George Duran - Such A Liar

George Duran in Front of His Project

To Mr. George Duran:

On behalf of the the culinary world, we hereby revoke your dodin bouffant; apron; and most of all, your right to call yourself a ‘chef’.  You sir are an embarrassment to those in the culinary industry working hard to maintain and enhance a culture of food as one of the best parts of living.

Apparently, you are ConAgra’s celebrity chef spokesperson.  We suppose every industrial food giant needs one, you may as well be the one to accept their money; but at what cost sir?  So ConAgra and you hock over-processed “food” such as Chef Boyardee and Reddi-Wip.  People have to get their nitrous oxide and disodium guanylate from someone, right?  Since people are going to buy junk food, someone is going to sell it (although it is marketed pretty hard); either way, you may as well get your piece of the processed pie.  Frankly, espousing food additive-filled cans of over processed junk is pretty sad for someone to claim a French culinary heritage as their education; let’s just hope no one at the ESCF finds out.  The point here is that we can’t blame you for wanting to make money and it’s near impossible to do so in a kitchen.

What you are blamed for is your deceit in the face of obvious customer preference when it comes to wholesome or simply non-chemical-filled comestibles.

Jessica and I, along with other food bloggers, such as the Feisty Foodie, were invited to a secret restaurant, “Sotto Terra” (Italian for “underground”) by your public relations team. Like others who attended (as we learned later), we jumped through hoops to re-arrange our schedules to attend.  Perhaps you have tons of time on your hands, we do not.  We arrived in the West Village townhouse, which you charmingly (but obviously jokingly) claimed to be your own home; it was a beautiful, multi-million dollar space, beautifully decorated, filled with a lively crowd.  We were happy to make your acquaintance and I traded some parenting advice with you about baby-led weaning; a food-oriented approach to introducing whole foods to babies.  We wish you luck as a father to be and hope you will not feed your son the same ordure you fed us.  Cayenne, our daughter, was with us and were grateful that the P.R. team on site were incredibly accommodating to her presence — that is what good P.R. teams do.  What good P.R. teams do not do is lie to build attendance.  Lying to media makes it that much harder for legitimate P.R. teams to achieve their goals.  Build trust, not facades.

In a brief conversation with part of the P.R. team (they were from Ketchum), I inquired as to the timeline of Sotto Terra, “how long would it be open?” The answer: “two more days”.  Any more reservations available? “No.” Weird.  Why would they want us to visit and write about a restaurant that would see no benefit from the press? (hint #1)

Phil Lempert

Phil LempertPhoto by USA Today

After several minutes, your partner-in-crime Phil Lempert addressed the group and advised that we would not just be eating together but discussing our interests in food and this would be a sort of round-table.  We headed to the dining room where again Phil — a sort of disingenuous, if not manipulative, fellow whose hobbies seem to include celeb-name-dropping and lying to strangers — suggested that we go around the table and introduce ourselves, mention our favorite food, and then describe what’s on our mind related to food.  When one or two people before us mentioned “not enough time to cook” — you were both so excited I thought you were going to jump out of your skin. (hint #2)

When focus came to me, I spoke of disdain for the use of cellulose fiber (a.k.a. wood pulp) as a food processing agent, popular in fast foods like McDonald’s and over-processed foods like Eggo’s. A hot topic right now and TheStreet has a good article covering some details.  Humorously we had discussed McDonald’s as one of the worst offenders and Lempert offered the tidbit that their breakfast sandwich is their biggest money maker, guess what: it is made from wood, big shock.  When Jessica spoke, her hot topic was the use of artificial food coloring and other flavor agents.  Also in many of these over-processed foods.  It was jarring to hear you say something about how sometimes it’s necessary to use these chemicals to get “good food” to the supermarket.  Lempert quickly moved on to the next guests. (hint #3)

As we ate the “cheesy garlic bread” I said aloud how incredibly salty it was.  Jessica, her neighbor to the right, and the couple across from us all agreed.  Another guest said it wasn’t garlicky enough.  The cheese tasted cheap and like a lot of fat was added.  Your exuberance extended our patience and we figured it was a minor fumble, we moved on.  But then, the entrées came out.  Generic-looking lasagna of the type I’d expect to find in my elementary school cafeteria.  But whoa, where was my wife’s cube of the dish?  Instead she received zucchini with a light tomato and shallot sauce with a side of cous cous.  We asked why and they said “there might be food coloring” in the lasagna.  Sojourn here a moment.  We eat… a lot… at many places… around the world. We have never heard of anything like this.  Why on Earth would a chef color an entree like lasagna? (hint #4)

It was a lucky thing Jessica mentioned her allergy to artificial food coloring as her topic of interest.  Had she not, it would’ve been a fun night thanks to your fraudulent “food.”

I started to eat the so-called “lasagna”. After a few bites I was done.  I said to Jessica that the sausage-kibble inside tasted like what you get at Domino’s and that the whole thing tasted like pizza hut.  Fortunately she shared some of her zucchini with me, and later that night I had dinner at home. (hint #5)

An important take-away about this event, besides the use of chemicals in industrially processed foods, is the deceptive tactic used in “hidden camera” commercials. While we left early, we’re told that every one of the guests at our dinner declined to sign a waiver to appear in the commercial.

Having worked in film/TV I can tell you that it can take dozens of attempts to actually get enough people that say what you want and sign waivers.

Also, consider the circumstances. These guests are invited to sit with the hosts and are asked how the food was while one host is shouting “it’s my best dish”. How likely are most people to be completely honest, especially to insult their host to their face?

Honestly, we had a good idea of what was going on well before the lasagna.  It was becoming clear: salesy-food-guy-Lempert + celebrity-chef + fake-restaurant = new product launch.  You get this credit though: we were fooled into thinking you were launching a line of foods.  That in reality you were pitching Marie Callendar’s frozen muck was beyond our imagination.

For others who may read this open letter and don’t already know, Marie Callendar’s is a chain of low-end restaurants out west.  Recently many of those restaurants closed their doors mid-meal-service, kicking guests out, due to bankruptcy.  We wish Sotto Terra was one of them!  That chain also licensed their name to ConAgra to be used for frozen and shelf-stable foods.  Thankfully you chose to give us lasagna and not the cheesy chicken and rice your company had to recall last year due to a salmonella outbreak.

So, let’s re-cap.  I told you first hand of our focus on wholesome food, particularly with our baby in tow.  We both said to you, with 20+ witnesses and apparently hidden cameras, how much we despise over-processed foods and artificial ingredients.  We discussed with the group the sad state of chemical-filled foods and discussed various chains.  And yet, you still fed me the exact thing I said I did not want to eat.

Whether a belief is grounded in religion or science or completely random, part of your job as a chef is to support it.  This is not taste preference, such as putting ketchup on steak tartare, this is what one chooses to eat.  Would you feed beef to a Hindu? Swine to someone kosher? Or, chicken to a vegan?  I am none of those, but would never force them to do something against their belief.

Let’s consider a more personal hypothetical: George, how would you feel if invited to my home, fed chicken cordon bleu, and then afterwards informed that we had secretly stuffed the cavity with entrails of rats found in the street, cleansed using various chemicals from the utility closet, such as bleach (also food safe in small quantities).

Perhaps I’m not being clear enough: DO NOT FEED GUESTS FOOD THEY SAID THEY DO NOT WANT.  It’s bad enough you feed that non-food to anyone, but you crossed the line.

Where is Anthony Bourdain when you need him?  The night could have been saved had he come crashing in through the window, kicking your processed food product onto the floor, and then slapping you across the face with sanitary, latex cooking gloves.

In case you don’t already realize it, we are not the only ones upset. Read what MomConfessionals had to say.

To avoid ending on such a somber note for what is usually such a happy blog, here’s a parody of what happened for our regular readers that accurately summarizes this event:

Yours truly,


Other reactions to Sotto Terra:

Why Sotto Terra, “Underground” Event was an #EPICFAIL

Sotto Terra, PR Dinner that Made No Sense

The Sotto Terra Incident: Hoodwinked Too?

Chilly Reception in Multiple Courses at Sotto Terra for ConAgra


posted by Lon at 08:39 PM Filed under Celebrities, Miscellaneous. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.