Friday, June 25, 2010

Time food writer under fire for free wedding fare

Posted By on Fri, Jun 25, 2010 at 9:22 AM

Another day, another ethical dilemma: Time’s Josh Ozersky has found himself under fire for writing “Great Wedding Food: Tips from a Newly Married Critic,” in which he makes the revelatory point that wedding food provided by celebrity chefs tastes better than the mush that some caterers let idle under heat lamps. Yet the piece failed to disclose that these tasty dishes were provided gratis from chefs that were guests at the wedding.

So Robert Sietsema of the Village Voice wrote an indignant open letter asking Ozersky to clear up the food’s cost, in which Sietsema criticizes the article’s name-dropping and caterer-bashing as well as the bad taste it leaves with other food critics whose jobs depend upon their presumed objectivity. Sietsema ends by writing:

"I'm hoping you'll respond and convince me that you paid full price for all this gastronomic firepower, and didn't receive it for free without making a disclosure. Or maybe you can find some other way to convince me that there isn't something sleazy going on here, even though your article appeared in the pages of Time, which normally operates according to strict journalistic standards."

The situation mirrors the trial by fire of Meridith Ford Goldman, the former dining critic for the AJC who gushed about the food and service at her own wedding. Goldman’s wedding included ice cream from chef Shaun Doty and food from the Hil at Serenbe, all of which made for a picturesque reception, and all of which she said she paid for. When former Creative Loafing editor Ken Edelstein asked Goldman about what she paid, Goldman responded that she was “handed a bill, and [she] paid,” presumably full-price. Skeptics arch eyebrows.

In a hasty clarification at the foot of his article, Josh Ozensky calls himself dumb for not revealing that one of the chef’s daughters was his flower girl and the venue’s owner said a blessing in the ceremony. And yes, he was dumb to promote his wedding food from star chefs to his readership without revealing that said chefs are his nearest and dearest. Unfortunately, the New York Times estimates that Ozersky’s wedding would cost about $200-$500 per person without such gifts from celebrity friends, a price tag that makes squishy catered salmon sound tasty.

Yet Ozersky’s stupidity gets equated with an ethical oversight, but it is not so cut and dry. Rather, it throws into flux the assumption that disclosure rules act as a total panacea. While the writer’s intentions may be to solely use professional connections to perfect his or her special day, the unspoken power over a chef’s future comes off as a little Mafioso. And when the chef bills the writer (who has the chef’s reputation by the balls), the price probably ought not to sour the overall experience.

The Village Voice calls Ozersky’s writing a real “let them eat cake” move, which Goldman’s wedding piece qualifies for as well. These are writers who may get some free (or discounted) cake, but they also run the risk of eating up their own credibility.

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