Whatever you Write, Don't Let 'em Call Us.....
Posted 14 December 2003 - 10:54 PM
I am curious to know if it is the policy of your magazine not to have writers ride roughshod over restaurants, either be giving them the benefit of the doubt or not writing about them at all. If there is such a policy, spoken or unspoken; does it apply to only certain classes of restaurants; i.e. American versus ones in Europe? Your comment raises other questions as well: Was it fair to write something negative about the food based on one visit, and do you imply that underling chefs in some restaurants can't prepare the food properly unless the boss is in attendance?
Count on me to pounce on the one brief paragraph that I found dissonant in what is a very useful and fine article.
Posted 16 December 2003 - 09:24 PM
Whew! You've left my head spinning!
Where to start?
1. Considering the extremely nasty things I've written about Dean Ornish, the food at Canyon Ranch eight years ago (Vogue lost their ads), Evian (ditto), the American Diabetic Association, nutritionists in general, Alain Ducasse's Spoon (though I admire him and have known him for years), Snackwells, the service at several named restaurants, lactose intolerant crybabies, the food at several named theme restaurant chains, nearly all pizzas outside the New York City--New Haven axis, (with an exception for Phoenix), all Weber grills, the FDA's cheese police, Laura Bush's hot chocolate recipe, the restaurants of San Diego, nearly all steak houses in the USA,etc., etc., etc., I am surprised that you would think that I'm afraid to be considered a Conde-Nasty. My article about low-fat cookbooks, as published in Vogue but not as shortened (in this rare case) for my first book, was so negative that the author of the most awful of the books wrote that she had cried when she read the piece, her mother was praying for me, and her son had loaded his 22 caliber rifle and was planning to head up to NYC from the town in Texas where they lived.
2. As for company policy, I have received messages from the Conde-Nast lawyers on only two or maybe three occasions. In one instance, I may have softened my intemperate and repetitive invective, largely for literary reasons; on another, I told the lawyer that he was being overly cautious and was not serving the interests of literary freedom, and I believe that I never heard from him again. If you read the unreasonably poisonous review of Jean-George's 66 in Vanity Fair by A.A.Gill, you'd know that there's no company policy about any of this.
3. There's a huge difference between mentioning a restaurant and reviewing it. And between a monthly magazine reviewer and that of a daily newspaper. A newspaper reviewer has to cover a city; to be useful, she or he must include new restaurants of note and old favorites. There's no need for a negative review of an older place that nobody goes to any longer because presumably everybody knows it's bad; or a new place that opened without any hype and that people knew immediately was not worth spending money in. But all other restaurants are fair game and should brace themselves for any number of nasty comments. Most monthly magazine reviewers are read by people who want to find out where to eat in a city they don't know very well, and not where not to eat, except in the case of a famous and much-vaunted establshment. Why tell people not to eat at places where there's little chance they would go in the first place?
All positive reviews should be based on at least two visits; negative reviews on three or four, especially because an influential critic (are there any left?) is in a position to ruin somebody's livelihood and destroy twenty or fifty jobs.
I rarely review restaurants, except when I need an excuse for travelling somewhere, such as Paris, Barcelona, etc. I may, however, describe my one visit to a restaurant in an article about, e.g. Thailand. And I would probably choose only places where I ate well. A reviewer, on the other hand, would want to cover the most important restaurants in Bangkok, good or bad, make a few strategic discoveries of tiny, charming, perfect little places; and conclude with the best three restaurants in the city or country. To do this, I would have to spend two months in a city as rich as Bangkok, and even then might not get it right. People--I won't name them--who do this after four days in a major city are....frauds.
4. You quite easily discovered from my November article that I had eaten at Dumonet only once. That's because I made it clear. I was not reviewing fifty or a hundred restaurants or however many I mentioned. I was writing about the explosion of new restaurants in New York City, those that had opened in the recent past and those expected in the near future. As for the former, I mentioned only restaurants I had eaten in; and with the latter, restaurants that I (or even others) were looking forward to. Dumonet was obviously in the former group. Most of the eating I did for the article was in places like Dumonet that I had never been to but thought I probably should have--especially as I do not enjoy giving favorable (or even neutral) publicity in a national magazine to a place that doesn't deserve it. There's so much good food around--cheap, expensive, and in between--and so much competition for attention that I consider it generally (though not absolutely always) unethical for a food writer to increase the popularity of bad, or potentially bad food. I rarely even mention a cookbook that I haven't cooked from.
I made a reservation at Dumonet after reading the menu (which I requested by fax) and remembering that I had enjoyed M. Dumonet's cooking at Les Trois Jeans. If the food had been well made, Dumonet would have lived up to the nostalgic promise I had seen in it. In a review, I would have told you precisely what was wrong with each of the dishes; and I would have eaten there three times; but this was not a review. The management of the Carlyle presumably wanted M. Dumonet so strongly that they put his name on the place. And so I was sending him a litlte message (I've never met him) that it was now or never, do or die. This is food that has not much changed since the early 1900's in Paris. Ducasse is doing a fine job of it at Aux Lyonnais in Paris, and he's published his recipes. You and I can cook much of it, and we love to eat it, especially with experienced old European waiters and handsome surroundings. So it still might be worth a try. But I was not reviewing it.
5. Of course I wasn't implying that young underlings can never cook as well as their older masters. But as restaurants are organized these days, underlings are only rarely expected to run the kitchen. Most of them are assigned a limited range of specialized tasks; and, if they are Hispanic, as most of them will be in NYC, they are rarely given the chance or the skills to run the place. Even if they are fine young cooks, they still need an editor. Everybody needs an editor. Oh, and by the way, I'm one of those who still believes that you are unlikely to be able to cook this kind of food with the proper spirit unless you've eaten widely in Paris and Lyon.
Hey, are you some friend of Dumonet, defending him for being many miles away while I was trying to eat my barely warm sole a la meuniere , covered with a congealed lemon butter. Well are you?
Posted 17 December 2003 - 04:53 PM