Wednesday, September 2, 2009

It’s Not Me, But It Might Just Be You. Is It Time To Break Up With Your Restaurant Critic?


So if you haven’t read this article the other day from the Grub Street NY, it was basically a critic survey of influential people and restaurants currently in the industry. It was mainly NY self-felatio that was partially interesting and partially vomit-inducing, but all in all, rather pointless and seemingly very regurgitated. Same names, same people, same city. I’m not one to try to get into a cockfight about opinions of critics, but there seemed to be a general “circle of friends” feeling here where the opinions (though different) mirrored the same trends and people that have been exhaustingly covered.

First off, I have no interest in becoming a critic or ever criticizing a restaurant in this blog. That’s not my place and being an aspiring chef, it’s a conflict of interest. I like recapping where I might go and what I enjoyed/appreciated from a cooking standpoint, so please try not to point fingers to my direction. I am merely trying to point out some observations from a diner’s standpoint. What I will say is that I have traveled a lot and I have eaten at many of the same places as some of these critics, but generally I also make an effort to avoid too many of these same trendy restaurants. What I am trying to say is that if I can find diversity and amazing new creativity in the cities that I travelled the last couple of years: Vegas, Chicago, Portland, NY, Seattle, LA and Boston, why isn’t it represented in the words of these industry prognosticators? For example, why did Alan Richman write-off all of Chicago, a city that seems much more progressive than New York over the last decade?

Aside from my thoughts on appreciation and diversity of criticism from professionals, the REAL kicker comes when we often hear these “professionals” talk about bloggers, yelpers, and the internet – the so-called “amateurs” (again, I’m a kitchen guy, not a critic), who are ruining their jobs. Now I’m not one to turn down reading an educated and well-informed opinion from a critic, I value that highly, but are nationally recognized and primary [city] critics too focused on niche and trend? (read the comments labeling Batali as a representative for the trend of “ethnic”, um yeah…) Is the need to be in tune with the heartbeat of a city forcing them to overlook the development of new and non-Western cuisine?

I really have no real answers (as usual), but I think you can infer that what I really want to ask is this: do major critics from city to city seem to have the same taste buds as you, or the same taste buds as each other? And if the latter is true, why is there a lack in diversity (a profession obviously Western cuisine biased) in food criticism? If we are dying to see diversity and ethnicity as the next emerging trend, do you trust these critics to give you an well informed analysis of ethnic cuisine?

Should “professionals” take a look at the mirror when it comes to questioning the emerging trend of “amateurs”? Does this inability affect the value of a reader’s trust?

Let me throw a theory out there. Maybe, just maybe, there IS a need for the developing internet forum that currently exists for food because it can simply no longer be covered the way it was covered years ago. (Articles like the one on Grub Street don’t always help either.) Dare I question if the blame for yelpers and so-called “wannabe” critics is simply the result of the insufficiency and inability of “true” critics. Call it the emerging trend, call it amateur hour, but any way you try to spin it – there are a lot of people who think many critics are failing or inadequate as a resource and that, everyone, is simply called market share.



    i am speechless.

  2. I agree and disagree. I think the rise of yelpers and other "amateur" critics is contributed to a more food informed public and everyone's secret obsession with some sort of food fame. I'm also tired of major city food critics (Atlanta) being more wooed by the shiny lights, decor and pre-conceived reputation of a chef than by the actual food.