The Bollard's September cover story, "Head Chef in Hell," on Rooms chef Harding Lee Smith and his wife Darcy is now available online. It's a scathing follow-up to the alt-monthly's July cover story on the Smiths titled "Satan's Sous Chef." Chris Busby, publisher and editor of The Bollard and author of both stories, wrote on his blog that the "unprecedented response" to the first story prompted the second: "For weeks after the issue hit the streets, it seemed like everywhere I went I encountered someone with a new horror story about the couple's bad behavior."
The new story rehashes several of these, but the problem is, the two most shocking took place in 2008 and 2005, so they aren't exactly timely. And Busby admits he had heard them at the time but did not pursue them, only now recounting them. So where "Satan's Sous Chef" was a well-reported piece that provided a fair contrast to the flowery profile of Smith that ran just a few weeks before in the Press Herald, the follow-up feels like the product of a vendetta (or maybe it's just to move more papers; the stories certainly have generated a buzz). Busby practically calls for a boycott of the The Front Room, Grill Room, Corner Room and Boone's Fish House & Oyster Room in his conclusion:
Now that summer's winding down and the tourists are leaving, the Rooms will wither or thrive based on the patronage of locals who may or may not care how the Smiths treat their workers, customers and other members of the community. Satan has his influence, but Chef Smith's fate is really up to you.
Now even if Busby's motives are journalistically impure, it doesn't excuse Smith's behavior. According to the new story, Smith was banned for life from The Snug, an Irish pub on Congress Street not far from the Front Room and Smith's residence, after a particularly despicable incident. Smith entered one day and was apparently dismayed to find a couple there with an infant, and further offended by the child's skin color. He asked the bartender for darts "to throw 'em at that little — 'n-word' — baby's head" (he allegedly used the full racial slur), prompting his banishment. This incident occurred in 2008, but, as Paula Deen can tell you, time does not forgive all sins.
Busby also brings up Smith's "sham" marriage from "2005 or '06." It's a somewhat salacious tale, suggesting Smith put it together for financial gain while still married to another woman and the bride-to-be was carrying another man's child, but that the main source is anonymous with "an ax to grind with Smith," the bride could not be contacted or located for the story and some other details are vague, its inclusion is odd.
Busby does have some more recent accounts of Smith's unkindness. Busby reports that Smith did little to thank the young men who pulled him from the frigid ocean and likely saved his life after he fell in securing lines to his boat in the middle of a blizzard (at 2:30 a.m.). Smith also protects his parking spots at Boone's with an "almost sadistic defense."
So, readers, what do you think? Is Busby beating a dead horse with the follow-up piece, or does Smith deserve it? Will The Bollard's stories impact your patronage of The Rooms? Let us know in the comments, or email the tipline.
· Head Chef in Hell [The Bollard]
· Satan's Sous Chef [The Bollard]
· All Coverage of Harding Lee Smith [~EMAINE~]
[The Bollard September cover]