Tim and Nina Zagat are as sensitive about their reputations as some of the chefs they review.
At the beginning of the year, Food & Wine magazine assigned former New York Times food critic Mimi Sheraton to travel to eight cities where the Zagats publish their popular maroon guidebooks, dine at restaurants in each locale that received the highest Zagat Survey food ratings, and then write about whether she agreed with their findings. In New York, for example, Ms. Sheraton visited Le Bernardin, Chanterelle, Nobu, Sugiyama and Peter Luger.
Ms. Sheraton’s critical essay is slated for Food & Wine ‘s upcoming September issue. But when the magazine contacted the Zagats to fact-check the article, the couple responded to the publication with a tetchy letter to Food & Wine ‘s senior editor, Pete Wells, dated July 2.
“Over the past twenty years, we have cooperated with numerous magazines and newspapers who have written about us,” they wrote. “However, in all that time we have never had a publication write first and check the facts afterwards. We are especially mystified that you refuse to tell us the thrust of the article or identify the writer–even by profession.” (The Zagats have since learned Ms. Sheraton’s identity.)
“We never tell people who the author of a piece is, and he found that very suspicious,” explained Food & Wine editor in chief Dana Cowin. “He also found it suspicious that [because the article was a review and not a standard profile] we hadn’t included them in the process.” She said that because Mr. Zagat learned about the piece at the last minute, he wrongly assumed that it was some type of “character assassination.” Ms. Cowin added: “If any characters are being assassinated here, it’s incompetent chefs.”
Ms. Sheraton told The Transom that although her article is essentially an opinion piece, “one has to get into a little bit about how the Zagat guide is done and my feelings about how it’s done.” And sources at Food & Wine said that it was questions about the methodology of the guides–which comprised a number of the fact-checking questions–that seemed to bother the Zagats most.
In response to the fact-checking question, “Are respondents asked to supply proof that they have been to the restaurant?”, for example, the Zagats responded: “No … without knowing the context, it is impossible for us to answer this question in an intelligent way. Of course, we have our proprietary methods for weeding-out [sic] cheaters. But asking 200,000 people for receipts for their 40 million meals each year is not one of those ways.”
The Zagats answered most of Food & Wine ‘s questions, but they also sought some assurances: “1) make it clear that Food & Wine did not tell us the contents or author of the article, and 2) that, should you need to edit our responses to meet your space constraints, we will have the chance to review such changes with you.”
Sources at the magazine said that some of the Zagats’ responses were incorporated into Ms. Sheraton’s piece (at one point, Ms. Cowin said, Mr. Zagat requested that the magazine give him a chance to respond to the critique in an article of his own), but that the couple were not given any form of quote approval.
Meanwhile, although the issue doesn’t hit the stands for several days, Mr. Zagat indicated that he had already seen a copy of the story and deemed it “fair.”
Mr. Zagat said Ms. Sheraton takes issue with some of Zagat’s top-rated restaurants, but, he added: “That’s her privilege and it doesn’t mean that the survey methodology has any problems whatsoever.” He did say, however, that Ms. Sheraton’s article “raises questions that I did not see at the time I was asked to comment. She doesn’t understand what we do and she doesn’t particularly want to. If she did, she would have asked us over the years.”
“What amuses me,” Ms. Sheraton said, “is considering how powerful [the Zagats] appear to be, they’re pretty nervous.”
When Oscar winner Angelina Jolie recently told the Daily News that she’d “never done a nude scene or a love scene” before her role in the upcoming costume thriller Original Sin , she must have been suffering one of those episodes of lunacy that seem to periodically afflict her.
For starters, Ms. Jolie spent quite a lot of time in the buff in Gia , the 1998 HBO film in which she starred as “doomed” smack-addict model Gia Carangi. Gia featured a number of Sapphic love scenes, as well as one in which Ms. Jolie blithely climbed a chain-link fence while buck-naked to recreate a Chris von Wangenheim photo shoot from the 70′s.
More recently, however, Ms. Jolie’s handlers say they’re mystified by a well-traveled e-mail attachment that contains a video clip of what appears to be the actress taking a shower. The 20-second visual, which seems to have been edited in several places, shows Ms. Jolie, or a look-alike, from the waist up, reflected in a steamy bathroom mirror, soaping her upper torso.
The attachment does not have sound, but Ms. Jolie appears to be speaking to whomever is shooting the footage. As the clip progresses, the actress seemingly becomes frustrated about something and wags the bar of soap at the cameraman, eventually throwing her head back in a leonine, open-mouthed display of exasperation.
Ms. Jolie’s representatives said they had not seen or heard of the clip before The Transom forwarded it to them. At press time, they had not been able to confirm when it was taken or by whom.
But those who have seen it are full of theories about its origins, and some of their hunches are based on the lack of body art decorating her squeaky-clean torso. The only tattoo visible in the shot is a small black one on the subject’s left shoulder blade. This would mean that, assuming it is Ms. Jolie, and assuming further that the actress hasn’t covered the “Billy Bob” tattoo on her upper left arm, the video predates her marriage to actor and orange-food enthusiast Billy Bob Thornton in 2000. But other, earlier tattoos seem also to be missing, including a dragon that reportedly adorns her left arm.
Though the Internet is chock-full of faked celebrity nudity, the high quality and careful composition of the clip have convinced several recipients of its authenticity. Some contend the footage may even be an outtake from one of Ms. Jolie’s films, rather than the kind of slipshod home-video product that brought us the Pamela and Tommy Lee video. Then again, a home video shot by Mr. Thornton, who is a professional director–as is James Haven Voight, Ms. Jolie’s brother–would undoubtedly be of a higher quality.
The Grubman Revolt
The moment she plowed into 16 people waiting to get into Conscience Point, publicist Lizzie Grubman’s status in the media food chain changed precipitously. Used to supplying the media with a steady but controlled diet of celebrity arcana and photo opportunities, she suddenly became their main course. And papers like the New York Post were dining on her with the giddy abandon of Hannibal Lecter.
For some New Yorkers who attended the eighth grade at Horace Mann with Ms. Grubman, the aftermath of the publicist’s fateful night in Southampton brought a whiff of déjà vu , and perhaps the realization that Hollywood isn’t the only place that resembles high school with money.
In the fall of 1984, these alumni recalled, Ms. Grubman saw her social standing at the Riverdale prep school challenged by a group of onetime friends in a pint-sized insurgency that was billed by one former fellow student as “the Grubman Revolt.” Then, however, the injuries were limited to hurt feelings, and media coverage to the school’s yearbook.
“It was like Heathers ,” said one Horace Mann alum who remembered, but did not witness, the incident. (Like everyone else who spoke to The Transom, he requested anonymity.) “[Lizzie] was like the lead Heather,” he continued. “It was a combination of being popular and being feared. She had the power at that age to make or break you socially. If she thought you were a loser, that was it.”
And so, the alumni recalled, on a mild day that autumn, 20 or so members of her eighth-grade class sought to depose, as one former fellow student put it, “the social queen bee” who had developed, at an early age, a knack for making and breaking reputations.
Even then, Ms. Grubman made friends easily. “She was the cutest kid you ever saw,” said one rebel classmate. “She was really fun … she had great birthday parties.”
But, these same sources added, Ms. Grubman also liked to control who was part of the “in” crowd. “She’s the type of person that, if she didn’t like someone, she tried to make everybody else not like them,” said one woman who participated in the coup. “She did that to so many of us.”
Indeed, when a number of her eighth-grade friends compared notes, they apparently discovered that Ms. Grubman had badmouthed them behind their respective backs or had tried to pit them against each other.
A revolt was in order, and so, at lunchtime on the appointed day–no one seems to remember the actual date–20 or so 13-year-olds, looking like a bunch of seething fishermen in their raglan sweaters and duck boots, sat on the rock wall that divides the Horace Mann campus from Tibbett Avenue and waited for Ms. Grubman to walk by.
“We’d all discussed it and agreed on it,” one of the participants said of what happened next. When Ms. Grubman passed by, they shouted, “Down with the queen! Down with the queen!” Then someone who had brought along a boom box played Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust.” Although none of the witnesses to this event could recall in detail how Ms. Grubman reacted to this insurgency, they did remember that she responded with shock and disbelief.
Eventually, Ms. Grubman found a new social circle in the aftermath of the Grubman Revolt, and on her own terms. Recalled one of the female insurgents: “If you didn’t know what had happened, you’d have thought she decided not to be friends with everyone anymore.” Ms. Grubman’s spokesman, Howard Rubenstein, declined to comment on the Grubman Revolt–except to say that “the story was greatly exaggerated.”
Ms. Grubman left Horace Mann after that year, and not a few of her former classmates say they thought the revolt played a role in her departure. Hence, Ms. Grubman was not around to see the publication of her class’ senior-year high-school yearbook, The Mannikin , which preserved the incident for posterity: “Eighth grade brought Lizzie ‘The Queen’ Grumbman’s [sic] downfall. Her house of servants staged a revolt. Kenny Grouf still has the documented plan … Rachel and Andy Stein played ‘Another One Bites the Dust’ and Dennis Dacosta led the rebels in a march. We were free.”
Well, not totally free. Now that they’re all grown up, those Horace Mann alumni who spoke to The Transom said they felt badly about their behavior–to a point.
“I regret being part of it,” one of the rebel women told The Transom. But then, referring to Ms. Grubman’s current predicament, she said: “What comes around goes around. That’s pretty much the reaction of all of us.”
Babyface Time With Clinton
Still high from his triumphant Harlem shuffle, Bill Clinton held a Tuesday-afternoon press conference in midtown to announce his partnership with Kenneth (Babyface) Edmonds. The pair will not be producing the next Whitney Houston album, but fighting the world AIDS epidemic.
“There’s no way the government can do this alone,” Mr. Clinton said during his casual, almost free-style explanation of his new position as advisory board chair for the International AIDS Trust, a new advocacy group run by Sandra L. Thurman, former director of the White House office of national AIDS policy.
While New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd watched from behind amber-tinted glasses, Mr. Clinton tipped his hat to the efforts of Kofi Annan, Colin Powell and Bill Gates, but never mentioned President George W. Bush by name.
And though this move might not boost Mr. Clinton’s image in Washington, Mr. Edmonds goosed the former President’s uptown status when he gushed that Mr. Clinton had “always been like the coolest person, the coolest guy, the coolest President that ever–probably ever–existed.”
– Benjamin Ryan
The Transom Also Hears …
… Those darn kids! Disney holds a Hamptons premiere of its G-rated kids’ flick The Princess Diaries for 100 adults and 200 kids, and who do the youngsters gravitate to at the beach party at classified-advertising magnate Louise McBain’s Gin Lane home? The NC-17-rated Paris Hilton! One reveler at the soirée told The Transom that, in between eating S’mores and ice-cream sundaes, a number of 12-, 13- and 14-year-olds at the party asked Ms. Hilton, 19, for her autograph. (And she gave it to them.) Meanwhile, the older girls–and no doubt a number of the boys–were ogling Ms. Hilton’s model boyfriend, Jason Shaw. Ms. Hilton came with her mother, father and brothers–respectively, Kathy, Rick, Conrad, 7, and Barron, 11. Other sleeksters and their kids included Princess Yasmin Aga Khan and her 15-year-old son, Andrew; Carol Mack and her daughter Beatrice, 7; and former Sotheby’s owner Alfred Taubman and his wife, Judy, who brought their granddaughter Tatiana, 5. Ms. McBain’s beau, Simon de Pury, the president of competing auction house Phillips, was also there, as were her children: Alexandra, 14, Charles, 12, and Tara, 10.