By Jackie Acho and Eva Basilion
Memo to: John Besh
Subject: You are #NotSexy
We are breaking up with you.
When we first met, you were living the Dream – the American Dream. Celebrity Chef, for goodness sake! Foodie culture was on the rise and made just for you. You penetrated our taste buds, our homes, and our kitchens. First there was August, then Willa Jean, then Shaya, then Eunice. Your brand was celebrated for bringing New Orleans back from the brink. Your food was deeee-licious. We know. We ate at your flagship restaurant with our husbands. And you really had us with your Family Table cookbook. We’re suckers for that kind of thing; kudos to your branding people.
But today, we have heartburn. Because John, you were hurting people.
They say you led a culture of harassment, some of it sexual. In some cases, it seems you were the perpetrator. How could you publicly do so much “good” while hurting people in the background? Good in the outside world while your people at home suffered? That’s confusing. It all looked so empathic on paper.
Turns out, John, this is a common problem in our system. What looks like empathy is often no more than just cognitive empathy. This ability to understand what other people are thinking is critical to the job. It’s also the tool of the psychopath. Like most people in power, you seem to have a lot of it, and you executed it perfectly. How else could you have built a ~$50 million dollar empire after Katrina? Your good deeds brought you fame and fortune. Congratulations.
But there is another piece of empathy that is often forgotten. It is quiet and lives on the inside. This is affective or “emotional” empathy. It is built relationally through experience, starting the day we are born. It is where our conscience lives, letting us know right from wrong. You know the one? It’s the one you ignored when you let power and #sex take over your #Sexy — your co-creative work with the people that mattered.
Oh, we don’t think you started out this way. It’s a systemic mix-up a lot of “leaders” have these days. It’s hard to find time for relationships that matter when you’re building the kind of resume you have. It’s no wonder that all of this good work you did is ending up like a fallen soufflé, burned garlic, or a soup without…salt.
Co-creating at work gets mixed up a lot with sex these days. Climbing the leadership ladder is an empathy sapping experience, even for a guy who really did/does cook at home for a convalescing father and growing sons. It really is lonely being “the guy on the (meat) hook.” You will have more company soon, John. Anthony Bourdain gave us a peek behind the curtain when he tweeted your story is “The beginning of the end of institutionalized Meathead Culture in the restaurant business.” Some call it bro-culture. We wonder…why is it that women feed most of the people the world over for free, but it’s mostly male chefs charging for it? We’re just curious.
Hollywood. The Food Industry. What’s next? Will there be any industry untouched by such scandals in the end?
Maybe this is the wake-up call you needed, John. Admitting an affair was one step, but this shake up will restructure your time completely. Out of the system, off the treadmill, maybe you can remember yourself. Remember your humanity. Focus on family. Look into your kids’ eyes. You’re only 49. Simmer it all on low in a gallon of therapy and you can make good progress in this lifetime. You need to remember how to co-create, really. Because now that you have been stripped bare of your empire, something has become obvious for all to see. You are #NotSexy, John. You are #NotSexyAtALL.
Sincerely, Jackie Acho and Eva Basilion.
P.S. In hindsight we’re glad to have rooted for homeboy Michael Symon who beat you in Next Iron Chef in 2007. His food is yummy…and he’s a really nice guy. It matters. No heartburn.
Photo credits: John Besh in Iron Chef 2007 from Michael Ruhlman’s blog; and Jackie with Michael in her kitchen where he cooked for a charity event a few days before becoming Iron Chef (John LeMay photographer)