This is a very touchy topic at the moment because there are a lot of food critics out there. In the past food critics and people who wrote for food magazines were mostly qualified individuals who were trained writers or communicators. Because of the growth of technology and the internet, these days everyone can be an expert in the field of being a food critic even with little knowledge of communication or food.
In the mid eighties and nineties food critics walked a thin line as they knew about food, did a lot of homework and were employed by the mainstream media, which were themselves operating under journalism best practices and codes of ethics. Those food critics usually had a degree in communication or food science, hence they knew how to communicate properly and knew about food, conducting extensive research so that they could be knowledgeable. Marco Pierre White mentioned in his book “The Devil in the Kitchen” that “It was only after Egon Ronay delivered a superb review of Harvey’s a couple of months after we opened that the restaurant became a massive success.” Raymond Blanc said the same about Egon Ronay. So, we do need food critics and food bloggers and can benefit from their input. Before the article was printed Ronay called White to tell him and asked him some questions so he could give a response prior to publishing. This is not done nowadays.
The fact I am trying to make here is that Ronay did his research and also gave an opportunity for the chef to reply first. Egon Ronay first worked in the business as a restaurant manager so he knew how passionate chefs are about their food. Anyone who has worked in the food industry – and I mean in a stand alone restaurant or hotel restaurant – knows that chefs are passionate about food and only respect those who also know about food (and what they are talking about). So when you criticize his/her work it needs to be balanced and not done like Fox News.
There are times when we as chefs feel that critics could not last one month in a kitchen! Yes they may know how to cook at home but can they cook in a pressured environment? Can they cook 30 steaks in 40 minutes at different temperatures while listening to the chef calling the orders and remembering each order and getting it correctly? The job of a chef is very demanding. We may take four hours to prep the ingredients before the restaurant opens and all that prep comes down to one meal that is gobbled up in roughly 90 minutes. The critic can demoralize the chef and his staff in those 90 minutes.
We take our passion seriously. It’s like what Macro Pierre White wrote in his book “White Heat”…“ If I came to your house for dinner, criticized all your furniture and your wife’s haircut and said all your opinions were stupid, how would you feel?”
Food critics and bloggers alike don’t like it when people criticize their writing skills and when that happens, they feel attacked and offended. Please be aware of how the shoe fits on the other foot and try to be open-minded like the critics in the past.
So I say this to food critics and bloggers (and I am a blogger myself) – do you have what it takes to work 12 to 15 hours a day everyday on your feet in a room that is 35 to 50 degrees? Or let me put it this way – try to write your articles in a room with no air conditioning in the middle of the desert summer and see how difficult it is.
Please don’t get me wrong we need food critics and bloggers in the industry to help to promote our businesses. Egon Ronay’s guide (when he was with us) did not have any advertising from restaurants or companies that were in the industry. The ads that were in the guide were from companies that had nothing to do with the food industry.
Mario Batali mentions why he is wary of bloggers in one of his articles on Eater:
“I do not really HATE anything or anybody, it takes too much energy to hate, and I would rather dog someone/thing sotto voce to the large audience than spend a lot of time hating them/it. But blogs live by different rules. Many of the anonymous authors who vent on blogs rant their snarky vituperative from behind the smoky curtain of the web. This allows them a peculiar and nasty vocabulary that seems to be taken as truth by virtue of the fact that it has been printed somewhere. Unfortunately, this also allows untruths, lies and malicious and personally driven dreck to be quoted as fact”.
In ending I say chefs are human beings also. We can be very hard but how would you like it if you went out on your anniversary night and the food was not good? It would ruin the entire night. That is why we take our jobs so seriously. So when you criticize a restaurant do so knowing that you may put certain amount of people out of a job. Paraphrasing Marco Pierre White- when we chefs go out to eat we are the ideal customers. We eat the meal and go home and don’t complain and 99.9% of the time we never make a fuss. The difference between the average customer and us is that our expectations are realistic.
NOTE: The moral of the story- blog responsibly.
Read more by Chef Lij in Marrying a Chef? What you need to know before saying “I Do.”