Noah Ellis, owner of a Vietnamese restaurant in Beverly Hills named Red Medicine, recently made news by ejecting the L.A. Times restaurant critic from his establishment and blowing her cover.
S. Irene Virbila, who has reviewed restaurants for the Times for 16 years, made a reservation at Red Medicine under an assumed name. After waiting 45 minutes, her party was seated and Ellis somehow discovered her true identity. He approached the table, took her picture, and asked her entire group to leave. Afterward, her photo was posted on numerous web sites to warn fellow restaurateurs what she looked like, thus destroying the anonymity she had worked hard to preserve.
“We didn’t want her reviewing us,” said Ellis, who had found some of Virbila’s judgments to “unnecessarily cruel and irrational.” You might argue that he didn’t need the review in any case, if parties with reservations were kept waiting for 45 minutes.
It wasn’t the first time chefs or restaurant owners had unleashed their wrath on food critics. There was the famous incident in 1998, when Gordon Ramsay ejected A.A. Gill (the reviewer for London’s Sunday Times) from his restaurant in Chelsea. Joan Collins was in Gill’s party that night, which might have had something to do with it. Fifteen Melbourne, the restaurant of celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, banned Stephen Downes from the premises in 2006. Downes is Australia’s most experienced food critic (in his own opinion, anyway).
Then there was the case of Alain Senderens, the founder of Nouvelle Cuisine and one of France’s most celebrated chefs, who had garnered three Michelin stars for his Paris restaurant Lucas Carton. He decided to “give up” his Michelin stars in 2005. Senderens closed the restaurant, changed the menu, and reopened with a more casual concept. This gesture created a heated debate in the culinary world: Did the stars belong to Senderens, or to Michelin? The answer was clear to the Michelin Guide, which awarded two stars to the chef’s downscaled eatery.
Legally, restaurants have the right to serve anyone they want—or not. Many people would argue that consumers also have a right to information, except for sensitive matters of national security. When you’re on the receiving end of a bad review, though, a restaurant’s fortunes and the public interest are sometimes at odds with each other.