There have been a few articles floating around about former Top Chef contestant Mike Isabella’s hip-hop-themed dinner menu. Many people are upset about certain menu items like Thug Rice, a seafood risotto, and Milk Chocolate Chip Blunts, a—I’m not really sure what these are.
Personally, the recently removed menu is mostly offensive in its very basic application of black coding. People like Isabella and the Thug Kitchen vegans curse a lot or use very elementary “ebonics,” but consistently miss the flair mark by several miles.
I always had a feeling Thug Kitchen was not actually run by people of color/lower class standing for this exact reason (and, you know, because they’re vegans).
To be clear, this type of vernacular is not totally exclusive to black people; it’s been affectionately shared with those who know about #thestruggle on a real level. When people of relative affluence/significant class mobility start using this language, however, they get into trouble because they are capitalizing on a lifestyle that typically does not bode well for those within it.
By slapping words like “thug” on your kitchen or black-dyed risotto, you take a representation of a (usually) black person (read: criminal), make light of that representation, and then profit off it.
I’m glad you asked Anon:
Cultural appropriation of black coding aside, Isabella was trying to launch this dinner on the first business day of Black History Month. It feels like his heart was in the right place and the menu could have easily been more insensitive, but no one gets gold stars for being a light racist.
The right way to make this menu work: find out what Biggie and Tupac liked to eat and recreate those dishes, make some George Washington Carver peanut glaze, and try to actually be respectful of an entire culture that’s arguably in the greatest pressure cooker since the entire Rodney King debacle.
H/t & screengrab Washington City Paper