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The role of the food critic

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#1 vengroff

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Posted 29 May 2003 - 07:09 AM

Hi Tom. Thanks for joining us here at eGullet.

I'm hoping you can share an insiders view of what the role of food criticism is. We've discussed it in various forms here on eGullet, and it would be great if we could add your opinion.

What do you think of as your goal when you write? Are you a consumer advocate? Are you an advocate for the restaurant industry in DC? Are you an activist trying to encourage people to explore new culinary ideas? Are you just writing about something you really enjoy and happy that someone is willing to pay you to do it?

To some extent all of this depends on who your constituency is. Do you write for the hard-core audience who follows your chats and spends their free time on eGullet? Do you write for the person who doesn't dine out much but wants to know where to take Aunt Martha for a special 60th birthday celebration? The tourist who wants a good crab cake? The lobbyist who wants to keep up with the latest steakhouse to entertain their clients? Or do your editors ask you to write for the generic paper-buying public demographic, whatever that is?

I know this is a lot of questions in one; please consider them a jumping off point rather than individual questions I expect direct answers to. The real question is simply, if vaguely, what is the raison d'etre for a big city food critic?
Chief Scientist / Amateur Cook
MadVal, Seattle, WA
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#2 Tom Sietsema

Tom Sietsema
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Posted 30 May 2003 - 05:45 AM

My hope is that I come across as a good friend who wants you to eat well, someone who can point you in the direction of places that are worth your time and money, and away from those that are not. I think it’s also important for a critic to provide an interesting read; not everyone is going to be going to the restaurant in question, after all.

My constituency is the diner more than the restaurant operator or chef, but if I can boost the scene with a positive review, I’m certainly all for that. Now and then, I’ll put something in a review to let folks know where I stand, or make a point (why are desserts so bad around here? Why do so many restaurants store their wines improperly?)

The Sunday Magazine reaches about a million people, so my audience is pretty mixed. And judging from my calls and letters – I hear from college students, yupsters, retirees, foreign visitors -- it’s a diverse bunch. I keep that in mind when I write: some people are on tight budgets while others think nothing of plunking down $200 for a bottle of wine. Some readers have eaten their way around the world while others might need me to explain what dim sumor tapas are.