Red Medicine is a Beverley Hills restaurant; Noah Ellis is the owner. S. Irene Virbila is the Los Angeles Times restaurant critic, who, like most U.S. food critics, works at staying anonymous, which she had successfully done for sixteen years. Not being recognized served the needs of diners, who want to know what the food and service is likely to be at an eating establishment when the customer isn’t preparing to write a critique that can make the difference between a restaurant’s long-term success or failure.
Last week, Noah Ellis intentionally destroyed Virbila’s ability to perform this service, or at least made it more difficult.
Ms. Virbila and three guests arrived at the new neo-Vietnamese restaurant to dine. Despite their reservations, the group waited for a table for 40 minutes, and still hadn’t been seated. Ellis, the restaurant’s managing partner, recognized Virbila, who had unfavorably reviewed one of Ellis’s partners’ work at another restaurant. Despite the fact that they had waited so long, Ellis ordered her and her friends to leave, then took a photo of the critic, who protested. Later, he posted it on Red Medicine’s website, writing,
“Our purpose for posting this is so that all restaurants can have a picture of her and make a decision as to whether or not they would like to serve her.” He then reviewed her reviewing, calling Virbila’s critiques “unnecessarily cruel and irrational.” Ellis concluded by writing, “We’re writing this to make everyone aware that she was unable to dine here, and as such, any retribution by her or on her behalf via a review cannot be considered to be unbiased.”
Ellis is the Julian Assange of restaurant owners.
Like Assange, he underestimates the value of secrecy, and overestimates his right to unilaterally destroy it. In the case of food critics, secrecy serves food consumers, and is a nuisance only to restaurants that want to deceive potential diners by giving special treatment to critics, who then report their experience as typical. There is no reasonable defense of his intentional exposure of her identity, which was unethical in oh so many ways:
- It was vengeful, unkind, and motivated by spite.
- It was unprofessional, treating a critic doing her job as a personal affront.
- It irresponsibly harmed the ability of other restaurants to get fair reviews.
- It made it more difficult for Virbila to use her expertise for the benefit of Los Angeles diners.
- It unfairly harmed Virbila professionally.
He was also rude to Virbila and her friends, who had done nothing but arrive to give Red Medicine their business.
I am told that some bloggers have actually come to Mr. Ellis’s defense, though I can’t locate any of their posts. I would love to read them, for they must be ingenious or demented. He is an Ethics Dunce by any reasonable standard.