On Saturday evening, March 2nd, Chicago fine-dining restaurant Alinea was packed to the gills with patrons who’d waited months for reservations enjoying Chef Grant Achatz’s dozen-course tasting menu. Suddenly, the restaurant, known for its choreography-like, detail-driven service and food-as-performance-art style, began to turn heads for reasons it didn’t intend. A furious Cat Cora — the first woman to win Iron Chef — stormed out of the venue yelling obscenities and extending a middle finger to the staff after they refused to seat her.
Sunday morning, a still-shaken Cora took to Instagram, in a now-deleted post, to explain how she wasn’t seated, despite having a reservation to Alinea (including a picture of the confirmation as proof) and invoked a sort of chef’s code writing, “We understand that mistakes can be made but at least show your face, come and apologize to your guests. Chef Grant was there… and didn’t even come out. My time, as everyone, is limited and only want to support good establishments – I would never do this in one of my restaurants… I would never do this to a guest much less a fellow Chef.”
She also tagged just about every famous chef in the country, which, in the food world, is like going full scorched-earth.
That isn’t the full story, though. Eater reports that Alinea co-founder Nick Kokonas took to Medium to shed some light on the situation, and he brought even more receipts that called into question the validity of Cora’s email confirmation, writing…
“Cat Cora of Iron Chef fame (I love the original Japanese version) intentionally arrived 24 hours and 15 minutes late to a booking at Alinea, proceeded to create a scene, accuse our staff of sexism, invoked a “chef’s code” whereby we were expected to ‘roll a table into the kitchen’ for her, and then left with “fuck you, fuck Grant, fuck Alinea” while flipping off one of our kindest veteran servers who tried mightily to apologize even though the situation was not his fault… Fortunately, we keep copious notes and records of both bookings and guest actions”
He then likened the team at Alinea to infamous note-taker (and curtain ninja) James Comey having lunch with President Trump. According to Kokonas, the event unfolded as follows:
- On Wednesday, February 27th, Veronica Van Sant, Cat Cora’s assistant sent an email to Alinea seeking a reservation for Cora, who would be in town for the International Home + Housewares Show. On Thursday, February 28th, head Chef Grant Achatz gave the Alinea team the go head to book the Gallery for two, and a booking invoice was sent via Tock for two guests in the Gallery at 5 PM Friday, March 1st — confirmed and paid for by Veronica Van Sant using an American Express Card. (Yes, the team at Alinea got THAT detailed.)
- Friday evening, Cat Cora never showed up for her reservation, so the Alinea team reached out and offered a reschedule for Saturday at 9 PM in the salon — to which Veronica Van Sant confirmed, and the difference in charge was refunded. Veronica Van Sant would email Alinea later that evening, explaining that the time was too late and if they could find something earlier to accommodate Cora to email her immediately, otherwise they weren’t interested in the proposed reschedule.
- Seeing no option, Kokonas emailed Veronica asking for a confirmation to cancel and refund the booking, explaining that in the event Cat arrived earlier, she would not be able to be seated. Veronica, worrying that Cat would show up anyway because she was unreachable (by her own assistant…), suggested that Chef Achatz reach out and contact Cat to let her know. But according to Kokonas, Achatz did not confirm knowing Cat Cora, and doesn’t have her contact info.
Kokonas told Eater that he didn’t appreciate how Cora’s original post tagged several industry chefs like David Chang, Thomas Keller, and Dominique Crenn, and how he’d never publish a post if Cora had left and let it go, despite her offensive behavior, stating in an email “I’m particularly sensitive when any customer tries to use social media as a cudgel to get their way. For her to do it in a threatening manner — while her wife tried to video [Gm Devin McKinner] as he apologized — is just crazy.”
This whole situation is crazy! But it’s also low enough stakes to make fun of, which is nice. No massive political or human rights issues at play. Just some wealthy people fighting about reservations. Don’t worry, it’s safe to laugh.
A few local chefs and Twitter users weighed in on the drama, as seen below.