Will Crandall, who heads Michael Mina's Stripsteak in the Fontainebleau Miami Beach, was seen this past Sunday wearing a black-and-yellow-trimmed polo bearing the logo of the alt-right Proud Boys at Duck Duck Goose, an annual celebration of fowl that wrapped up at the Anderson.
Proud Boys, the subject of a New Times profile last year, were founded in 2016 by Vice Media cofounder-turned-far-right-provocateur Gavin McInnes. The group rose to fame thanks to its fervent support of Donald Trump and its celebration by political boogeyman Roger Stone. Its members have brawled with anti-fascist protestors, encouraged political violence, and for a short time were labeled by the FBI as an extremist group with ties to white nationalists. The Proud Boys say they're right-leaning libertarians who support free speech, gun rights, and traditional gender roles — a men's club of "Proud Western chauvinists who refuse to apologize for creating the modern world," according to their tag line.
While several of Crandall's colleagues and friends interviewed by New Times said they've never seen any kind of chauvinist, racist, or bigoted behavior from the chef, who first rose to prominence in Miami during his time at Azul at the Mandarin Oriental, he has been criticized by members of the (very liberal) culinary community for his conservative and anti-Hillary leanings.
A hospitality worker who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal sent New Times a screenshot of a now-deleted Instagram post of Crandall holding his infant son while wearing a camouflage trucker hat with a Proud Boys logo embedded in an American flag. Further complicating the matter: Crandall's wife is a Mexican immigrant, making his family an object of scorn for the group whose apparel he's been wearing.
Andrew Zarzosa of Yuzu at St. Roch Market was at Sunday's fowl fest. He described seeing the Proud Boys logo as "a slap in the fucking face" at an event that relied so heavily on immigrant chefs and cooks.
"We are the fucking ones working hard; we feed people," the half-Mexican cook best known for his chicken ramen said. "When (people with that mentality) start to get emboldened and wear it out, and wear it to events, that's where we have to draw the line and say we can’t stand that shit, no matter how nice a guy he is, no matter how good his food is — it doesn’t matter."
Gabe Orta, co-owner of the Anderson where Duck Duck Goose was held, was surprised to hear that a Proud Boys shirt was worn at the event. "I'm shocked he would wear something like that, especially at an event with so many immigrants," Orta said. "One thing is for sure: We don’t support that; our staff is immigrants, I'm an immigrant and we don’t see color, we don’t see gender, we treat everybody like we want to be treated, with love and acceptance."
In an interview late Wednesday night, Crandall apologized for any offense he might have caused and said he bought the gear believing Proud Boys was a kind of Libertarian fraternity.
When presented with the photo, Crandall was on the edge of tears, fearing he'd be at risk of losing his job and his young family's home. "This is going to put me on the street," he said.
Still, how Crandall, who oversees one of the city's most elegant, expensive, and well-run restaurants where in-house dry-aged steak sells for $3 an ounce and macaroni and cheese arrives with a towering mound of shaved black truffle, could overlook so many reports about the Proud Boys is unclear. The website where he said he bought the $32.99 hat lists it alongside a red patch in the shape of America stitched with big white block letters that read, "FUCK OFF, WE'RE FULL."
Jeremiah Bullfrog, widely said to be the founder of Miami's food truck movement and organizer of Duck Duck Goose, in which Crandall has long participated, condemned hatred and said he'd never seen any of it from Crandall. "I don't condone racism or hatred in any form," he said. "I've never known Will Crandall to portray these beliefs nor has he ever said anything slightly racist to me, or I would've kicked his fucking ass on the spot."
Nando Chang of Itamae in St. Roch Market in the Design District, who also participated in the event, said he never saw Crandall in the shirt, but said: "He’s never been a racist; his wife is Mexican, they have a child, and they’ve been nothing but the nicest people."
Yet hearing about such a respected and talented chef aligned in even a small way with such a group cuts deep, especially in a community like Miami with a more than nascent culinary scene powered almost entirely by immigrants and minorities.
"We've been so strained for so long and to have a group of people be together, work on our craft together, and create things together, and then have something like this happen sucks," Chang added. "If the focus of the best chefs in this city is going to go into those things instead of their products, it's the opposite of what we need."
The situation is far from cut-and-dried, given the number of people who condemned the Proud Boys and their gear but at the same time called Crandall the last person to sympathize in any way with such a group.
Michael Mina, who counts Miami Beach's Stripsteak as one of more than 40 restaurants in his global empire, was speechless when reached by phone Wednesday night and said he'd immediately begin looking into the matter, noting that Crandall is employed by the Fontainebleau, not his restaurant company.
"We'll have to investigate this fully and go through every detail," the Egyptian immigrant said. "This doesn't make any sense, and is far away from my beliefs as you can get."
The Fontainebleau Miami Beach, where Crandall is employed, sent the following statement to New Times:
“Equality and respect for all people are part of Fontainebleau’s core values. We do not support any cause or organization that transacts in hate or bigotry of any kind. Fontainebleau Miami Beach ownership, management, Mina Group and Chef Michael Mina are aware of the report involving an employee. We are thoroughly investigating the report.”
Meanwhile, Crandall remained apologetic and said he'd already thrown away the shirt and hat.
"I made a mistake and I'm sorry," he said. "You'll never see me in anything in public again other than a Greg Norman shirt."