The Bollard's uncensored profile/exposé/take-down piece on chef Harding Lee Smith levies some pretty harsh allegations against The Rooms mogul and his wife, Darcy, including physical violence against an employee (by her), the usage of a gay slur (by him) and a multiple angry, drunken outbursts (by both). Chris Busby, the author of the piece and editor of the alt-monthly paper, gets a number of former workers to speak on the record (some anonymously), but Harding declines to be interviewed for what he sees as a "smear story," offering only a short statement that does little to answer the questions Busby emailed him.
This all stands in stark contrast to the long, long Harding profile by Meredith Goad that ran a month earlier in the Maine Sunday Telegram. Goad spends a good deal of time with Harding around town and in his restaurants, and quotes the chef and his wife extensively. It is a flattering profile that tells a nice rag-to-riches, local-boy-made-good story of how Harding opened his first restaurant, The Front Room, with "negative" money in the bank after being fired from another job. Now, just eight years later, he's primed to open an unprecedented fourth restaurant in Portland, without even needing outside investors.
Goad also paints a portrait of a happy Smith couple soon expecting a first child and living in a "modest apartment" above The Front Room, with a bunch of dogs and cats. She doesn't ignore Harding's hot-head reputation, but mostly glosses over it, writing, "There have always been rumors around town that he has a volcanic temper, but it's hard to find anyone who will talk about it publicly." And then there's this: "Age and approaching fatherhood have mellowed the chef, Darcy Smith said."
In Busby's story, the two most shocking incidents are told by Sean Slaughter, a former Front Room waiter who was part of a group of employees that sued Harding over working conditions, and Sharon Slaughter, Sean's sister, who worked as a parking garage attendant, so it's certainly fair to ask whether these two have a familial axe to grind. Here's Sean's story of a night when Darcy came went behind the bar at The Front Room, allegedly intoxicated, and began yelling at the bar manager for not having tables bussed:
"This bar manager said, 'Darcy, this isn't the time or place,' and went to walk by her, and Darcy shoved her, like in front of the whole restaurant full of people — shoved her — and then followed her back out into the kitchen and shoved her again ... One of the female cooks stepped in and said, 'Don't touch her again or I personally will fucking kick your ass.' So Darcy went outside, called Harding, told Harding that the bar manager had just shoved her. Harding came in drunk, screamed at this bar manager, who was already in tears, in front of the whole bar. Said, 'Get your shit and get out. You're fired!'"
Sharon claims that Harding called her a "fat dyke" (she is gay) one day after his parking pass was deactivated by the parking garage management because he lent it to employees to use to leave without paying.
So who is the real Harding? Is it Goad's empire-building family man, or Busby's 'Satan's Sous Chef'? Or maybe something in the middle? If you have a story or experience with Harding Lee Smith that could help provide some clarity, hit up the tipline: maine @eater.com
· Satan's Sous Chef [The Bollard]
· Portland's Hardest-Working Chef Piles More on His Plate [PPH/MST]
· All Coverage of Harding Lee Smith [~EMAINE~]
Harding Lee Smith. [Photo: Facebook]