Sunday, August 28, 2016

Former journeyman MX racer reinvents himself as (fraudulent?) food star

The latest issue of the famed New Yorker magazine features a long feature story on a former motocross racer named Damon Baehrel, who operates a small restaurant in upstate New York.

Baehrel – who is now in his early fifties – was an aspiring motocross racer in the 1980s, although there’s no indication that he was fast enough to turn that into a living. He worked in restaurants and then operated a successful gourmet catering business.

Baehrel's now in his early 50s. He lives on a few-acre farm in upstate New York. He clearly is a master forager, but the carrying capacity of such a property is not consistent with his claim to preparing thousands of meals per year from ingredients foraged on his own land. Which begs the question, "Why create such an elaborate lie?"
But about 15 years ago, he began an elaborate reinvention. He built a small restaurant in basement of his farmhouse, where – if you can believe this – he prepares some of the world’s finest dining using virtually only ingredients he forages from his own property.

His food’s been sampled by many highly-regarded food writers and bloggers. Prices currently run over $400 per person per meal (and do not include wine, although diners are welcome to bring their own.) The food is real, delicious (so I read), and fantastically inventive. This 16-seat restaurant is frequently seen on lists of the world’s best and most exclusive restaurants.

It’s the only one on the list where, apparently, absolutely all the cooking is done by one person.

If you can believe Damon Baehrel, there’s a five-year wait for reservations.

Where the story gets weird is, Baehrel seems to have created real food that he serves in the context of a fictional business. He claims to have served all kinds of celebrities who have, in fact, never been there. Nor is it even remotely possible that he could prepare the number of meals he says he’s serving by himself, in the facility at his disposal, or with ingredients foraged off a few acres.

From the New Yorker: In 2002, Baehrel said, he shut down the restaurant for renovations and got back into competitive motocross, entering races around New England. “I made some money,” he said.
Is it just me, or is it unlikely anyone's making money in Vet 30+ C class races?
In fact, it’s more likely that virtually the only people he serves are restaurant reviewers and influential food bloggers. Why he would go to such elaborate lengths to create a mostly-fictitious restaurant business is another part of Damon Baehrel’s mystery. It seems pretty clear that the food he makes can stand on its own, but maybe food critics would not give him the attention he clearly craves, if he didn’t create an exclusivity myth to wrap around his story.

Maybe at some level he’s a compulsive liar who can’t let his food do the talking for him. Or was there supposed to be some kind of end game? If there was Nick Paumgarten’s brilliant profile of the chef has probably curdled the plan.

Although he told the New Yorker writer that he raced professionally around the U.S. in the '80s, the only place anyone can confirm Baehrel raced back then is here. If any readers remember him as an '80s-era pro, please let me know, eh?

Sunday, August 21, 2016

EPA reverses itself on Harley-Davidson "super-tuner" ban

Washington, August 22, 2016

In a surprising reversal, the Environmental Protection Agency has amended an earlier ruling on so-called "super tuner" devices. The EPA has absolved Harley-Davidson of selling emissions control-defeating devices, and confirmed that the Milwaukee firm (NYSE: HOG) will not have to pay $15 million in fines and restitution.

The EPA ruling on devices like this Screamin' Eagle Street Performance Tuner sent a shock wave throughout the entire motorcycle industry. Many industry insiders felt that it was only a matter of time before similar devices from companies like Bazzaz and Dyno-Jet were also targeted by the EPA, with impacts on the sport-bike market as well as the cruiser market. There is no indication as to whether or not Harley's last minute exemption will result in a reprieve for Dyno-Jet.
It turns out that the EPA didn't realize that virtually all Harley-Davidson highway miles are trailer miles. The engines aren't even running, so there's no motorcycle pollution at all.

Once John Moreland, H-D's governmental affairs manager, explained that full-dresser hogs really are off-road vehicles, in the sense that they travel above the roads on trailer decks, the EPA realized that it didn't matter what aftermarket ECUs Harley owners fitted.
EPA spokesperson Ann Rowan made this announcement Monday morning, in Milwaukee:
When the EPA singled out Harley-Davidson, we at first thought that the company was abusing the "off-road only", "competition only" exemption that has long existed for aftermarket ECUs. However, after a meeting between the Justice Department's John C. Cruden and Harley-Davidson's John Moreland, we realized that we were targeting the wrong motorcyclists. 
We thought that since Harley-Davidson dealers were installing these aftermarket "super tuners" on motorcycles licensed and insured for road use, that it was a clear violation of the "off-road" and "competition" exemption. We didn't realize that virtually all Harleys really are off-road vehicles, in the sense that they travel above the road on trailers. And of course, most of the owners are engaged in an ego-driven money spending contest. 
It was our mistake; we thought people were actually riding those things, and we're sorry for any confusion we may have caused.

We contacted Steven Pirner, of the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources, for a comment.

"The EPA should've asked us," Pirner said. "We'd have told them that hundreds of thousands of Harley-Davidsons have no measurable impact on air quality at Sturgis, because almost all of them are only ridden a few hundred yards from the campground to the Buffalo Chip."

"Frankly, we're a lot more worried about pending legislation that will force motorcycles to conform to noise guidelines," Pirner added. "We typically have about 50 serious injuries and 10 fatalities a year around the Sturgis event. Considering how many lives are saved by loud pipes, there'd be carnage if motorcyclists were limited to EPA-approved exhausts."

"This doesn't mean other aftermarket ECUs and tuners are off the hook," Rowan told our reporter. "But let's face it, if you install a Power Commander on your Gixxer, there's at least a chance you really are going to use in competition. I mean, from what I see almost all sport bike riders are competing with their friends, to see who'll be the first to win a Darwin Award."

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

H-D CEO Matt Levatich on Republicans: They "seem to be leading the crazy parade"

A few days ago, Harley-Davidson CEO Matt Levatich was interviewed by the investment web site The occasion was the release of HOG's second-quarter earnings. It was a mixed bag, with earnings slightly ahead of analysts' expectations, but disappointing sales in the U.S. 
Levatich seems to realize that Harley-Davidson's brand is linked to the American national identity.
And, just maybe, that it's possible to be wrapped too tightly in the flag, when those values
are increasingly tied to intolerance and willful ignorance.
What shocked me was that Levatich waded into U.S. Presidential politics, blaming some of the company's difficulties on the current election cycle – effectively saying it was hurting "American" brands both at home and, especially, abroad. Although he certainly didn't come out in support of Hillary Clinton, he noted that it’s the Republicans who are "leading the crazy parade".
That's a stunning statement from a guy who sells most of his products to the same old white guys who support Donald Trump.
I’ve written before about the Republican Party’s – and Harley’s – demographic problem (here and here). Both organizations are intellectually capable of understanding that in an increasingly diverse America, a message that only resonates with the pale, the stale, and the male won’t fly. Both organizations have nominally identified women and minorities as key growth markets. But so far, both have continued to wrap their brands up in gun-totin’, Jesus-lovin’, flag-wavin’, ‘Murica-fuck-yeah, tough-guy imagery that actively drives those audiences away.
Right now, Harley-Davidson riders skew Trumpist, big time.
(Argue it if you want, but I’ve seen Bikers for Trump; they ain’t ridin’ rice burners.)
So it took a lot of nerve for Levatich to call the GOP out.
Right now, Harley-Davidson riders skew Trumpist, big time. (Argue it if you want, but I’ve seen Bikers for Trump; they ain’t ridin’ rice burners.) So it took a lot of nerve for Levatich to call the GOP out.
I find it heartening. As a HOG shareholder, it encourages me to believe that Harley-Davidson is capable of the introspection and honest self-appraisal that’s going to be required, if it is to transition its brand away from “The preferred brand of Bikers for Trump” to something more inclusive that, just maybe, will represent a growing – not shrinking – percentage of the U.S. population in the 21st century.
It was refreshing candor from a guy in charge of a quintessentially American brand that must both diversify its domestic customer base and ensure that, in international markets, “American” doesn’t come to equal “crazy”.
Here's the full unedited text of the relevant part of TheStreet's interview

TheStreet: The last time we talked, you said the contentious U.S. election season was damaging the American brand. Do you still feel that way?

Levatich: I do. I wouldn't contain it necessarily to any political party. I watched the Republican convention, and am now watching the Democratic convention, and I think the degree to which intelligent people are talking about intelligent policy is almost non-existent.

I have lived outside of the U.S. twice, and I remember being in Switzerland in 2008 and moving into this new apartment. Tradespeople were coming in and out, and every time one of these guys would come into the apartment he would do one of these thumbs up signs and say "Obama, Obama."
The real message here is that the world pays attention to the United States of America. They are watching us, probably more so than most American citizens, and they are watching more carefully.
I don't know for sure, but I bet they are worried because of this circus mentality and this total lack of smart policy and leadership.
And that is damaging to the American brand. And it's damaging to the health and well-being of American companies who are trying to do business such as Harley-Davidson. We are in 90-plus countries worldwide and our brand identity is connected strongly to the ideals of America – and when the ideals of America seem to no longer be our ideals anymore, it can't help things.
So I don't feel any differently. And it isn't just the Republican party, though quite frankly they seem to be leading the crazy parade.