When is a restaurant review not a restaurant review?
Tina Nguyen’s Vanity Fair story, “Trump Grill Could Be the Worst Restaurant in America,” is a masterpiece, down to the last detail. (Note the caption on the photo of the wall art.) Yes, it’s a description of an aggressively mediocre-sounding restaurant. But not in the manner of New York Times reviewer Pete Wells’s famous pan of celebrity chef Guy Fieri’s Times Square establishment. Yes, both reviews focus on cavernous Midtown Manhattan restaurants, both serving Pat laFrieda (i.e. fancy) burgers that sound bad in much the same way, and both catering to an audience with let’s say more money than cultural capital.
But while Nguyen offers fine evidence of Trump Grill (sometimes, she notes, spelled “Grille”) serving awful food (the damning phrase “how can someone mess up fries?” makes an appearance), this is about more than the food. As Helen Rosner explains in Eater, Vanity Fair’s editor-in-chief Graydon Carter and Donald Trump have a, uh, “beef.”
So that’s the backstory. This is of Sisterhood interest because of the Ivanka interlude in Nguyen’s review:
“Our table […] ordered the Ivanka’s Salad, a chopped approximation of a Greek salad, smothered in melting goat cheese and dressing and missing the promised olives, that seemed unlikely to appetize a SoulCycle-obsessed, smoothie-guzzling heiress. (Instead, it looked like a salad made by someone who believes that rich women only eat vegetables.)”
The relationship between food and politics post-elections has been an interesting one, with this pervasive fantasy floating around that there are, on the one hand, ‘elites,’ who subsist on air, and on the other, Real Americans, who eat normal food like normal people. The twist is that the people promulgating this are themselves pundits, and surely aware that, with the possible exception of some of the beachier areas of southern California, everyone is eating carbs. (Literally typing with bread in our mouth, in some cases…) But it’s politically clever — if there are on the one hand, Trump supporters, who consume food, and on the other, those other Americans, it’s a way of taking the myth that only ‘elites’ supported Clinton to a whole new level.
Add gender (and Ivanka) to the discussion and it gets that much more complicated. Of course it would have to be an Ivanka “salad.” A salad is the culinary equivalent of Ivanka’s lifestyle brand more generally — office-ready and conventionally feminine.
Nguyen’s analysis leaves it ambiguous whether we’re to think the true Ivanka avoids greasy salads because they’re too fattening (as versus smoothies), or, conversely, that she eats regular food (that is, not just vegetables), but maintains an image of exclusive vegetable consumption. Either way, what’s of interest isn’t what Ivanka Trump actually eats, but the nauseating prospect of at least four years of women being relegated to salad.
Phoebe Maltz Bovy edits the Sisterhood, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her book, The Perils of “Privilege”, will be published by St. Martin’s Press in March 2017.