It had fitting features for a drama in the nation’s capital: a celebrity chef, an opulent restaurant in Georgetown, a social club’s after-party and the president’s daughter. And then, of course, rounds of veiled accusations, clashing accounts and shifting positions.
José Andrés, the outspoken, Spanish-born chef with a small empire of restaurants in the city, tweeted a photo of himself early Sunday morning standing outside Cafe Milano, a favorite restaurant of moneyed Washingtonians.
He claimed he had been denied entry to an after-party for the annual Alfalfa Club dinner, a gathering of political types known for speeches with self-deprecating humor.
Andrés said Ivanka Trump, President Donald Trump’s daughter and adviser, had attended the after-party and passed Andrés on her way in while he was waiting to gain entry. In his tweet, he hinted that she had asked the owner of the restaurant, Franco Nuschese, to keep him away.
What really occurred outside the restaurant as Ivanka Trump entered remained a subject of dispute among several people involved, and an encapsulation of much of Donald Trump’s Washington: unreliable narratives, petty feuds and the sense that one family controls all.
But Andrés’ friends and colleagues immediately jumped to his aid. The television personality Anthony Bourdain called it “loathsome” and a “grotesque betrayal.” Jorge Guajardo, a friend of Andrés’ and a former Mexican ambassador to China, tweeted that Andrés had been asked to leave “because his presence made Ivanka Trump uncomfortable.”
Andrés, 48, and the Trumps have a rocky history. Dismayed over comments Donald Trump made on the campaign trail disparaging Mexican immigrants in 2015, Andrés pulled out of a lease he had signed to open a restaurant in the Trump International Hotel in Washington. The parties settled a lawsuit in April.
But Ivanka Trump denied that she was behind the snub at Cafe Milano, an account backed up by the restaurant’s owner.
“I had nothing to do with anything that transpired relating to him last night at the restaurant,” Ivanka Trump said in a statement.
Andrés soon came to agree, it seemed. Just over 12 hours after his initial tweet, he tweeted again, thanking Ivanka Trump, with whom he communicated by text on Sunday. “I believe now that you personally had nothing to do” with the incident, he said.
In her statement, Ivanka Trump said she was “thankful for José’s clarification.”
But after many phone calls and more tweeting Sunday, the tide turned again. By early evening Sunday, Andrés went back to his original position: Someone in Ivanka Trump’s orbit had ordered that he not be allowed in. He tweeted: “Let’s not confuse my trying to Be generous and move on, with anything else. What happened happened and I stand by my account. I’m ready to move on.”
In a phone interview, Andrés said guests had told him they saw Ivanka Trump and Nuschese talking at the party.
“I was told I was not on the list. I was told I was not welcome,” he said. “I was told I was making people uncomfortable.”
He added, “It didn’t make any sense that I was the only one not allowed in.”
Andrés said that when he wrote in a tweet that Ivanka Trump was not “personally” involved, it was an attempt to “take the high road” and offer Ivanka Trump credence.
“I’m not a perfect boy, but I am a good boy,” he said.
On Sunday, there was still disagreement over whether Ivanka Trump had talked to Nuschese.
Guajardo, a close friend of Andrés’ who spoke to the chef repeatedly on Sunday, said Andrés told him that attendees had confirmed Ivanka Trump was spotted talking to Nuschese after she walked into the restaurant, which increased Andrés’ suspicion.
While Andrés waited outside, he said, he asked security if he could speak with Nuschese, an old friend who promised that he would step outside to check in. Andrés said he was soon told that Nuschese did not want him there, and that Nuschese would not come outside.
In an interview, Nuschese said he did not talk to Ivanka Trump at the after-party, and that Andrés was not on the guest list — a clear signal that he was not to enter. Nuschese said party crashers were common at Cafe Milano — its exclusive ethos is a draw for the city’s social scene — and that he was in pursuit of some last night around the time Andrés was told he could not enter.
“I’m sorry he was upset,” Nuschese said of Andrés. “It was a big misunderstanding. We both paid a big price.”
Andrés said he made peace with Nuschese on Sunday, but remained firm in his belief that there was no reason for Nuschese to deny entry to one of his friends.
“Everybody knows there is not a guest list for the after-party,” he said. “Nobody was checking anybody.”
He said that he had eaten at the restaurant since he was 23, and that when other guests at the after-party heard he had been turned away, they also left the gathering in a show of support.
Andrés and Ivanka Trump have a relationship that predates the 2016 presidential election. When they saw each other at a reception before the Alfalfa dinner Saturday, they chatted amiably for a minute. The two had previously talked about issues like aid to Haiti and other causes important to Andrés.
But his relationship with the Trump family has been fraught. In addition to the lawsuit over his planned restaurant at the Trump hotel, Andrés was a prominent critic of the administration’s hurricane response in Puerto Rico last year. Andrés clashed with the Federal Emergency Management Agency as he undertook his own efforts to serve millions of warm meals there.
By Sunday evening, Andrés said he was tired of the attention his original tweet had received. He said he did not want Cafe Milano to “suffer.” The back-and-forth on Sunday, he said, was revealing of just how small our politics can be.
“I am giving the benefit of the doubt to everyone now,” he said. “Somebody made a bad call.”