Jon Mendoza, chef of Uncle, gets booted from the kitchen -- and will focus on pop-ups
"It was just normal kitchen drama," says Tommy Lee, the owner of Uncle, who fired his longtime chef, Jon Mendoza, earlier today. "I have to do what's best for my team, and there was some tension [between Mendoza] and the staff," he adds. However, Mendoza -- who started at Uncle as the sous and was promoted to chef after Travis Masar, who formerly commanded the line, became a contestant of Bravo's Top Chef -- suggests that it was more of a vendetta.
Mendoza, who also founded Bad Apple, a series of pop-ups that he hosts twice a month at Uncle, held a pop-up dinner there over the weekend, and according to him, it went off without a hitch. After the dinner was over, he and his team cleaned the restaurant, leaving it spotless, he insists. And, he adds, he even took photos.
Nonetheless, when he came to work on Monday, the restaurant was in a shambles, claims Mendoza. "I had a pop-up dinner last Sunday, cleaned it up completely, and the next morning, one of the a.m. cooks destroyed one of the stations by throwing Szechuan powder everywhere," he says, adding that the same cook "hid products and said I didn't clean the restaurant, plus he stole my knives, and I still have no idea where they are."
Mendoza, who also cooked at ChoLon and the original Opus, concurs with Lee that there was tension in the kitchen -- tension, he says, that's been building for more than a year with the same cook that Mendoza alleges sabotaged the kitchen. "That same cook, who shall remain nameless, has been weaning me out of the kitchen, slowly but surely, for more than a year, and Tommy basically said that all five cooks can't get along with me, and while he can't replace the five cooks, he can replace me," says Mendoza. "I'm pretty frustrated," he admits. "I was fired for some stupid-ass reason that I'm totally confused about, but if I had to guess, I'd say it was because of Tommy's favoritism for his friends. It definitely wasn't because I wasn't doing my job."
And, he adds, "everyone acts so cool with each other, but when the curtain closes, everyone talks mad shit about each other. There's so much drama there, and while Tommy is a great person and we worked really well together, I kind of feel like they were pissed because I wanted to elevate the cuisine. They all ride the line, and I'm not into mediocrity."