Innocent restaurant review question results in legal freakshow


Of course it’s pricey. I don’t think I could afford a restaurant that charged by the hour.


There’s probably a word to describe people who resort to lawyers to prevent other people from giving their honest opinions of things, but unfortunately if you used it, you would probably get sued for libel.


That assumes that the statement is false. There’s also ways of dodging the libel question [1], such as clearly indicating it’s your opinion to get any libel suits summarily dismissed.

[1] “Publication need only be to one person, but it must be a statement which claims to be fact and is not clearly identified as an opinion”

To be fair, I think that Joo probably has a point; in this age of the “takedown review” where people seem to be looking for a lie on the resume to cause embarrasment, it does seem like a good idea to lawer-up if it looks like you’re getting challenged. And I think it’s kinda slimy for a food critic to even print anything about the cotroversy; his job is to review food, not use innuendo to report on quetions of the person’s background, especially since it’s not clear that there was any impropriety on the part of Joo. Gordon Ramsey on the other hand should probably face some fines for employing “unpaid interns” in his restaurants…

Unfair or untrue reviews are slimy, I agree. Threatening people who write them is stupid, as history has shown us. Threatening people who write honest reviews makes you both stupid and a sleazy businessperson. (In my opinion, of course. Please don’t sue me, Judy Joo.)

The reviewer is a restaurant critic, and as such he comments on more than the food. What if the food tastes great but the kitchen is filthy and the waitstaff is rude? Should that be mentioned? As for picking apart her resume…well, the woman did state in more than one place online that she had worked for one of the best known chefs in the world. If you’re going to make the claim, you should be sure you can back it up and I don’t think it’s unreasonable for a writer to fact check.

Judy Joo’s lawyers not only tried to block this guy from writing a review, they also complained about another review by a different restaurant critic. All of this suggests to me that, at the very least, I want nothing to do with supporting this business. Not that that’s a loss for Judy Joo, since I live on a different continent.

We all vote with out wallets in this world. Even if this food was life alteringly good I would not give a nickel of my money to this thuggish woman.


Absolutely the reviewer should comment on the decor, the service and all the other things that are related to the common dining experience. But to talk about how he fact-checked her resume, found some disagreement, was presented with reams of evidence that Joo did was she said she did, that it was presented by lawyers, etc is all irrelevant. The fact that another publication has what he claims was a less than favorable review and that it was, he claims, removed because of her complaints (the implication being they are not legitimate complaints) is also irrelevant.

I’d like to read what GRH had to say about her if they put any of that in writing. Barring that, I’d like to read more of Jay Rayner’s e-mail to Joo laying out the GRH question.

A 17-page legal letter is an interesting response, but I’d like to form my own opinion about the stimulus.

I asked Rayner if his e-mail is published anyplace. Unsure whether to wager my 5 Starbits on a) he’ll ignore the question or or b) respond “the lawyers won’t let me.”

EDIT: Should have gone with (b).

How can we have :crocodile: ethics in journalism :crocodile: if we live in a world where journos are forbidden from sharing their interview notes?


It is not at all irrelevant. When the owner misrepresents themselves, they misrepresent the restaurant, too. If any business (including restaurants) market themselves to be something, or the product of something, and that isn’t true, customers and potential customers should be able to know and decide whether they want to patronize the place. A restaurant is more than just food and service. It’s a business that customers invest their time in. Sometimes a business dinner, or a first date, can be tainted because the experience at the restaurant wasn’t what was advertised (even if that only means that the owner/cook wasn’t a student of whom they claim).


If I had to guess why GRG responded so angrily I’ve got pretty good incling it’s down to basic resume inflation. Cooks are reeeaaallly touchy about that. Assuming everything she claimed is true she’s using 2 years of inter(often called stage) to defend her food, market herself, a justify her position as an executive chef and media personality. But the typical stage or culinary school internship doesn’t really mean too much. Typically part time (and up to 5 days a week is part time for cooks, must work 5-7 days a week of minimum 12 hour days). The position you usually hold is something around a prepaid cook, and there’s a variable amount of actual instruction.

In other words she’s marketing herself based on less experience doing the same thing as everyone else who works in those kitchens. An experience level not too different than a freshly graduated culinary student. And most cooks work for decades for little pay carefully working up the ladder of ranks and position. Rather than doing a bit of stage with some flashy names and and wielding it for self aggrandizement.


Libel law is pretty different in Britain. In Australia, where we base our laws on the British, a restaurant sued a reviewer for some snarky comments that could only be seen as opinion, and won.
Politicians here used to see suing news outlets as a second income stream, and celebrities sue tabloids for reprinting stories that were already published in the USA, but were protected by your right to free speech.

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That’s the thing; the reviewer in no way asserts that the owner misrepresents herself - he says “at this point it should be made clear that, from my subsequent enquiries, there is no doubt Joo did spend significant time working in the kitchens of the [Ramsey] group.” Instead of facts all we have is implications of headlines.

So all of his bismirching of her character is really in response to her defense of her character, not the facts. In that regard it’s become personal, not professional, and therefore inappropriate.

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Forbidden or refuse?

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That doesn’t sound like resume inflation to me, it sounds like work minimization on the part of GRG; if she worked there (for free or not) that much, and they let her do it, she earned the right to claim that on the resume regardless of how little GRG thought that experience might be worth. To me this sounds like the continued abusive labor practices of the restaurant industry justifying itself rather than a legitimate challenge to her experience.

Fair question. My presumption is that Mr. Rayner, having a sweet gig in the employ of the Guardian, is beholden to the decisions of his superiors.

He may have worded something inartfully. Who knows?

Given that food reviews are supposed to make pounds for the paper, not lose them, and given that defending libel laws in Britannia is something of a cost center, I’m not surprised that their collective decision is to nope out.

Perhaps resume inflation is the wrong term. Qualification inflation? Maybe. My whole point being that there are likely 100s of cooks currently working at GRG that occupied a similar position (but payed), who got more on the job training and more experience out of it. And plenty of people who floated through on unpaid internships and stages just like hers. Those guys could not likely ever dream of working unpaid for two years, and would likely have to bust their asses for a decade or more, accumilating other more genuine experience, before even dreaming about opening their own place and/or earning the title “Chef”. And “Chef” is a title, a rank and a postion of employment not a profession. So to see some one using something they’ve also done, more of and protentially better, as a marketing ploy to justify a postion seen as unearned or as a supposed marker of quality (that doesn’t appear to be there), is going to rub a lot of cooks the wrong way. More than that its a pretty big faux pas. Its not something that’s generally done. Stages and internships are certainly something one lists on their resume. But for example a Pastry Chef friend of mine does not mention in the ads for the restaraunts he works at that he staged for WD-50 and Jaque Torres. Or that he once cooked with Heston Bluementhal for an event. Those are things he did, experience he has, and things listed on his resume. His friends and coworkers and employers know this. But they aren’t in anyway what qualifies him to run a pastry/baking program or run a kitchen as an Executive Chef (something else he’s done). Instead its the 10 years he spent as a pastry cook of lower rank, the 5+ he spent as both a Pastry Sous Chef, and regular Sous Chef that qualify him for those positions. As well as the fact that at this point he’s already been, and done well as a Executive Chef and full Pastry Chef for a number of years.

And the stage/intern system in kitchens is a bit weird sure. But its hardly a particularly good example of labor abuses in the restaraunt business (of which their are many, most of them totally legal and accepted). It tends to exist in two places. The very highest end restraunts, in which case its a pretty miniscule occurance when you get right down to it. And in culinary school, where its directly part of the teaching curriculum and job placement programs. So not all that much different than any other trade school (and these are frequently paid positions). 2 years of unpaid work is absurd though. Usually internships that don’t involve a culinary school last a few months. Stages are usually weeks to maybe months. They typically just end, but if they continue its usually with an offer or referal for paid work. So to keep going for 2 years with out an offer of fulltime employment probably means she wasn’t good enough to actually employ. But for her to bounce around the same restaraunt group for two years people must have liked her, or found her useful.

OR she had some sort of personal/inside connection with some one at the company to keep her there and the sort of wealth that allows a person to work unpaid for two years, then open a “trendy” restaraunt in an expensive city without much trouble. While still having enough money to field a team of lawyers to defend her brand from critics. Which is what this sounds like.

Joo’s first career was selling derivatives for Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, so it’s likely two years of unpaid internship weren’t infeasible for her.

Yeah I caught that. I’d also guess that has something to do with the “favor” she was able to get interning in these restaraunts for so long. It looks very much like she’s been working on buying her way towards being a Celebrity Chef of some sort. Whether she has the chops or not that’s not going to endear her to many people in the restaraunt business.

This is about a restaurant in England. Under English law the question is not whether the statement is false, but whether it is defamatory. And “defamatory” literally means “loss of reputation”; damages are assessed on financial loss. As for clearly stating it is your opinion - no, English courts do not have the same attitude to weasel words as US ones (David Bris’s brilliant takedown of Apple’s suit against Samsung being a classic example.)

I’m assuming you are a North American because US libel law is very different. You probably don’t understand why we care about the “right to be forgotten”, and people’s right to privacy. The short answer is that we’ve had both Naziism and Communism, and both of them rely to a degree on enforcing compliance by spying on people’s private lives. This to a degree is why people in the US seem quite unworried about the NSA’s activities while the Germans are very upset indeed. Because in the UK we have many descendants of refugees from Nazi Germany - and other totalitarian régimes - we share the German viewpoint to some degree.

Suppose for instance (I am not) that I was a neurologist and brain surgeon who twenty years ago had been convicted of some crime - let’s say I was a part time jewel thief - went to prison and subsequently studied medicine and went straight. I am in line for President of the Royal College of Surgeons - until the Daily Mail publishes all over its front page that I am a former jewel thief, in an attempt to scupper my election.
Under English law, that could be libel. It’s defamatory - the conviction is spent under English law - because it has harmed my reputation and cost me a prestigious job. Being true is no defence; in fact under English law, the more true (but irrelevant) the accusation is, the greater the libel.

I understand the UK attitude, but I don’t agree with it. If I don’t have carte blanche to say a true thing, in what sense do I have freedom of speech?


I have freedom of “appropriate” speech, which is decided by someone else.

Of course, I can’t cry wolf by shouting “fire” in a crowded theater when there is no fire, but that’s because people are directly harmed physically by such speech. Provoking someone by expressing an opinion I hold, likewise is protected, because that other person has the responsibility not to gun me down for words that I say.

And whether or not someone wants to be forgotten, that’s not going to actually happen. If, for instance, someone were a jewel thief today, went to prison, studied and became an expert neurosurgeon, then went for a prestigious position in 2025, it’s not the fault of people who remembered that he was a thief if that gets dredged up. It’s that person’s own fault for committing the crime in the first place, even if they’ve already served their time. Because trust matters, and being majorly untrustworthy in the past sets the precedent for their future.

It may not be “fair”, but I just can’t see how it’s better for the government to censor the truth from public view.

In short, most Americans tend to believe that the only legitimate counter to speech they don’t like is more speech, rather than the government smothering unappealing speech for the rich and famous, while not giving two shits about the commoners. Because the commoners aren’t famous, they can’t be defamed. It’s a lopsided system that favors the privileged, wealthy and famous at the cost of our free expression.

And if you ask me, bringing in the Nazis and Communism into this discussion to bolster your claims is treading awfully close to Godwinning the thread.

ETA: My main point is, that I personally find it very galling to be told I’m free when I’m censored from saying true things. In fact, that’s why I like the time worn battlecry “Censorship is fucking obscene” so much.

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