When our receptionist at the Ahwatukee Foothills News gave me the message that Vinayak Gorur, a young culinary student who had graduated from Desert Vista, was experiencing success at the tender age of 21, I took the information down in my notebook and then forgot about it for a week.
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It turns out that it would have been best for everyone involved if the information remained buried somewhere in my notebook, but unfortunately I began pursuing the story after a few more persistent phone messages from someone who said he was the young chef’s instructor.
And, wow, did it sound like a zinger of a story. Gorur had gone to Arizona State University after graduating from Desert Vista, but moved on to pursue his love for cooking when he received a scholarship to the prestigious Scottsdale Culinary Institute. While at SCI, he won an award from the American Culinary Federation that gave him a $3,500 stipend to travel to Aspen, Colo. And to top it all off, armed with his ACF award, the prestigious Compass Restaurant in downtown Phoenix hired him as their youngest sous chef.
After interviewing Gorur, who showed up in our offices with his mother, I was impressed by his intelligence, ambition and polite manner. I also phoned his supervisor at the Compass Restaurant, Chef Greg Aberdeen, who gave me quotes full of glowing compliments for Gorur.
I asked Gorur if I could send a photographer to take photos of him while he was working at the Compass Restaurant or at school, but he said it was busy and dark at both places. So, instead, my editor ended up going to Gorur’s home where he cooked an entire meal while his mother looked on. And, yes, in case you were wondering, my editor said the food was very good.
The finalized story appeared in the May 13 edition of the AFN, and I got several compliments on the story. I’ve always said that any news story is only as good as its subject is interesting, and plain and simple, Gorur had an intriguing story to tell.
There was only one problem with the long list of accomplishments and accolades that made my story interesting – they were fiction.
I didn’t realize that there was a potential problem with my story until I got a phone call from one of Gorur’s childhood friends, Megan Berg, who told me that she thought Gorur had lied to me and that my story was, subsequently, false. Berg said that she had called the Compass Restaurant herself, and that they told her they had never heard of Vinayak Gorur.
My initial reaction was one of surprise and confusion. After all, I had interviewed Chef Greg Aberdeen, who I thought was Gorur’s immediate supervisor at the Compass Restaurant. I had gotten the contact number from my editor, who had passed it along to me from a press release he received about Gorur.
I immediately called the Compass Restaurant to figure out what was going on, and much to my dismay they informed me that they had never heard of Vinayak Gorur or Chef Greg Aberdeen.
Needless to say, this stopped me in my tracks. I went through journalism school, and completely understand how vital truth and honesty are in every story I write.
Digging further, I found out that the local chapter of the American Culinary Federation, who had supposedly given Gorur an award, had also never heard of him.
The Scottsdale Culinary Institute is still combing its records to see if Gorur ever attended.
As I came to terms with the simple fact that my story had major factual errors, I was embarrassed. Then I became a little angry.
I may be a young and relatively inexperienced reporter, but the other reporters in my office have never come across a scenario quite like this one. Not one reporter in my office could think of a time in their careers when a source had made up such an elaborate hoax and then conned a reporter.
So, should I have realized that something fishy was going on with Gorur’s story? Looking back at the situation in hindsight, absolutely, yes I should have. But looking at the situation realistically, I didn’t handle Gorur’s story differently than I handle any other story that comes across my desk.
After all, Gorur’s supposed teacher from SCI contacted us, and continued contacting the newspaper until I finally called back. And, don’t forget, when I interviewed Gorur, his mother was there. I have to admit, it never dawned on me that Gorur would have conned his mother into believing his story as well, which is in fact what he had done.
After I got over the initial shock of realizing I had been duped, I started to wonder why Gorur would have done what he did. Looking at the situation, he didn’t stand to gain anything from the story being printed. In fact, he risked losing a lot, seeing as the story was printed in his hometown, where people know him best, and surely would be likely to call him out for lying.
And, in the end, that is exactly what happened. Two of Gorur’s friends, Berg and Andrew Cole, eventually brought Gorur’s chef fantasy to a crashing halt. Cole has known Gorur since they were in first grade together and, according to Cole, the two had been close friends until about a year ago.
Cole and Berg said that Gorur has a long history of making stories up to make himself sound better, but that they were surprised he had gone so far with this story.
“I’m surprised that he would try to trick a whole community by making this public,” Cole said. “He makes up extravagant stories frequently to impress people, which he really doesn’t need to do.”
Cole is not sure if Gorur understands how serious his lies have become now that he has made them public.
“I don’t think he processes the consequences of his lies,” Cole said. “We all lie when we’re young to get out of small things, but Vinayak never grew out of it.”
Gorur’s parents, who he lives with, seem to be just as confused as Cole about Gorur’s issues. Both parents said that they were not sure if Gorur was telling the truth about working at the Compass Restaurant, but that since the newspaper was writing about it, they assumed it was actually true.
“I don’t think he’s malicious, but he exhibits times of total immaturity,” Ravi Gorur, Vinayak Gorur’s father, said. “He has told small lies in the past, and he has been punished, but he is a mystery.”
Pushpa Gorur, Vinayak Gorur’s mother, said that her son has a knack for cooking, which is part of why she believed his story. She also believed the story was true simply because it was printed in the newspaper.
“When I brought Vinayak to the newspaper for the interview, I took Krystin’s words to heart,” Pushpa Gorur said during a recent phone interview. “Krystin said that she had gotten a call from Vinayak’s instructor and that she had spoken to his supervisor at the Compass, so I thought it was true.”
Gorur is currently in India with his mother, sister and extended family, and he was consequently unavailable to comment at press time.
Unfortunately, errors happen quite often in newspaper writing. Most are small mistakes, like incorrect dates and misspelled names, and these are common realities in a time when newspapers function on constantly shrinking resources and staff.
The inconsistencies in my story about Gorur were much more serious than an incorrect date, however, and for that, I owe an apology to the readers of the Ahwatukee Foothills News. I truly hope that the readers of the AFN understand that its reporters try their hardest to bring them the most accurate news coverage possible, but that we all make mistakes, and that you can’t outsmart every con-man.