Z Kitchen Gets More National Press

For a college student, Bryan Zupon receives more publicity than anyone who isn’t a Division I athlete. After the big write-up in the New York Times Magazine followed by a semi-critical article in the News & Observer, Bryan and his Z Kitchen were featured this morning in a fairly detailed piece on the Today Show.

I was a little upset when I was the first one to be quoted in the mainstream press for paying Bryan money to cover his food costs, and Bryan has publicly stated that he didn’t want the attention. I didn’t want Zupon to be the target of misdirected (or misguided) scrutiny. I actually received some negative comments questioning why I would want to be aiding and abetting an allegedly illegal operation. I felt bad for Bryan, hoping things would just fade away, just like he claimed he wanted.

Well, after this piece, I question whether Bryan is being honest with us, let alone with himself. If you want to avoid scrutiny and truly keep your place “underground,” you shun the attention. Accept the fact that the glory of an underground eating establishment is the attention and praise of your guests, and the word-of-mouth attention the meals foster. The discussion of Z Kitchen on eGullet clearly shows that Bryan Zupon did not shy away from any discussions of what he was doing — he sought out attention. The story of Z Kitchen was extensively written up in print and online media. He’s become an underground star.

I’m happy for all the attention Bryan is getting, and it is well-deserved, but he needs to be less disingenuous and start admitting that he is not trying to hide from the limelight.  I just have trouble with how he says he tried to stop stories about Z Kitchen from being written, and then he later shows off for a national television audience.  Admit it, Bryan, that you enjoy being a media star — it’s really OK.  Just enjoy the ride, Bryan, and milk it for all its worth. But realize that if this all comes crashing down on you, you brought it on yourself.

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15 Responses to Z Kitchen Gets More National Press

  1. Joe says:

    Oh god. Not again.

  2. VaNC says:

    Must…hold back……aahh…….

  3. JaneSays says:

    Hilarious. It’s like alerting the media to attend an underground rave – it just doesn’t happen. Or maybe he was completely taken by the idea of being in the same room as Giada De Laurentiis. After all, he IS a 21-year old male!

  4. Varmint says:

    I had thought about the De Laurentiis appeal. So maybe I need to withdraw my criticism after all.

  5. durhamfood says:

    This really annoys me. Leaving aside all my ranting about MG, I’d really like to hear how this is ‘avoiding press’.

    From BryanZ himself: “Let it be known publicly that I attempted to deny doing an interview with the N&O for several weeks. I was repeatedly contacted by various writers at the publication and informed them I was in no way interested in their writing anything about me. I was then informed that something would be written about me regardless of whether I contributed or not. Since I was painted into a corner, I decided to grant the interview if only to seize the opportunity to speak my own piece.”

    So, which is it, Bryan? Do you want to have people over for dinner and split the costs or do you want to be a national tv chef? I don’t think anyone minds either way, but whichever you want to do, please stop saying one thing and doing another. You’re quickly losing the support of the people who admire you for your cooking skills and who enabled this whole episode to start. When your 15 minutes of fame are over, those are the friends you don’t want to lose…

  6. detlefchef says:

    FWIW, when the friend of mine and I were doing a similar thing as Bryan years ago, we joked that we hoped that we’d get popular enough that they’d shut us down. Now, perhaps that was because we were in it for the wrong reasons. However, considering that both me and my friend end up become restaurant “lifers”, I think it had more to do with the fact that we were about 20 years old…

  7. durhamfood says:

    Yes, but you didn’t go around saying you want no publicity and then appearing on national TV!

  8. detlefchef says:

    A story in the N&O is hardly worth getting shut down over, so I can certainly understand why someone in his position would resist that exposure. I mean, very little good can come of that.

    National media exposure, on the other hand, is obviously pretty exciting and I can’t imagine many among us, especially at that age who’d turn down the NY Times, NPR, or the Today Show if they wanted to run a piece.

    Really, I honestly feel like people are fixating on this “media whore” thing a bit too much. It paints everyone in a very bitter light.

    The kid realizes that exposure could be his undoing but can’t resist letting an NBC film crew into his house. What’s the sin in that? I mean, think about it. That’s some pretty cool stuff. You’re 21 years old and something you’ve created has generated enough buzz to warrant that? Who’s going take the high road there?

    Maybe you. At my age, maybe me as well. But I’d be kidding myself if I think I would have handled this much different if I was his age and in his shoes.

  9. BryanZ says:

    I saw this one coming. In fact, I was counting down the days.

    So let’s be clear, what would you do if you were in my shoes? The NYT, the Today Show, I think these were pretty cool opportunities, ones that I would regret if I turned them down. I read the NYT Dining section online religiously and to share space with those chefs, restaurateurs, and writers I so admire was incredibly exciting. Perhaps some consider this morally wrong and narcissistic, but I valued the experience. To have the opportunity to cook for Giada was something that many people (Food Network loves and haters alike) dream about. What surprised me and made the experience even better was how easy she was to work with. I truly have nothing but praise. Talking to the N&O was not quite so memorable. I understand that this can be seen as hypocritical, but I’m really just trying to have as much fun as possible.

    So, which is it? Well I’m doing what I do, and if it happens to bring up opportunities for me on the scope of the NYT or NBC, then I suppose that’s for the better, or at least the more interesting. If you choose to condemn me for this, that’s your choice.

    And, of course, none of this would be possible without the support of the Triangle’s tight-knit food community. We live in an interesting locale with deep culinary tradition but also an influx of residents (and, therefore, diners) from all over looking for interesting dining experiences. As I’ve said before, I’m proud to be a part of it all.

  10. Varmint says:

    If I were in his position, I would have done the exact same thing. Hell, if NBC or the Times or even the N&O wants to give me some publicity, I’m all for it. But when you want to run an underground or clandestine or double-top-secret establishment and publicly claim you don’t want the exposure, then you’ve become your own worst enemy. I think folks know that I like Bryan, and I think he’s very talented and bright. He can cook like crazy, too.

    When he first broke this idea on eGullet, he was told by many to lay low if he wants to be able to continue to do this. He ignored that advice, and even though folks advised me that I should kill the discussion because of the publicity (and potential harm) that would come, I decided that Bryan understood the risks. In fact, I said:

    “I know many of you are concerned about the legality of Bryan’s concept. He’s a big boy and based on the language of his website, he’s sought counsel on this issue. I’m a lawyer who knows the laws regarding running restaurants in NC, and although I haven’t spoken to Bryan about any legal aspect of what he’s doing, it clearly appears he’s done some things to mitigate the risk. If he’s not, then he’ll pay the price, but let’s not dwell on those issues. Instead, let’s talk about the food!”

    Bryan had no concerns about the publicity then or now. And frankly, he’s a college undergrad — bring it on, I say. But he just needs to realize that with publicity comes responsibility. If you start making public statements in the media, even if you make the stretch that the local food blogs are considered “media,” then you have to be sure you’re true to your word. It may be that there are no consequences, and I do hope that he is able to continue doing his thing in his apartment.

  11. Varmint says:

    I posted the above comment at the same time as Bryan did. I want to repeat: If I were in his position, I’d do the exact same thing. Enjoy the ride, Bryan. You should, and frankly, you’ve earned the publicity because of the great things you’re doing. And I think you did all of this with your eyes wide open, and you’re ready to accept the consequences, if any, of your actions. But boy, what a wild trip it’s been.

    And let me repeat myself again: I really hope you are able to continue what you’re doing. If not in your apartment, then elsewhere. You do have a lot of talent and chutzpah, and you’re to be commended for that. But just don’t say one thing and do the other. K?

  12. durhamfood says:

    Bryan, I have no problem with what you’re trying to do. I may take issue with the MG movement, but I have no problem with the concept of KitchenZ. Like Varmint here, I take issue with your (apparent) duplicity.

    I’ve been in the media spotlight before and I know how fun it can be. I’m glad you got the chance to do so. Maybe, had I been in your position, I would have done the same thing, I don’t know.

    But really, right now it seems you are rather hypocritical. Underground is underground, and it’s cool. National media is pretty cool too. Please, don’t mix the two, especially after you’ve committed to one. It doesn’t put you in a good light.

  13. durmonion says:

    I think Bryan’s point may be that he’s open to the possibility that the national media attention may change his whole gig.

  14. Nibbs says:

    When your favorite local band hits the big time and more people hear about them, there are always fans that will bemoan the fact that ‘they used to be about the music’. It is usually an unfair criticism and difficult to prove one way or the other.

    I think this to be a similar situation. Bryan’s been actively posting and cooking for a while now. As fellow posters and Triangle diners, has he changed? Is his cooking different? I don’t think any of us can say. I’ve never even met him or had his food, so I can’t say. He’s just getting deserved attention for what he’s doing.

    I’ve spent too much time analyzing this already. It’s Saturday and I think there’s a pork shoulder that needs braising.

  15. Varmint says:

    To put a positive spin on what Bryan does, he will be participating in a food event this Thursday (that’s tomorrow) at Duke’s Nasher Museum on Thursday in conjunction with their new exhibit, “Taste of the Modern: Rothko, Rauschenberg, Oldenburg, Kline.” Bryan will be leading a cheese tasting and a Duke grad student, Heather Mallory, will discuss part of her research of nouvelle cuisine.

    Here are the specifics:

    Nasher Art-For-All!
    Thursday, November 15, 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.
    At the Nasher Museum of Art
    Free and Open to the Public with admission.

    Free Food and Drinks!
    7 pm Bar opens
    7:20 pm Gallery Talk with Duke graduate student Heather Mallory. Ms. Mallory’s research focuses on Nouvelle Cuisine.
    8 – 9pm Cheese tasting led by Duke Senior Bryan Zupon.

    So, do your part to support Durham town and gown relations and have some cheese. And if you smuggle in some beaujolais nouveau to coincide with that day’s release, Bryan will hook you up with some more cheese! (DISCLAIMER: The Nasher Museum does not permit red wine on the premises. Any smuggling of such red wine is at the smuggler’s risk. Although it would be cool.)

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