Monday, April 1, 2013

Rant: Destroying A Chef's Reputation?

As I am an attorney (and despite the cliched jokes to the contrary), my ethics are very important to me. I have posted a Blogger Code Of Ethics and written numerous posts about ethical issues. I believe that all bloggers should follow a code of ethics as the power of the "pen" can be too easily abused. For example, negative reviews can adversely affect a business so one must be very careful in how one proceeds. One must be objective and fair, honest and upfront.

Rarely do I have an ethical dilemma as I simply follow my own rules, which have served me well for many years. However, I find myself now entangled in an ethical dilemma which has the power to destroy a person's reputation. I have long been pondering over how to properly handle this matter and have asked others for their opinions as well. I have finally made a decision on a course of action and only hope that what I am doing is right.

Because of my Monday Rants, I was approached by a line cook from a popular, Boston-area restaurant. He wanted to share with me some unsavory information concerning the chef and initially I was reluctant to talk with him about this matter. I had little interest in gossip about chefs, such as who they might be sleeping with or whether they do drugs or not. His information though struck at a more important issue, a deception the chef was perpetuating upon the general public, a lie about the sourcing of some of this restaurant's ingredients.

The restaurant has a reputation for serving primarily local foods, from their produce to their meats. The line cook alleged that the restaurant actually served very little meat that was purchased locally. Most of it came from large scale, out of state farms that cost far less than locally purchased meats. It appears that the chef has a close relative who works with one of those large scale meat suppliers and thus is able to acquire his meats more covertly.

This is an explosive allegation and I certainly would not have given it any credence without clear evidence. I met with the line cook and he had a cell phone video showing an incriminating conversation between the chef and his relative. It was not the best of quality, but the voices were clear enough and seemed to support the allegation. He lacked any further evidence and didn't think he could get anything else.

I was considering dropping the matter but decided I would interview the chef, and try to throw in a few questions about rumors concerning his meat sourcing. I arranged an interview through his PR company and met with the chef later one morning at his restaurant. The interview started off well until I started asking questions about his sourcing. My initial questions were rather innocent, without mentioning any rumors, yet the chef's attitude and demeanor changed. He seemed defensive even though there was no reason to be at that time. When I finally asked about the rumors, he ended the interview, leaving quite angrily.

It seemed to me that there was validity to the line cook's allegations. It seemed clear that the chef was trying to hide something. I did some further digging, identifying the chef's relative and his company. I phoned the relative and let me just say that I obtained verification that he delivered meat to the restaurant. With that verification, I contacted the chef again, though this time directly. I indicated I might be publishing this story and wanted to hear his side.

The call was extremely unpleasant, with lots of profanity and threats from the chef. However, the chef realized that he was in a corner, though refusing to admit guilt, and begged that I would not post the story. If I posted my story, it would probably destroy his reputation though he seemed guilty of the allegations. Should I post it or not?

In the end, the chef indicated that he would be leaving the restaurant within the next week, that he would likely be getting a job in another city. I indicated to him that if he quit and move, then I would not post the story. That deadline has passed though and there is no indication that the chef intends to move on. The chef has also not returned my subsequent phone calls or emails. This post is his final chance to do the right thing, to follow through on our agreement.

If nothing changes this week, then next Monday's Rant will identify the chef and restaurant, providing the evidence I possess. I received much support on both Facebook and Twitter for outing the chef if I possessed sufficient evidence of his deception. My outing will not be without repercussion, but I am willing to take on those consequences to expose this fraud. Once I identify the chef and restaurant, the restaurant owner will have the ability to verify this matter on their own. All they will have to do will be to analyze the invoices for the local meat producers and determine there was an insufficient amount  to have fed all of the restaurant's patrons.

Chef, step up and do the right thing or it will be my obligation to reveal the truth.

UPDATE: 
April Fools!!!
Every year, on April 1, I write an April Fools post, and this year is no different. I have no plans to out any chef, and have not received any info about a chef's deception concerning the source of their meat. With the advent of Social Media, it has become even more difficult to fool anyone because everyone talks about April Fools. Before SM, you could go the entire day without someone mentioning it. Now, you often can't go five minutes before someone mentions it. This post does strike at some very important issues and I appreciate all the thoughtful comments it has engendered. Though it has generated a few hateful comments as well. This is an issue that certainly could arise one day. But this time, it is only an April Fools joke.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

Unless the meat is radioactive who gives a fcuk where the cow was brought up.

Mr attorney blogger, dont you have ambulances to chase.

Anonymous said...

Good for you! Unfortunately this problem seem rampant in the food industry - over charging for "sustainable" products purchased from a huge corporation like sysco. It detracts from restaurants that actually source out (and pay a premium for) high quality product.

max jacobson said...

Hmmm. A thorny issue, as you have the ability to destroy a business and several incomes in the process of exposing the chef. Why not give the restaurant the opportunity to fess up, and change either prices or the menu?

Anonymous said...

is this an April Fools joke?

Anonymous said...

Transparency. Thank you. I care what I put into my body and if it's sustainable. When I choose to eat meat, I want to know if it has traveled a far distance (energy consumption) and if it is filled with antibiotics/hormones.

There are really great chefs who are honest and care about the food they serve. I work in the industry and I know about these wonderful chefs and I also know about the dishonest ones. Professionals in every field are held accountable. If you choose to decieve your customers, then your reputation and integrity are not priorites.

Thank you for posting this.

Frederick Wright said...

As a consumer who is conscientious about what I put into my body, and the impact that it has on the environment, I certainly DO care that the claims of a given restaurant are valid or not. Sure, I enjoy the occasional fast food hamburger, but I'm not being actively deceived, I know full well what I paid for.

Since I also abhor drama and value ethics, I think you did exactly the right thing here. What I don't understand is why any chef would risk his entire reputation for a few bucks padded profit when there are MILLIONS of eager customers lining up to pay for premium, locally sourced ingredients.

Anonymous said...

You're a fool.

This is either a terrible April Fool's joke or your sorry attempt at drumming up traffic to your provincial little blog.

I don't believe that you actually have any evidence of wrong-doing, because if you did you would have released it today or yesterday. This isn't noble, all you're doing is providing the chef in question time to destroy the evidence and prepare pre-emptive damage control.

You have two choices now. Retract this post, apologize for your april fool's joke in poor taste, and move on - OR, release the evidence this evening or tomorrow and hopefully catch the chef in question in the process of evidence destruction.

I should point out, by the way, that if this man truly is guilty of fraud and you fail to disclose that - you're complicit. This isn't noble, this isn't ethical, and it's certainly the opposite of an attempt to keep the drama to a minimum. No, what you are doing is assisting in a cover up. You might as well be burying evidence yourself.

Fred Minnick said...

We were just talking about how excited we were to read the post you've been building up, Richard. Well played, sir. You definitely got me.

When I wrote the Certified Angus Beef history book, the local meat subject came up a lot. The fact is, there are not many markets that can sustain local meat sourcing. Kentucky is one, because we have so many amazing local cattle producers and a lot of grass. One of the big issues with local beef is consistency. There's no way a local cattle producer can guarantee consistent Prime quality every time. That level of quality is only in 2% of the beef population.

Jason Brandenburg said...

I'm pretty sure April Fools jokes are supposed to be funny. This is just kind of a douchey jerk show.

JJ said...

Oh my stars! Well played!

Anonymous said...

You should replace - not simply update - this post with an explanation and an apology followed by an actual food related post. Why? Links by Grubstreet and perhaps other food related aggregators are driving new readers, such as myself, to your site. Do you really want your first impression to be that of a lie in the guise of a poor joke? It makes me question your judgement and does not make me want to return.

Richard Auffrey said...

Some people just don't seem to understand April Fools' Day and the pranks that sometimes get played. And those who are so negative in their comments, especially the Anonymous ones, probably are not the type of readers I want here anyways. Maybe sites such as Grubstreet should indicate my post was only a April Fools prank.

Anonymous said...

But an April Fools Day joke is supposed to be funny, almost a game of how absurd a story can be made while still getting folks to believe. There's nothing absurd or unbelievable about the story. As you said yourself, it could be true tomorrow. Now, if you had somehow worked in something about the turkey that is currently wandering around Boston as being locally sourced, that might have been funny.

Richard Auffrey said...

An April Fools prank neither needs to be absurd or unbelievable. That might be the most prevalent form practiced by numerous individuals and companies, but that is certainly not the only way. There are plenty of people who attempt pranks and/or hoaxes which could be true, but which end up not being such. On April 1, people should look at everything with a healthy dose of doubt, as anything could be an April Fools prank. This is the 6th year I have conducted an April Fools prank. So there is a clear record of what you should expect from me each April 1.