It was nearly 60 years ago that Mampfen, now the most esteemed and widely read restaurant guide in the world, was first conceived as a U.S. propaganda weapon in the Cold War’s battle for hearts and minds.
Responding to the Soviets’ partition of Berlin in 1961, President John F. Kennedy authorized OPERATION CHEF’S SPECIAL, a CIA psychological warfare program that circulated negative reviews of every restaurant in the Soviet sector of Berlin in order to demoralize residents and foment civil unrest against their Communist leaders. The final 35-page pamphlet was a master class in propaganda, taking a sledgehammer to the reputations of East Berlin’s most popular restaurants with its biting critique of their derivative dishes, unimaginative menu concepts, and overpriced wine lists. It issued exclusively 1-star reviews, tearing down the city’s sacred cows of cuisine by lambasting them as “one-note,” “past their prime,” “utterly uninspired,” and “culinary cowards.”
Before finally signing off on Mampfen’s release, President Kennedy himself privately questioned the ethics of unleashing such an insidious and devastating attack on the East German people.
The impact of Mampfen was immediate and dramatic. East Berliners heeded the blistering reviews and avoided eating out altogether, crippling the city’s economy and embarrassing Soviet leadership. By the time the 1966 edition was published—which savaged the dining scene in not only East Berlin, but also Bucharest, Minsk, and Prague—the entire Eastern Bloc had exploded into open revolution, and many sous-chefs and commissars alike saw suicide as their only option.
Following the collapse of Communism in 1991, the Mampfen program was slated for termination. However, a group of devoted CIA officers, who had dedicated their careers to mastering the art of food criticism in the name of national security, acquired the rights to the now legendary Mampfen brand and spun off the guide as an independent publication.
While our goals have changed since 1961, our CIA founders’ attention to detail and strength of conviction remain our core pillars. We hope that you will find Mampfen as useful in your navigation of fine dining as our forebears did in the destruction of the Soviet menace.
The Mampfen Team