It Looks Like the Montauk Grifter Conned Gordon Ramsay, Too
Yesterday, we brought you the tale of Daniel Kaufman, a.k.a. Dan Kay, a.k.a. Dan Katze, the preternaturally prolific conman who told his victims, among many other things, that he was a world-class chef and a producer on Hell's Kitchen and Chopped—even though he can't cook. Since then, we've learned that he probably did manage to grift his way onto Hell's Kitchen. Also: We've gotten tons of emails from people who have crossed Dan's path, which we've published below.
Dan was arrested in Montauk late last month on grand larceny charges after allegedly defrauding a technology company he worked for out of $20,000. Before that, he had a fake life as a professional chef that included bilking one consultant out of $50,000 on the strength of a ludicrously inflated resume. In tracing out all of Dan's lies, I had assumed that the Hell's Kitchen claim was another whopper—after all, I talked to several people who attested to the fact that he had absolutely no culinary skills, and he had told innumerable other well-documented lies.
But according to IMDB, there actually was a Dan Kay who served as a consulting producer for Hell's Kitchen in 2005 and 2009 and the Food Network's Chopped in 2009. The same Dan Kay, according to published accounts in the New York Times and elsewhere, met contestant Amanda Davenport on the sixth season of Hell's Kitchen and brought her in November 2009 to New York's Elmo, where he served as executive chef and Davenport was his sous chef. Operating on the assumption that Dan Kaufman had stolen the "real" Dan Kay's identity, I tried over the course of two weeks to locate the real Kay. I called the Food Network, emailed Chopped host Ted Allen, and called Elmo. I got either no response or a brush-off.
UPDATE: Allen emails: "While a devious mind bordering on (alleged) criminality certainly is a prerequisite for Chopped producers, nobody on our staff knows a Dan Kay. I'm told that we asked IMDB some time ago to remove Chopped from his credits."
Now I know why: Dan Kay was indeed Dan Kaufman. Monique Bourgea, a New York cook who worked under Dan at Elmo, confirms that he was indeed the restaurant's executive chef. "He couldn't cook to save his life," she says. "But as an executive chef, you can get away without ever putting your hands on food." Bourgea says that Kaufman hired Davenport—who told co-workers that she had met Dan on the set of Hell's Kitchen—and that the two had a very close relationship: "They would be super inappropriately affectionate with each other. We'd find them in the walk-in freezer together." He told people at Elmo that he had gone to an Ivy League school on a basketball scholarship, but that an injury killed his career. He also claimed that he was a member of the family that owns Kay Jewelers.
According to two sources who worked at Elmo, Dan was abruptly fired in 2010 when the restaurant's owners learned about his history of fraud and theft. But they didn't tell any of the staff the truth about Dan, so when he convinced another midtown restaurant, City 55 (now Hash 55), to hire him as executive chef, he successfully poached about a third of Elmo's staff to come with him. Dan worked at City 55 for roughly one month before his repeated failure to pay employees led some of them to look into his background. "I couldn't find anything about Dan Kay," says one, "but then I Googled 'chef dan scam' and boom!" She told the restaurant's owners; they had him escorted out by a bodyguard.
Via email, Davenport wrote: "Yes I did work with him at Elmo...as you know he was Daniel Kay to me. I had no idea about his past or fraud until a year ago."
I've made inquiries at Fox, ITV Studios (which produces Hell's Kitchen), the Food Network, and Notional (which produces Chopped) asking under what circumstances Dan was hired and what role he played on the shows.
While I wait to hear back, here are some of the emails I've received from some of the many people Dan Kaufman touched with his fraud.
Here's my Dan Kay story. He was hired by my development company as a chef for our new restaurant, summer 2010. The place wasn't opened yet, and they were test cooking in our president's apartment. It was hard to say he wasn't a good cook under those circumstances, but it did become apparent that he wasn't a professional chef. He was CONSTANTLY on his blackberry, beyond just being unprofessional but obsessive. Then he couldn't speed up his cooking skills when needed, stuck I one slow speed like a student. They misspelled his monogram on his chef whites, as "Daniel Kaye," and in retrospect he wasn't really bothered about his name being wrong.
I needed to get an apartment in NYC, as I was traveling between NY & CA. Dan offered to sublet his financial district apartment to me. His TriBeCa 5,000 sq. ft. duplex on White St. was almost finished with a remodel, he reported. It was too good to be true for me, and although the sublet apartment did exist as he described it (I toured it), I was never able to move in.
I wired him $2,500 security deposit from California. Then when trying to move in a few weeks later, there was always some kind of snafu with my application or his scheduling issues. Apparently my financials were declined by the building (impossible), but he wouldn't let me talk to them directly. Then he had water damage and an insurance claim with his White St. remodel, and he couldn't move out of my new apartment. He left my girlfriend and I in the lobby of the apartment building on move-in night, with luggage, waiting to be let into the apartment. We ended up at a hotel that night after Dan explained on the phone, crying, that he was dining with his parents and begging for money. We ultimately had to move in with friends, and never went back to that apartment.
Ultimately it took several months of talking to Dan to try to get some of my deposit back. Dan would make promises to re-pay and then break them, and he would just go to ground if I showed any aggression. A mutual friend told me (in fall 2010) how Dan had embezzled his previous employer out of $40,000. In an email I accused Dan of conning me, and he had a violent / victim reaction, that exposed his guilt to me. He said he was in fear of his safety and wouldn't tell me where he moved (midtown somewhere he quipped). However, after six months into this, I finally got Dan to pay $1,000 of my $2,500. He continued to never meet with me, but insisted I give him my bank account number, so he could make a deposit. I did, and he did, then I canceled the account.
We continued communicating weekly for another six months or so, but he always had excuses not to meet to pay off the balance. It's been about 1.5 years now, and he no longer answers my e-mails at all. It's sickening to think back at the trust I felt with him, the in-depth conversations we had and the personal information I shared. In retrospect, there is no doubting that he's clever enough to be rewarded for making a clean living. When I think about the extra bullshit he probably manages while conning people, and the desperate situations he ends up creating, makes me think he's honestly tweaked.
So, I know him from when he opened the restaurant in South Boston, "South." I was hired to do the logo, website, and menu design. I never got paid. I did get some meals comped, but, we always tipped the waiters the full price of the meals because we kinda felt bad we were getting free food. But, anyway, I digress, he was ENGAGED to a poor girl here that was from Nantucket. But, before we got paid for our work on the logo, and technology (my partner at the time set up the POS system in the restaurant), he skipped town, not only with the investor's money from the restaurant, he had not been paying ANY of the vendors, and owed locals a bunch of money, and I think just about when the jig was up, and everyone started demanding payment, he up and disappeared — including leaving that poor fianceé behind with no information, and from what I recall she was really angry and hurt.
That's MY Dan Kaufman story. I'm glad that son of a bitch has finally been caught. The guys who made the signage for the restaurant were out for his blood for not getting paid, so I'm actually surprised he hasn't been killed yet. The investor lost a HUGE amount of cash, but I recall he was a rich kid playing with his inheritance, so I guess it wasn't his complete ruination. I wrote off the logo and site design as just a job that fell through... but I always wondered what happened to that slimy little weasel.
I was friends with a person who I thought was Daniel Kay. We met the summer of 2009 and were friends but then ended up briefly dating from the end of April 2010 through July 2010 and have stayed in touch on and off until about I'd say September of 2011.
We had a very tumultuous relationship. Lots of fighting and yelling at each other over the phone because of his shady behavior. At first I gave him the benefit of the doubt, but all the fights he would turn around on me and call ME the psycho for calling him out on blatant lies.... He even threatened to call the police on me if I showed up at his building on Water St. to pick up some of my property I had left at his apartment. He stole and sold my Macbook Pro, but had to give it back because I threatened to go to the police. At the time—and not even till this weekend upon doing an internet search—I did not know his background and that he was on probation or that he was using an alias.
There were many more instances of him stealing from/ borrowing money that I pretty much was able to get back by being persistent and threatening the police but I won't go into detail because I could honestly write a novel on it.
As one of the many, many, many NYC women that Dan Kaufman dated, I'd like to chime in. I don't have any particularly outstanding stories about him — I think the worst thing he ever did to me was promise me he could get me a last minute birthday reservation at Per Se since he was "close friends with the GM," which obviously never came through....
I'm pretty sure you can add your own credits to IMDB. (Sort of like Wikipedia, which btw, his is hilarious. Look through all the edit history.) When I first started seeing Dan (in 2009) and he mentioned the whole "I'm a producer for Hell's Kitchen" thing, being an inveterate internet stalker, I immediately ran to IMDB to show him off to my friends... only to find that he wasn't listed anywhere on the Hell's Kitchen or Chopped pages. (Nor was he in the credits after the TV show - I made a point of watching to look for his name.) Googling him, I found his "blog" — which has since been deleted — which was full of recipes (mostly from Emeril Lagasse) copy-pasted from elsewhere on the internet, along with purloined pictures of beautifully styled food which again, obviously were not his. (Being an amateur food blogger myself, I was all, "How did he get so many different plates?" Being a gullible fool, I was all, "Well, maybe he collects them from flea markets or something!" until I realized that he'd yoinked them from the Food Network.)
Also, as an intrepid stalker of his Facebook page, he definitely was FB-friends with someone who appeared to be the real Amanda Davenport from Hell's Kitchen. They wrote back and forth on each other's walls. I don't know whether he was really working at Elmo — or if he just phoned something in to the Times — and/or what his actual involvement was with Hell's Kitchen, but if you're curious, I bet Amanda Davenport would be a good source to fact check that.
He really is a fascinating character. I'm pretty sure I got away without him ever stealing from me — though I'm not particularly good at keeping track of my cash, and a missing $20 here or there might not have registered with me — but what I still find distressing is how easily I overlooked all the giant red warning signs and continued to see this guy who was such a liar, his pants must have been made out of white hot fire. Oh, dating in NYC!
I worked next door to Dan (at the time) Kaufman while he was running Busy Chef. I worked at the Wine Bar, then called Uncommon Ground, next door. He was the "chef" for our place as well, and possibly a business partner, or something, but much of this has slipped my mind as it was a few years ago, and I suffered a nervous breakdown (yep) shortly after my time there.
I had the unfortunate experience of going out on a couple dates with Dan — he talked a lot about baseball and surfing, telling me come summer he'd take us out to the beach and teach me. Blah blah. He was the worst kind of womanizer, often making references to my "not being able to hack it" in this city, as I was still a "kid" (10 years younger than him), and being from the midwest, he often told me I had no backbone for the pace of city life. I cannot tell you how many times that man put me in tears.
One funny thing is I have this very, very distinct memory of being in the basement of Uncommon Ground, and looking for something. Myself and coworker at the time found a freezer stuffed full of frozen boxed meals like Stouffers and Lean Cusine. Stuffed. Full. Since the premise of Busy Chef was "professionally cooked food to go," I'm assuming the makers of these products were the "professional cooks." Dan was just doing the "to go."
He was in Burlington, Vermont for some time around 2006, here's an announcement of a position he obtained with some very doubtful information (the original was accompanied by a photo): "Propeller Media Works announced the appointment of Dan Kaufman as senior account manager. Kaufman was with PriceWaterhouse Coopers for more than 10 years as a client relations team manager and oversaw 130 web sites in 36 countries."
He also was involved in the opening of a local restaurant called Tilley's (at least he was promoting it as if he had some sort of connection) before he sort of disappeared (the restaurant stayed open for a few more years).
I was acquainted with him the spring and summer before, as was at least one of my friends. I personally have nothing to report other than you just knew he was full of it right off the bat because his stories never quite made sense. My interactions with him were purely social and mostly fine (although he did send me quite a few text messages of the sexual nature), although he was definitely sketchy. He claimed he was going to be moving into some luxury waterfront condos once the building was complete (it was a Courtyard by Marriott to which he referred) and saying he had moved up from Boston where he had a super successful restaurant (a Google search quickly shot that down). He did, however, have a tiny, under-furnished apartment with a few pictures of his kid.
I was almost a victim of Dan Kaufman's credit card scam in Brooklyn Heights.
A few days after eating at his Brooklyn Heights restaurant "Oven" one evening, I noticed an extraordinary charge on my debit card account-over a thousand dollars, if I remember correctly. It was obviously a mistake, and when I went to Dan and told him about it, he couldn't have been more apologetic, and took care of it right away. It was only months later that we discovered we had been part of his rip-off scheme. What was so surprising was that he ripped us (I and my partner) off even though we had become very close to him, and considered him practically as a friend. Apparently it didn't matter whom he stole from.
As I mentioned, I considered myself a practically a friend of Dan's after he had been at his Brooklyn Heights location for a while-I got my coffee at his place every morning, he invited me and my partner to the opening of his restaurant "Oven," and treated us very well there-hell, we even bought him flowers for the opening! We gave him our opinions on his food, and he would listen to all we had to say. He certainly had me fooled the entire time he was present at the Henry Street locations-he was personable, friendly, generous-a very likable fellow.
And the contrarian perspective, from M.R.:
I worked for Dan during the period when he was running Busy Chef, Blue Pig, and Oven in Brooklyn Heights. During the course of that time, perhaps one or two years, I became well acquainted with Dan. I cannot say that we were friends, as I am not sure that he had any, but I would have considered myself something close.
It was obvious from the first time that I met Dan that he was completely full of shit. He told so many unbelievable stories that it was hilarious. What is even more unbelievable is that people in your article believed him. I would simply listen to his stories and laugh. They were always perfectly terrible.
As I worked for him I also realized that he was terrible with money. He would always talk about having so much money but there were numerous times that my checks would bounce and his bank wouldn't even let me cash his checks. They would simply tell me that he did not have the funds. It was a very frustrating time for me financially.
However, if it was not for Dan I would be in a very different place today. While his checks weren't always good, he helped keep me afloat. I was new to the city, didn't have work, and not much of a bank account. Also, he introduced me to so many people. Some of my dearest friends I have met through Dan. Just today I sent the article to a friend. Then I quickly wrote him a follow-up email when I realized that we only knew each other because of Dan.
As bizarre, shady, and untrustworthy as Dan was he had a huge heart. There was never a homeless person that walked by that Dan didn't give some change and/or a snack to. I remember him trying to teach a few employees English in the basement. He would regularly donate money and food to local schools for events and fundraisers. And he would hire the most beautiful (on the inside) people. There was not one employee that he hired that I did not like.
Dan is far from a monster. He is kind and gentle. He obviously has some serious problems.
I'll post more emails as I get them.
At the request of some of the people I spoke to for this story, who agreed to provide information only on the condition that they not be identified as having been associated with Kaufman, we have turned off commenting for this post. If you have had run-ins with Dan Kay, Dan Katze, or any other version of Dan Kaufman, please let me know and I'll follow up.
Top image by Jim Cooke.