As part of the research for an academic paper I'm currently working on about standards for wine awards, I submitted an application for a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence. I named the restaurant "Osteria L'Intrepido" (a play on the name of a restaurant guide series that I founded, Fearless Critic). I submitted the fee ($250), a cover letter, a copy of the restaurant's menu (a fun amalgamation of somewhat bumbling nouvelle-Italian recipes), and a wine list.Sadder and funnier than the hoax is the Spectator's reaction, compliments of editor Thomas Matthews [via commentator Calton Bolick], who defends the way the magazine vets its awards:
In order to make the application appear genuine, I also obtained a Milan phone/fax number, as required by the application, and established a small online presence. Aside from creating the menu and wine list, all of this took less than three hours.
Osteria L'Intrepido won the Award of Excellence, as published in print in the August 2008 issue of Wine Spectator. (Not surprisingly, the Osteria's listing has since been removed from Wine Spectator's website.)
We do not claim to visit every restaurant in our Awards program. We do promise to evaluate their wine lists fairly. (Nearly one-third of new entries each year do not win awards.) We assume that if we receive a wine list, the restaurant that created it does in fact exist. In the application, the restaurant owner warrants that all statements and information provided are truthful and accurate. Of course, we make significant efforts to verify the facts.If more than half your new entries receive awards, it may be time to rethink your award process. That being said, the irony hasn't yet been served. After Matthews' description of a research process that, shoddy as it was, still should have raised red flags (Stephen Glass, circa 1998, anyone? Come on, that was a decade ago), senior editor James Molesworth writes,
In the case of Osteria L’Intrepido:
a. We called the restaurant multiple times; each time, we reached an answering machine and a message from a person purporting to be from the restaurant claiming that it was closed at the moment.
b. Googling the restaurant turned up an actual address and located it on a map of Milan
c. The restaurant sent us a link to a Web site that listed its menu
d. On the Web site Chowhound, diners (now apparently fictitious) discussed their experiences at the non-existent restaurant in entries dated January 2008, to August 2008.
Larry: This is the problem with the 'blogosphere'. It's a lazy person's journalism. No one does any real research, but rather they just slap some hyperlinks up and throw a little conjecture at the wall, and presto! you get some hits and traffic...The lack of self-awareness is positively stupefying.