Lies: An American Bistro (LMGTFY)
by Alan Bedenko (@BuffaloPundit) - posted 7:30 am, January 24, 2014
Remember Valenti’s? The ill-fated red-sauce joint in the Budwey’s plaza in North Tonawanda became locally famous thanks to a glowing Janice Okun review in the Buffalo News, which contained wild fantasies concocted by owners Terry Valenti and Lori Brocuglio about Terry’s defeat of Bobby Flay in the “battle parsnips” on an episode of Iron Chef America that never existed. I think it’s bad form to stretch the truth on a resume, but to make up a blatant lie that a simple Google search can disprove is ridiculous.
Last week, an article briefly appeared about a former local chef who had made similar embellishments to his resume. Kevin O’Connell, Jr. (yes, his dad does the weather for Channel 2), was the chef/part owner of what was O’Connell’s Hourglass on Kenmore Avenue before progressively downscaling itself into a “bistro”, replete with nightclub acts and comedy nights before shuttering in late 2012.
We had dined at O’Connells several times throughout its different incarnations and generally enjoyed it. O’Connells Jr. and Sr. were always gregarious and kind to us. I never had a bad experience; quite the contrary.
And so it was that when Junior left the restaurant and abruptly moved to California, the writing was on the wall – part of the restaurant’s raison d’etre was that it was a family-owned joint, established at least in part to give O’Connell an opportunity to come home to Buffalo and hone his craft. On a few Facebook postings, I noted that I was not surprised when I learned that the place was closing – not as a commentary on its food or service, but based on the fact that, with Junior’s departure, it had effectively ceased to matter. But the weatherman took great offense to this, and tried to humiliate me to his thousands of Facebook “friends”:
He tagged me immediately afterwards. I wasn’t a regular, but my family enjoyed his food, and we celebrated many an event at his restaurant. When Junior unexpectedly up and moved to LA in August 2012, I was surprised, and figured the place wasn’t going to last. There was other scuttlebutt involved, but I never mentioned it. Now this weatherman is insulting me like this as if I was to blame for the place closing, yet I never wrote a negative syllable about it? I know Junior was pissed because I wrote “not surprised” when someone on the Buffalo foodie group mentioned the sudden appearance of a “for sale” sign. Yeah, not surprised the place is for sale when the chef moves 3k miles away. Here was my comment on weatherboy’s wall:
Here, by the way, is the only thing I ever wrote – publicly or privately – about O’Connells. What a monster I am.
Soon after Kevin O’Connell Jr. returned to Buffalo, he was sent to federal prison on a conviction of stealing $44,000 from various diners’ credit cards in a scam at a prior restaurant he co-owned in Montana. Prosecutors called it “deliberate fraud”. I defended him then, arguing that he was paying his debt to society, was making restitution, and deserved a second chance. I am clearly a horrible person.
In any event, last week the excrement hit the fan when Junior’s new restaurant posted a resume out of a creative writing class. An article briefly posted at the Spree’s website has since been taken down. Forget that for a second, and don’t worry about why it’s gone.
Here is how not to promote yourself – here is the Kevin O’Connell, Jr. resume, as it appeared at this web address just last week (taken January 17, 2014 at 3pm – and here is a PDF of what was posted):
1998-2001 Babbo Ristorante New York, New York
Sous Chef, Chef de Cuisine
Returning from Europe I was hired as the opening sous chef for the acclaimed Italian eatery by Mario Batali and Joseph Bastianich. I was honored and excited to be a part of an incredible team that made this the most authentic and popular Italian eatery in the United States, winning best new restaurant in numerous publications. I was promoted to Chef de Cuisine after 7 months and Chef Batali’s opening of Lupa. I was honored in 2001 to be named a James Beard award winner for Best New Chef Northeast. Shortly after I had the opportunity to open my first establishment and took that opportunity with Chef’s blessing and full support.
I don’t know whether he was the opening sous at Babbo, but the James Beard award claim is pure nonsense. O’Connell has never won—nor been nominated for—a James Beard Award. The award he is claiming to have received in 2001 is a mess of half-truths spliced together, none of which include him. Batali did win several awards in 2001, including one for Esca as Best New Restaurant. But the list of the Best Chefs of the Northeast (and nominees) bear no mention of Junior. Additionally,the James Beard Foundation gives New York City chefs and restaurants their own awards, separate from the rest of the Northeast. (Here are the JBF award listings for 1998, 1999, 2000, and 2001.) Or just search the JBF website for any mention of Kevin O’Connell, Jr. You’ll be disappointed.
2001-2003 Rue Franklin Park Slope, Brooklyn
After such a fantastic experience with fine Italian cuisine in Manhattan, I reached out and opened a small French bistro in the up and coming neighborhood of Park Slope. A 45 seat restaurant that had a menu that changed daily and featured the provisions of the area as well as fresh imported French favorites. In early 2002 the New York Times rated our restaurant 2 stars which at the time was the only 2 star establishment outside of the immediate Manhattan dining area. We were nominated for best new restaurant from the James Beard Foundation and won best new restaurant from the New Yorker and the Village Voice. I left the business to open another establishment in Late 2003 but continued ownership until 2006.
The Village Voice’s 2001 list doesn’t show “Rue Franklin Park Slope”. In fact, a search of the entire Village Voice website for “Rue Franklin” comes up empty. Same thing with the New Yorker. I tried looking in New York Magazine, but couldn’t find anything – its online archives are not jam-packed. But I couldn’t find any evidence of this restaurant existing. New York Times 2 stars? I did a search of the New York Times archive for 1/1/01 – 1/1/04 for “Rue Franklin” and nothing came up.
2003-2005 Employees Only New York, New York
After being approached in early 2003 from 5 of my college fraternity brothers and friends to help open a bar in the Chelsea area of Manhattan, we as a group opened Employees Only, a 20’s style cocktail lounge. Starting in a very small kitchen and serving a very limited menu in March 2004 we acquired the space in the rear of the bar formerly a tailor shop and expanded to a full service restaurant. We were named Best Cocktail Bar in the United States by GQ magazine in 2004 and 2005, we were named Best Cocktail Bar in New York from 2004 to 2007. We published our first cookbook of cocktails in 2010 and made the New York Times Best Seller List. I stepped down as Chef in 2005 to pursue another project in my home town of Buffalo New York. I still maintain my partnership with the restaurant and the company which has opened 5 more establishments 4 in New York and One in Washington DC.
The idea that Junior ever worked at Employees Only in any capacity is dubious. Why take credit for a book published five years after you’ve left a place – a book about cocktails? A phone call to the bar reveals the truth pretty quickly. Just call and ask them.
Also, anyone notice the glaring omission of Indigo, the place in Montana where he got busted for bad checks and credit card fraud? Well, it wasn’t always Indigo. It started out as “Blue Smoke”. He changed it to “Indigo: An American Bistro”. Just like in Buffalo, when he changed “O’Connell’s Hourglass” to “O’Connell’s American Bistro”. Just like in Los Angeles, when his new venture, 9 Olives folded after less than a year, he tried to change it to “Punk’s”, (Twitter here) but got a new gig at a place called Carson House. It’s got a new concept. Care to guess? “Carson House: An American Bistro“.
Great Falls’ Indigo closed in June 2005 – around the time Junior claims to have left Employees Only.
Incidentally, this Great Falls, MT story about O’Connell’s change to Indigo is dated February 2003 – around the time that Junior claims to have joined Employees Only. And here’s what he told the local paper in Montana in 2004:
O’Connell was born in Buffalo, N.Y., and raised in Los Angeles. He got his bachelor’s degree from the New England Culinary Institute in Vermont and received his master’s in hotel and restaurant management from Le Cordon Bleu in Paris.
In 2000, he moved to Fort Benton after landing an executive chef position at the exquisite Union Grille Restaurant in the Grand Union Hotel.
“I had gotten engaged, and I needed a place to settle down and raise a family,” he said. “It was an abrupt culture shock. I went from a 3-million-person metro to a town with 1,000 people where everybody knows everybody’s name and birth date.”
A year and a half later, O’Connell ventured back to city life, opening the Blue Smoke barbecue restaurant in the Lobby Bar in Great Falls.
No Babbo. No Rue Franklin Park Slope. Fort Benton, MT.
2005-2010 O’Connells American Bistro Buffalo, New York
I had the opportunity to purchase a famed Buffalo landmark restaurant in my fathers former neighborhood where he grew up. O’Connells American Bistro was to be an ode to all that I had experienced in both Europe and my time in Manhattan. It opened to rave reviews and earned 4 stars from the Buffalo News and Critic Janice Okun (1 of 4 restaurants at the time to receive 4 stars)
I was honored to be invited 4 times to the James Beard House to cook with my crew, we received a Best New Restaurant nomination from the Beard Foundation in 2006, and we were named Best Restaurant by Buffalo Spree, the Buffalo News, and Spot Magazine 2005, 2007, 2009. With the blessing of my family I shuttered the Bistro in Early 2010 to explore a restaurant opportunity in Los Angeles.
No, the James Beard Foundation did not nominate Junior nor his restaurant for anything in 2006. What the hell is “Spot Magazine”? The Buffalo News doesn’t give out “best restaurant” annual awards. Buffalo Spree didn’t give him best restaurant ever; not in 2007, not in 2009. Spree didn’t do “best of” in 2005.
Janice Okun gave O’Connell’s Hourglass 3.5 stars in 2005, and 4 stars in 2009. She gave O’Connell’s American Bistro 3.5 stars in 2011. Nevertheless, he did not shutter the Bistro in 2010, but in late 2012, soon after his move to LA.
2010-2013 9 Olives Los Angeles, California
I had the great opportunity to open a restaurant in a building that was formerly Charlie Chaplins Home on Sunset Blvd. in Los Angeles. The restaurant was a labor of love, as I grew up in Los Angeles and had many fond memories and friends still in this community. 9 Olives was opened up as a ode to old Hollywood and specialized in fresh farm to table food and excellent service. Couple with a cocktail program that was to mirror that of employees only in NY and a wine list with fine California and European Vintages. Upon opening we received wonderful critical acclaim via LA Weekly, Sunset Magazine, and Bon Appetit magazine that named us on of the Hot 5 new restaurants in Los Angeles. Though a critical success, the size and vibe of the area did not warrant a fine dining upscale restaurant. In early 2013 we changed to a lounge tapas style establishment. This was a successful change and though hitting its stride in October of 2013 I sold my interest in 9 Olives to pursue other ventures.
Perhaps he fudged the closing date of the Bistro to make 9 Olives seem more successful than it was? Either way, I don’t see anything about 9 Olives at Bon Appetit, Sunset, or LA Weekly. What I did find was Yelp reviews, and the last handful cited Living Social and Groupon online coupons they had bought. Time Out LA never reviewed it. It has one stellar Tripadvisor review, nothing at Gayot. Not much of anything, really.
Member of Alex’s Lemonade Stand ( pediatric cancer)
Member in Good Standing ACF
Sitting Board Member Share our Strength (Chef’s against Hunger)
Board of Directors Thomas J. Mackey Scholarship
Board of Directors Alumni Scholarship Dartmouth College
I can’t tell if he’s a member of Alex’s or the American Culinary Federation. Google has no hits for a “Thomas J. Mackey Scholarship”. I don’t see his name on the Dartmouth College website. No, he isn’t a board member – sitting or otherwise – for Share our Strength.
Now, all of the materials shown above are gleaned easily online. You will note that I have not made a judgment call here about O’Connell’s food, or how he sources it. I frankly don’t care. The restaurant is closed, he’s 3,000 miles away, and like I said, I never had a meal there that I regretted. But that resume – there’s a reason it’s not online anymore.
In December 2013, the owners of the Carson House contacted me to inquire about the credit card fraud case, because I had written about it at the time. They were about to hire O’Connell, and wanted to get more information. Of course, the credit card matter was in Montana, and not in New York, so whatever information I had about it was from the media. I’m also a lawyer and acutely aware of defamation jurisprudence. This is what I wrote back:
I don’t have any information to contradict what Kevin has told you. From my experience, Kevin wasn’t involved in any unethical or larcenous behavior during his run at O’Connell’s in Buffalo.
Soon after arriving to town, he had to answer charges in federal court and was sentenced to a year in prison. He has always been candid and repentant about the fraud issue, as far as I know, but I would recommend perhaps speaking with the prosecutor who tried the case, or a reporter in Montana who covered the case to determine if he is being candid and accurate in his portrayal of the facts viz. his involvement. I would Google “O’Connell and Indigo Lounge and Great Falls”.
Kevin is a talented chef and good at promoting himself and his endeavors. We miss him here.
Now? He’s making up a new background for himself, and partying it up in L.A. while the mothers of his two children are waiting on child support; while his kids wonder where their dad went; while Senior apparently treats the mothers of his grandkids like garbage; while Junior traipses around the country like some manbaby, making up a new story at every stop.
If you’re going to make stuff up, make it minimally credible.