Over the weekend, a shocked London restaurant industry reacted to the news that east London Thai restaurant Som Saa had sacked a chef, after it had been revealed he was the author of content variously racist, misogynistic, homophobic, Islamophobic, gross, and shameful on the internet. The row has drawn responses from chefs, writers, and restaurateurs, including Som Saa’s co-founder and co-head chef Andy Oliver, who had tacitly endorsed one of the offender, Shaun “Boring Thai” Beagley’s most offensive (now deleted, but which have been saved here) YouTube videos, in 2016. At the time, he said the video was “awesome” and “how all Thai food should be taught.” Oliver was repeatedly asked for comment, including from Eater London, on Friday, but did not respond.
Late last night, he released a statement apologising “personally” and “unreservedly” for commenting on the post by Beagley. Though he did not call it out as explicitly racist, he recognised that it had “been identified as highly offensive.” Read the full statement below.
Developments over the weekend included misogynistic threats to Instagram user @midnightbakerliz, who originally drew attention to Beagley’s offensive content on Thursday night. User @alegnami_ (whose account has now been deleted, following allegations that she is Som Saa co-owner Mark Dobie’s partner) commented on Liz’s stories saying: “when they came for Offred” (in reference to the Handmaid’s Tale character who is repeatedly raped) “they came for her womb and her unborn children. I think you need to take a breath.” The threats were reported both to Instagram and to the police.
Another London-born “modern” Thai restaurant, Smoking Goat, who had commented on Oliver’s 2016 retweet of the offending post by Beagley with “ha, brilliant” also released an apology last night. In it, the restaurant said it was “disgusted and feel horrible that we have contributed towards understandable hurt and offence.” Smoking Goat, which clarified that Boring Thai had no connections to the restaurant, implicitly suggested that the posts were racist.
Chef-restaurateur Mandy Yin, who recently opened Sambal Shiok on Holloway Road, said that it had made her “incredibly sad to watch the discourse and fall out surrounding race happening in the London food scene.”
It makes me so incredibly sad to watch the discourse and fall out surrounding race happening in the London food scene right now.— Sambal Shiok Laksa Bar (@SambalShiok) July 15, 2018
@midnightbakerliz who was one of the first to speak out against the racist chef has received threats, which has now been reported to the police.
Although much of the London restaurant industry has remained silent on the issue over the weekend, some comments from chefs and restaurateurs have reflected a number of the issues raised by the writers and social media users who initially called out Beagley’s conduct.
Chef and owner of the Temper group of restaurants, Neil Rankin said that those who profit from other cultures, it was important that chefs “pay constant attention to [their] own actions and the actions of those that represent us.” Rankin’s full statement below.
I was going to stay silent on this but as a white guy that draws inspiration from Asian cultures that’s too much like the standard unhelpful white guy behaviour. pic.twitter.com/BJhimxpSBP— Neil Rankin (@frontlinechef) July 15, 2018
Chef Tim Anderson, who cooks largely Japanese-inspired food in his Brixton restaurant Nanban, said he was “ashamed” that he’d been following Beagley. He added that he was “mortified to have tacitly endorsed it.”
Chef Calum Franklin, who runs the Holborn Dining Room, on Friday mocked those who self-pardon their right to ridicule cultures because they have friends from those cultures, or who have earned the respect of those peoples by cooking among those people, in their countries.
*I can't be racist, I cook Thai food/went to Thailand/had a Thai mate all the time*— calum franklin (@chefcalum) July 13, 2018
Franklin today also addressed the line of argument used by some to pardon Beagley’s online personality, those who claimed that it was an act and didn’t necessarily represent his values or character in real life.
Repeatedly referring to a racist, not by his actual name but instead as a "social media persona" is as good as saying he's not racist *it's just internet* ... Massively weak. If you call a black person a monkey or make videos in faux accent you are racist on or off the internet.— calum franklin (@chefcalum) July 15, 2018
Of the established food media in London, only one national restaurant critic has spoken about the issue. Marina O’Loughlin yesterday tweeted that the “racist chef thing” was “truly shocking — and from a restaurant [she] rated hugely,”
On holiday and not really keeping up with anything other than pasta and tanning.— Marina O'Loughlin (@MarinaOLoughlin) July 15, 2018
But this @somsaa_london racist chef thing is truly shocking - and from a restaurant I rated hugely.
For full details, see tl of @meemalee @midnightbakerl1 @demarionunn @DavidJPaw
Food blogger and Eater contributor Ed Smith was in a minority when he acknowledged that he had followed Beagley’s Instagram account. He apologised, writing that he hadn’t fully appreciated the extent of offensive material attributed to the chef and YouTube author. He said he would not turn a blind eye again.
There’s a legal principle known the ‘egg shell skull’ rule (crudely: that it’s about the harm actually caused, rather than malice, intent or action). That’s a good measure for comments that are racist too, I think, and I won’t turn a blind eye again.— Ed Smith (@rocketandsquash) July 15, 2018
Some have labelled the response from Som Saa and Oliver too little, too late, with Irish chef Dave Ahern saying that the firing and apology came only after they had been called out:
If Shaun Beagley was posting these racist things openly on social media, he was say the same (Or worse) every day in @somsaa_london and keeping his job. His firing and their apology only came about because @meemalee & others called him out, makes their apology seem false to me.— Dave Ahern (@CorkGourmetGuy) July 16, 2018
This post will continue to be updated as more from the industry react to the story.