreaker sat down with Fakahany in his office this afternoon, and while he admits that he had second thoughts after releasing the letter, he's still happy that he wrote it on behalf of many in the NYC dining scene that think "[Wells] has had this coming for awhile."

According to Fakahany, his letter to Wells is not about just the Vaucluse review but a pent-up response to what he sees as a gradual decline in the critic's performance. He also thinks that The Times has lost any semblance of consistency in how it evaluates restaurants and needs to tighten its tether on Wells.

"It was just another one of what I see as consistently un-objective and merit-less attacks against our people at Altamarea Group," said Fakahany. "It reached a point where it needed to be addressed."

He went on to say that Wells has launched similar attacks on other large restaurant companies, but that the critic's published thoughts on the underlying business operations are both uniformed and outside the scope of his role.

"It feels like he jsut wants there to be small restaurants out in Brooklyn," Fakahany said of Wells, "and he's more than entitled to that opinion, but he and the paper should say it."

Admittedly, Fakahany taking on Wells in an epistolary duel is like a former banker challenging Steph Curry to a game of one-on-one, but Fakahany is also the guy that reportedly sued Merrill and Bank of America for $70 million (Fakahany disputes that figure as wildly inflated) after leaving the bank in 2008, so he's clearly not afraid of an unpopular fight.

Fakahany is also pretty sure that his will be the final letter written in this little battle. "Will he write back? I don't know but I doubt it," he said. "My letter was written to him, sure, but I've never met the man. I wanted the letter to be thought provoking, and based on what I'm hearing from other people in the business, I've been successful."

And judging from Fakahany's final paragraph, he wanted Wells to feel John Thain/Ken Lewis level pain for ever thinking of taking on the folks at Altamarea group:

Please don't be so desperate as you are. Take a deep breath, focus on food writing and its joys and get back to the fundamentals. Come on, Pete, you are better than this. The New York Times deserves better, your predecessors deserve better, and your readers deserve better.
Effort/Credibility: zero stars Food Knowledge: one star Creating Confusion:4 star

Here's Fakahany's letter in full:

Open Letter to Pete Wells from Altamarea Group

At Vaucluse, Michael White Takes a Step Toward France on the Upper East Side [NYT]


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