I just heard of a wonderful, magnificent scam, on NPR's food and cooking show The Splendid Table (which actually isn't at all like those old Saturday Night Live skits).
What does it take for a restaurant to win a Wine Spectator magazine award for excellence? $250 and a website. No wine needed. No restaurant needed:
Milan's Osteria L'Intrepido restaurant won Wine Spectator magazine's award of excellence this year despite a wine list that features a 1993 Amarone Classico Gioe S. Sofia, which the magazine once likened to "paint thinner and nail varnish."
Even worse: Osteria L'Intrepido doesn't exist.
To the magazine's chagrin, the restaurant is a Web-based fiction devised by wine critic and author Robin Goldstein, who said he wanted to expose the lack of any foundation for many food and wine awards.
To pull off the hoax, Goldstein created a bogus website for the restaurant and submitted an application for the award that included a copy of the restaurant’s menu (which he describes as "a fun amalgamation of somewhat bumbling nouvelle-Italian recipes") and a high-priced "reserve wine list" well-stocked with dogs like the 1993 Amarone.
Evidently, the most crucial requirement to win this award is the $250. Spread among the nearly 4000 restaurants that applied, and almost all won awards, that's a cool mill.
Wine Spectator, while admitting that its staff never visited about 200 award-winning restaurants, naturally denounces this as the "publicity-seeking" equivalent of a troll. A fancy way of saying, "We got caught, but we're not going to apologize and make it right. We're not about to own up and fire everyone involved."
Which is precisely what the magazine should do. "And by the way, did we mention that balloting for the 2009 Wine Spectator awards for excellence is about to begin? Send your restaurant's application, with the processing fee of $250, and we'll notify you if you've won an award."