Cheban with ice cream, 2017. Photo by Raymond Hall/GC Images.

Jonathan Cheban’s Gold Chicken Wings: Does He Just Want Approval from Martha Stewart?

The original food goddess asked who Cheban was two years ago, and we think he’s never gotten over it.

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May 25 2018, 7:09pm

Cheban with ice cream, 2017. Photo by Raymond Hall/GC Images.

Jonathan Cheban’s mouth is slathered in liquid gold, like the absolute shellacking I gave my lips in middle school with a tube of pink lemonade lipgloss from Claire’s. Cheban, a Kardashian hanger-on and god-knows-what-else, is eating gilded wings that he himself co-invented. A plate of the gourmet snack costs $1,000 at The Ainsworth in New York City. The chicken wings are dredged in liquid gold— “aka gold butter,” a video by Food Insider clarifies—then coated in gold dust that cakes the lips and fingertips of anyone who dares to eat them. There is something malignant about them. Like a skunk, an octopus, or a sea urchin, the wings seem to defend against potential predators by making themselves hostile to the touch.

Although it may be the worst to date, this isn’t the first crime against food perpetrated by Cheban, aka “Foodgōd,” styled with roguish disregard for English phonetics. (He also has a Foodgōd tattoo and is trying to legally change his name to incorporate the moniker.) He’s built a food media empire that includes his well-followed Instagram, a website, and forthcoming YouTube show, and he has eaten a pig’s head, “purple cheese fries,” and a rainbow bagel slathered in fruity pebbles, effectively a declaration of war against New York City. We’d like to think all of this, all the drama, all the expense, is for us, the Foodgōd’s adoring disciples. But maybe it’s a cry for attention, directed at the one person who Cheban fears isn’t watching.

In June 2016, Martha Stewart fired off perhaps the most brutal 11-word tweet I have ever seen: with a snapshot of Cheban taken in situ, she asks @DailyMail and @MailOnline (the UK and US Daily Mail Twitter accounts) to ID the guy sitting next to her at dinner. “do you know this guy?? He says he is well known,” she asks. She adds the hashtag “#seriouslypopular,” which is plausibly not an insult because it is also the name of an award presented by DailyMail.com at the People’s Choice Awards. Extremely mean or totally innocuous, depending on how you read it, it’s the shade equivalent to landing a triple axel.

In a second tweet, she clarifies: “Better photo of jonathan who is very famous bff of the kardashians.” And then, the kicker: “who knew!” Not Martha Stewart!

Like the master she is, Stewart played it off as an honest mistake—and it should be a forgivable one. In 2017, she told Buzzfeed that there were ultimately no hard feelings: “I had no idea who he was. I didn't know at all and he was so mad at me. But then he saw all the attention he got, so now he loves me. He calls me and he emails me.”

But Cheban is the kind of man who gets into frequent social media spats with fans and and, perhaps, posed as a member of his own social media team in an email mud-slinging contest with a special projects editor at Babe. And it’s clear that, despite her gross food pics, Martha Stewart doesn’t need to change her name or get a tattoo to establish her status as a food goddess; she simply is one. When she uses gold, it’s tastefully dusted onto a Sachertorte, or flecks of gold leaf garnish a fruit-studded cookie. She doesn’t need any more than that. She is magnificent just as she is.

Cheban’s first press announcement of his ascension as “Food God” came in April 2016, about two months before Stewart’s Twitter takedown, so his bid for food celebrity predates being told that he’s not shit by the grand dame of aspirational food media. But there’s something about Cheban’s desperate ramping-up of his antics, as if, no matter how many gold-dredged chicken wings he eats, it’s still not enough. The Foodgōd is no match for Queen Martha.