Locally Grown

A Conundrum Of Critical (Food) Criticism
2011/01/20, 8:43 am
Filed under: Local Food Commentary, restaurant reviews | Tags: , , , ,

Dear (Tens Of) Readers,

Sometimes in life our ears act as catcher’s mitts to fastball rants and curve ball truth-smearings, but once in a while our cartilaganeous (yes, I just made that up) sound-capture-holes bear witness to such a simple yet precise change-up which effectively closes out the game.  Such a query befell the ear-atuses of a local food critic this past weekend during a seemingly routine visit to one of the DMZ’s newest and most innovative dining concepts.  A person at this food venture struck up a conversation with this local Food Critic went (according to the account which squeaked by my ear lobes and landed in my brain lobes) a little something like this:

Person: “Oh, so you are a food critic.”

Critic: “yes, I am.”

Person: “Are you a chef?”

Critic: “No…”

Person:  “Well, then how do you know how to write about food?”

Critic “…”

Wow.  The “Person” just blew my mind.  All of this debate about what qualifies as good food criticism and whether food critics should even be considered legitimate (especially due to the recent bias and favorite playing of a  13 year vet…or is it 14 now) has just taken a turn toward home.  (please excuse the baseball references, I am just trying to wash away the single digit temperatures by thinking of spring)  Would you rather take your dining cues from someone who knows the food from a kitchen and service standpoint, or would you like to continue tuning in to the eating advice reception from a handful of “Professional Diners” around the state/country who seem to yearn more for whatever they are reviewing to conform to some ideal they formulated in another country/restaurant/bar?  To some wildly mild aesthetic that comforts the person writing the review?  What about real facts, real discussions of food and technique, objective, unbiased reviews of service and value without regard to the reviewer’s personal prejudice toward the reviewed cuisine, concept, restaurateur, chef, or light fixtures?

You, my tens of readers, have been duped on many occasion by restaurant reviewers around the world.  These business or journalism school grads don’t really know food like the women and men who have chosen a path to culinary glory, but they know how to write words.  There have to be a few out there who transcend this problem, who crosses the line drawn in the sand between the food professional and the food critic.

“Are you a chef?  Then how do you know how to write about food?”

The Cook


8 Comments so far
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I don’t really think it’s a conundrum in that food critics (or “restaurant reviewers” as they often are) don’t necessarily need to know anything about the preparation of the product. It makes for good reading, but it’s not necessary. The only part that counts is how the food tasted, whether it was delivered in an appealing way, and whether the staff were good.

Anything else is really like explaining what your fellow diners were wearing.

Now, “food writers” are a different sort, and many of them do have some training or have worked with, although not necessarily as, chefs. Michael Ruhlman comes to mind. With today’s climate, suddenly all restaurant reviewers have to think they’re food writers.

Comment by Mike

Just for argument’s sake, I’m not a chef, but I know if I like the taste of something or not.

Comment by Sarah

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I would agree with the previous poster’s thoughts that once doesn’t necessarily know how to prepare food in order to review it. What it does take, in my mind, is exposure to a number of different types and styles of cooking. It’s going to be hard to know if something is too salty or too sweet without experience. It also takes the ability to remain objective and remember you are reviewing the food, the service, and the environment, and not your personal feelings about the owner.

Comment by steve Fuller

A critic is just someone willing to put their opinion to print. But it is just that, an opinion from that one person. When dinning out, I like to try the place a couple times. Maybe I ordered something that for some reason, I just didn’t like, or the cook for some reason was having an off night. Mostly I figure is it just I did’t order well for myself.

I would say, you have to give everyone a couple chances, and if you go someone and didn’t like the chicken, don’t order the chicken again. Try something else!

Comment by Douglas Goodwin

Sam, just spent the last half hour catching up on your last few posts. Thanks for writing such a great blog and I can tell you really care about Des Moines and the sacrifice of restauranteurs who are just trying to follow their passion while possibly making a few bucks in the process. You’re right, critics should not set out to make or break a place, just observe and report. Keep up the good work. Claire

Comment by Claire Celsi

We all have little critic in us. That little guy or gal on the shoulder helping you understand your current dining experience with the past. My feeling is that most critics have good intentions. Should a critic be a Chef? Maybe that would help with their creditability. At the end of the day I rely on friends and family for recommendations. 99% of the time I like to write about what was good and not waste time talking about what sucked.

Comment by coryeats

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Pingback by The Pesky Diner » Blog Archive » Big City Burgers and Greens Delivers - Dining Like a Bernstein in Des Moines

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