Opinionated Abut Dining Survey

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February 21, 2007



Thanks to you (and Chodorow) for highlighting one of the most infuriating trends in the food industry today (especially for those of us who don't get the Times). Restaurant reviewers in general have turned into verbal food stylists - describing the composition of a dish (as read from the menu, or retrieved from the server) and not the actual flavours, taste, texture, and execution of the dish itself. Sadly, they arent even the worst of the lot. The "local celebrity" reviewer, who gladhands for better treatment, and spends more time cultivating relationships than reviewing the food, and never gives worse than a 6.5 out of 10 for fear of alienating their happy clientele is probably the lowest of the low in my books.


On the one hand, I agree with some of what you say, although I think Chodorow didn't do anyone a service, esp. himself.

However, should we not apply what you say a food critic should be to wine critics as well? Therefore, shouldn't Robert Parker and Allen Meadows be excellent winemakers in order to be able to critique wine properly?

Another thing, Restaurant Critic is not really a life-long professional career. The top people who do this do not earn $250,000 a year. So, how can we expect the New York Times restaurant critic to be the All Supreme Food God Critic? You and I would both like the best possible person to be this critic. Yet all we can hope for is that the person Has a Clue and Will Do His Best.

Steve Plotnicki

I didn't say that food critics needed to be excellent chefs (your comment about Parker and Meadows,) all I said was that they should have enough expertise to do their job properly. What makes Parker and Meadows good at their job is that they have a sufficient amount of experience tasting the greatest wines ever made, and they can calibrate current releases to an appropriate standard. But the point Chodorow made about food critics, and which I agree with, is that there are many critics writing for important dailies who haven't been to the world's best restaurants, and who can't do their job properly as a result.


First, it doesn't get more laughable than a London restaurant critic not having dined at the Fat Duck.

Steve, you say "that there are many critics writing for important dailies who haven't been to the world's best restaurants, and who can't do their job properly as a result."

Ah, but when you say "properly" you really are saying "Steve Plotnicki properly"? This is because you are (I assume) one of the top 25 dining seekers in the world. You aggressively seek out the greatest food on the planet - and I think you try to do that for wine, too. So, you have more great/top restaurant experience than ANY restaurant critic will ever have; they lack the time to travel to those locations and the cash to do so. What does this mean? I think you will always be frustrated, by varying degrees, by every restaurant critic - and well you should be - as they can never match your knowledge and experience. (Yeah, okay, I'm just stating the obvious.)

I think the real question is: Do you think that the very top daily newspapers are hiring the best applicants to be their restaurant critics? And, do you think they are putting too much emphasis on being able to string two coherent sentences together rather than quantity of top dining experiences plus food knowledge?

Steve Plotnicki

Thanks for the compliments Jack. I think your closing paragraph addresses the problem. Newspapers are more interested in hiring people who know how to write well, than hiring people with extensive dining experience.


Great post!!!

MC Slim JB

I wonder where you'll find someone with these kind of qualifications who's willing to work for what the typical newspaper pays its food critics. Developing those credentials and experience requires huge investments of time and money. Maybe it's a pursuit best left as a not-for-profit exercise by wealthy, passionate, dedicated amateurs like Steve. But can anyone with strong business credentials explain to me how it would make sense in business terms for a newspaper to support that kind of critic?

Steve Plotnicki

You make a good point. But quite often dedicated amateurs turn profesional, or chefs with lots of work dining experience become writers. I must know a half dozen amateurs who can write, have the appropraite experience, and who would make better restaurant reviewers than many of the "professionals" who work for newspapers.

MC Slim JB

No question there are people out there who are better qualified. My question is, who's going to pay them enough to lure them away from whatever they've done that got them those qualifications?

Let's say you've developed extraordinary depth and breadth in your appreciation of food, by dint of having worked your way up to a top back-of-the-house industry job, or through extensive travel with enough discretionary income to dine in the world's best restaurants. You've been dining out long enough at every level to fairly judge a range of kitchen and front-of-the-house products across scores of world cuisines. And you've invested the considerable time and money needed to develop fine wine connoisseurship, maybe know a thing or two about serious bartending.

To me, this suggests someone of extensive professional accomplishments and earning power. The only way this person ends up writing newspaper restaurant criticism is as a hobby: because they're passionate about it, not for the paltry salary that newspapers pay. Would you abandon your other professional pursuits to write restaurant criticism full-time? It's a great gig if you're already a journalist, especially at prestige pubs like the NY Times. But for most folks with the experience you're describing, it's a big step down in pay, independence, freedom from editorial interference, and mobility. Better to keep doing what you're doing, and maybe start a blog.

Given the ongoing profitability struggles of the entire newspaper business, this isn't going to change anytime soon. In this light, Chodorow's rant is a Phyrric victory. He may have scored some points about Bruni's credentials, but at the cost of having millions of people read Bruni's pan who would otherwise have missed it. That's clearly a case of overweening ego trumping good business sense.

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I doubt it, though I guess anything is possible. The reality is, most of the mainstream media do not take restaurant criticism as seriously as other types of criticism they publish, viewing it as some sort of consumer entertainment activity where a thorough knowledge of ingredients, culinary technique and the aesthetics of cuisine is not a requirement for their writers.

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