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Twenty-four-Karat Chicken Wings and the Allure of Eating Gold

Last week, seemingly every time I opened my laptop or unlocked my phone, I was presented with the same video, in which a chicken drumette is fried amber-dark, then dunked and swirled in an iridescent, vividly yellow sauce that resembles molten gold. In the next frame, a mound of the metallic wings takes on even more glitter, as does the gloved hand of the cook guiding them, a dust storm of 24k. microparticles turning these hot wings into golden hot wings, which a person can order, if she so chooses, at the Ainsworth, a restaurant with locations in cities including New York, Hoboken, and Newark. The golden hot wings cost forty-five dollars for ten or ninety dollars for twenty, or you can drop a thousand dollars for a pile of fifty plus an aureate bottle of Armand de Brignac champagne.

The creative force behind this intestinal El Dorado is Jonathan Cheban, an erstwhile P.R. professional and self-propelled media personality who—despite an aggressive attempt to rebrand himself as a culinary influencer, complete with the nom de guerre Foodgōd—remains best known as a friend of Kim Kardashian. Brian Mazza, the president of the company that owns the Ainsworth, explains in the video, which was shot in one of the restaurant’s Manhattan locations, that he knows Cheban from the world of night life, and was inspired to work with him: “I said, ‘Bro, let’s do a collab.’ ” The video was produced by Insider, the life-style arm of the media company Business Insider. Once the wings are done with their powdered-gold shower, they land on a table in front of Cheban, who is sitting with an Insider reporter. He giddily bites into one, emerging with a foiled mouth, like an Egyptian queen, or a Spring 2016 Prada runway model, or a Diane von Furstenberg purse. “It’s starting,” he says solemnly. “The gold lipstick is starting.”

Over-the-top luxury foods are a reliable public-relations gambit for any attention-hungry restaurant—even in the years before the advent of Instagram, my e-mail inbox would fill up with thousand-dollar omelettes and millionaire Martinis, constructed with a laundry list of pricey ingredients. But, short of treating caviar like mashed potatoes or serving a whole white truffle to be eaten like an apple, it’s virtually impossible for a restaurant dish to reach a truly eye-popping price tag without an assist from the mineral world—like, say, the diamond that rested at the


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