Last month, we received an invitation for a free dinner at a place we'd never heard of called Sotto Terra, to be hosted by TLC Chef George Duran and "supermarket guru" Phil Lempert. Set to take place at "an intimate Italian restaurant in New York City," the invitation promised that "while being served a delicious four-course meal, you will learn about the latest food trends from Phil, engage in conversation with other foodies and sample George's one-of-a-kind sangria." Unfortunately, we were busy color-coding our extensive shoehorn collection that night and could not attend. But a number of food bloggers took the bait, because hey, free food! Well, now the whole thing has blown up in the publicists' faces, because the bloggers were shocked to discover that their entrees came served on a bed of lies and exploitation.


It turns out that the "intimate Italian restaurant" wasn't actually a restaurant, and the main course wasn't really cooked by Duran—it was microwaved. The lasagna the bloggers were served for the entree was Three Meat and Four Cheese Lasagna by Marie Callender’s, a frozen line from ConAgra Foods. Marie Callender (a low-end restaurant chain) also provided the dessert, a Razzleberry Pie. And the event, orchestrated by Ketchum P.R., was filmed by hidden cameras intended to document the food bloggers' reaction for a possible commercial. Then the flacks told them the truth, but it turned out the bloggers' integrity could not be so cheaply bought! (A free wedding reception, maybe.) One guest writes:

The staged event was such that no well-mannered person would be able to be totally frank about the meal. Otherwise, both my guests and myself would have shared our honest opinion of your high sodium overcooked lasagna. Nevertheless, the experiment was not totally in vain, I now realize just how pathetic George Duran and Phil Lempert are. These two men redefine the meaning of a "sell out," and any small amount of respect I ever had for them is totally lost.

George was arrogant, awkward and frankly rude. From his opening point during our cocktail hour about how a waiter can get back at you by spitting in your food, to his pathetic “fishing” for compliments about a meal he did not even make. Phil Lempert was not much better; he manipulated all points of dialogue, never once allowing honest opinions of food to be shared. Instead he cut people off to make sure all remarks were not too taboo against our future frozen entree. Shame on these two gentlemen and CoAgra Food Corp. for allowing their potential customers to be manipulated in such a manner. Needless to say, Phil, George and any Con Agra foods are something I will encourage others to avoid.

So yeah, that sort of backfired. It's unclear why Ketchum—which is a pretty high profile P.R. company—would have thought that secretly filming bloggers while serving them microwaved lasagna was a good idea, but heads are bound to roll over this one, because today it's all over the NY Times. You've got to watch out for these bloggers—sometimes even when you ply them with unlimited sangria and a multi-course meal, they'll STILL voice their own opinions. Better to just register fake Yelp accounts.