When the uber-expensive Chinese eatery Philippe opened in the Gansevoort Hotel last year, most reviews (including our own) pointed to chef Philippe Chow's time as head chef at the acclaimed Mr. Chow's in New York as evidence of his pedigree.
But wait! A lawsuit filed in Miami's federal court this week by Mr. Chow's owner says that Philippe Chow made it all up. In fact, the suit says Philippe is a trademark-stealing, name-changing experience-exaggerating fraud.
Michael Chow says that Philippe Chow's real name is Chak Yam Chau, and that he started out in Mr. Chow's New York kitchen in 1980 as "a lowest level kitchen assistant." Here's the full allegation as to his lacking skillz:
Prior to that time, he had absolutely no kitchen experience, whether in Hong Kong or elsewhere. During his 25 years with the Mr. Chow Restaurants, Chau was a chopping assistant, a chopper, an assistant chopper-expeditor and ultimately, for the three years before his resignation, leading expeditor. He never rose to the position of executive chef, as he falsely claims.
According to Chow's lawsuit, Chak Yam Chau only changed his name to Philippe Chow after meeting with Stratis Morfogen, a South Florida businessman who wanted to get into the upscale Chinese restaurant game.
The suit says that Morfogen and Chau "misappropriated" Mr. Chow's recipes for their first restaurant, the original Philippe in New York's Meatpacking District.
And when the pair opened a second restaurant in South Beach, Chow says it was no coincidence that they chose the Gansevoort -- just a few blocks from the new W Hotel, where Mr. Chow plans to open a new restaurant.
In case you haven't caught the gist of Michael Chow's feelings toward Philippe Chow, he summarizes:
Defendant Chau was never a food chef and only very occasionally actually cooked any of the food at Mr. Chow Restaurants.
The lawsuit accuses the pair of exploiting the similarity in names between Philippe Chow and Michael Chow, going so far as to purchase weblinks on Google, Yahoo and TMZ so that searches for "Mr. Chow" directed readers to philippechow.com.
Philippe Chow also told staff at the Gansevoort to tell interested patrons that the restaurant is associated with the Mr. Chow franchise and that Philippe Chow "was the chef behind the Mr. Chow restaurants," according to the suit.
Reached on his cell phone, Stratis Morfogen says that the company's publicist will respond to the suit later this afternoon. We'll post their response as soon as we get it.
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Philippe Chow, Chef/owner of Philippe restaurants, would like to confirm that he did in fact change his name from Chak Yam Chau to the more westernized Philippe Chow, when he arrived here from Hong Kong in 1977. From that point on, everyone in his life, including family, friends, employers and even the US government have known him as Philippe Chow. Many people, including Michael Chow, who was born Zhōu Yinghua, change their given Chinese names to make them more familiar to the English speaking population.
Since opening his own successful restaurants over 4 years ago, Chef Philippe Chow has gone out of his way to make it known that he is in no way related to restaurateur and art collector Michael Chow. "I specifically chose to name my restaurant Philippe to alleviate any confusion with Mr. Chow. I have nothing but respect for Michael Chow, and the fact that we have the same last name is pure coincidence," says Philippe Chow.
While there are Philippe and Mr. Chow outposts in several of the same cities, there is clearly enough demand for high-end Chinese cuisine to keep both restaurants busy. Chef Philippe Chow has created his own niche and his loyal following has been the reason for the success of his five Philippe restaurants.