Let’s see: was it dumb, unethical, or dumb and unethical?
Time.com’s food writer Josh Ozersky had several major chefs do the cooking to celebrate his May 23 wedding, and then wrote a column suggesting to readers that it was a better way to go than traditional catering.
Especially if all of them cook for free, and the food as well as the venue are provided free of charge, because you happen to be a food writer for Time.com. But Ozersky left out that part.
In the column, published last week, Ozersky named names while singing the benefits of using restaurant chefs rather than caterers. Later, he described the chefs’ contributions as “wedding gifts” from close friends. He said he requested food rather than typical wedding gifts when chef friends inquired about what to give to the happy couple.
Event planners familiar with the space estimated the cost of such an event at anywhere from $200 to $500 per person. Was it a shakedown? An exchange of a well-placed compliment online from a noted food expert for free lasagna? Nobody knows. After being excoriated for failing to mention that all the food was free, Ozersky wrote sheepishly that he was stupid rather than unethical, saying, “it was dumb of me not to be more explicit about the fact that I did not pay for any of their delicious contributions, and I was wrong not to make this clear to my editor beforehand. I am not an anonymous critic and I don’t review restaurants for Time (or anyone else). I comment and enlarge on trends on gastronomy, which I stay aware of by being close to chefs. I love my chef friends, and wanted to share their food with my other friends… It was a mistake, but I was hardly trying to trade column space for goods…”
The problem is that in the notoriously subjective field of food commentary that is always under suspicion of undue influence and unrevealed agendas, what Ozersky “forgot” to explain not only casts his integrity in doubt, but all of his colleagues and competitors as well, confirming what many suspect. There was a lot of financial incentive for Ozersky to allow chefs to get valuable publicity by feeding his guests.This is the epitome of “the appearance of impropriety” and an apparent conflict of interest.
Whatever the truth is, it sure looks more unethical than dumb to me.