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The Big NY Dining "blogs"


Fat Guy
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When I post reviews -- which I primarily do on a board other than this one -- I make it a practice to put "comp disclosures" at the end, to let the reader know when I've received free things from the place in case that affected my judgment.  Many have claimed such comps had a big effect on my love for Ssam Bar, for example -- but it was transparent, for all to see.  (I think I started that after my earlier Ssam Bar write-ups, when I realized the treatment I was getting might have been affecting my judgment.)

Also, it isn't necessarily clear to the reader that the "professional" blog sites (I'm not singling out any one of them) aren't meant to be "critical".  They all, including Josh's, often post things that read like criticism -- including negative comments about restaurants.  If Josh wants to take the position he takes, he will have to forego posting any negative commentary about places from now one.

Also, I wonder about how much the choice of whom to tout gets affected simply by who chooses to provide access.  I'm not saying the "professional" blogs are doing anything sinister in that regard, only that certain restaurants "buy" coverage by putting on a show for the blogs in their kitchen.  Readers should be aware of that.  It's not simply a focus on "the best", necessarily; rather, the most accessible.

This is a reasonable point. I do say bad things sometimes, but only very rarely. Here's the thing: I eat everywhere, pretty much. If you don't see me writing about a place, it's either because I don't like it (Bloomingdale Road) or because I haven't gotten there yet (Apiary under Scott Bryan.) I have access everywhere, but I only write about places that I like. And if I like them, believe me, they give me access, for the simple reason that it's in their interest. (Or, sometimes, because they like me and the work I do.) But if you are looking for a reason to be skeptical, I will say that my experience at restaurants is definitely different from a civilian's. They know me and I make no attempts at anonymity or anything like that. So I'm always getting the soigne treatment. That's the biggest thing -- much more than my having an expense budget account. (Which I do, by the way.)

Mr-Cutlets.com: your source for advice, excerpts, Cutlets news, and links to buy Meat Me in Manhattan: A Carnivore's Guide to New York!
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But doesn't your being "soigne" everywhere kind of queer the whole enterprise? Like any human being, you're susceptible to various kinds of influences. I don't even mean that particularly negatively: it's just a fact.

I mean, I'd like to hang out with (the married) Rohini Dey myself. But I can't help but note that you're the only person in New York I know of who's had anything particularly positive to say about the food at her restaurant.

There's some amount of peril in being a well-known bon vivant purporting to selectively write about the scene.

And if you're going to respond, "so what? it's only restaurant writing", please recall that now, more than ever in our lifetimes, it really matters to people whether they get quality products in return for their money. Readers will resent being irresponsibly encouraged to spend unwisely.

I'm sorry if this is coming out stronger than I intend it to. I don't mean to sound like I'm accusing you of anything horrible or anything.

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If Josh or anyone who publishes as much as he does consistently writes glowing reports that defy others experiences then those people are not going to trust those reports and he or she will lose credibility. I think the role of an enthusiast is different than that of a critic, however, an enthusiast must maintain credibility. I haven't found that to be a problem with Josh or with Perry St., though it has been some time since I have been there.

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But doesn't your being "soigne" everywhere kind of queer the whole enterprise?  Like any human being, you're susceptible to various kinds of influences.  I don't even mean that particularly negatively:  it's just a fact.

Is this that different qualitatively from the debate regarding reviewer anonymity? I do think it's appropriate to expect that readers of most of the food blogs to not expect completely unbiased coverage; if nothing else, though, they serve quite nicely to give interesting starting points for doing further research before dining out.
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Is this that different qualitatively from the debate regarding reviewer anonymity? I do think it's appropriate to expect that readers of most of the food blogs to not expect completely unbiased coverage; if nothing else, though, they serve quite nicely to give interesting starting points for doing further research before dining out.

I think it is, and if people thought that, for instance, Bruni was inflating his reviews for places that recognized him and gave him lots of extras/comped his (rather than just for Italian restaurants) then I think the comments would be similar and just as valid.

Edited by Ochowie (log)
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The difference is that, for someone like Bruni, ALL they can do is give him the best possible versions of what's on their menu. They can't schmooze him or shower him with extras, because he's invested in the illusion of anonymity. He'd consider anything like that an affront.

Someone like Josh they can schmooze and fuss over and do whatever they can to make him like them.

On the other hand, though, note the limitation this puts on the kind of person who can be a Times restaurant reviewer: no one who's so involved with the NYC restaurant scene that they're known personally to most restauranteurs. It almost eliminates the most qualified candidates by definition.

Edited by Sneakeater (log)
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It seems unreasonable to claim that Mr. Cutlets is a "shill" or in anybody's "pocket." Those are serious accusations of unethical conduct, which don't even remotely reflect his work or approach. I am confident that he is neither accepting bribes nor acting as a plant for anybody.

The absolute worst thing that can be said about Mr. Cutlets is that he is, possibly, sometimes influenced, by his relationships with the people and restaurants he's writing, to be more positive than he should be. I'm not even saying this is true. I'm just saying it's the worst-case scenario.

Me, I sometimes agree and sometimes disagree with what Mr. Cutlets likes. He definitely has his favorites, as do we all. My favorites are not always the same as his. That's normal. It has never led me to question his sincerity or motives. There's room for simple disagreement in this world without the need to personalize it and label it unethical.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I don't label Josh as an individual unethical.

I label the entire "professional" blog scene questionable.

How many restaurants get written about on ANY of them that don't have the "right" publicists?

(Other than the Momofukus, which are their own phenomenon.)

Edited by Sneakeater (log)
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It seems unreasonable to claim that Mr. Cutlets is a "shill" or in anybody's "pocket." Those are serious accusations of unethical conduct, which don't even remotely reflect his work or approach. I am confident that he is neither accepting bribes nor acting as a plant for anybody.

The absolute worst thing that can be said about Mr. Cutlets is that he is, possibly, sometimes influenced, by his relationships with the people and restaurants he's writing, to be more positive than he should be. I'm not even saying this is true. I'm just saying it's the worst-case scenario.

Me, I sometimes agree and sometimes disagree with what Mr. Cutlets likes. He definitely has his favorites, as do we all. My favorites are not always the same as his. That's normal. It has never led me to question his sincerity or motives. There's room for simple disagreement in this world without the need to personalize it and label it unethical.

For what it's worth I actually really liked the Perry Street fried chicken and agree with him on the quality of Michael White's pasta. His whole ABC(?) burger special really hit a wrong note with me though.

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How many restaurants get written about on ANY of them that don't have the "right" publicists?

Just have a look at the first page of the Feedbag blog right now. Do you think all those Williamsburg restaurants are represented by Bullfrog & Baum? Do you think the Susan Magrino agency represents Orwasher's? I have no idea who if anybody represents Txikito. Lots of restaurants get good exposure without publicists. People like Mr. Cutlets are constantly and enthusiastically pursuing leads in the hopes of discovering unrepresented restaurants, where every other blogger in the world hasn't already received the press release.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I dont think his reviews and/or blurbs about food are much to argue over, they generaly stay fairly positive and tend to not be terribly serious. One can tell the man generaly likes food and the whole restaurant scene for that matter. Yes he has some chefs that he favors, but how different is that from any other of the bloggers/ serious reviewers. Where he tends to go wrong is when he comments or prints "stories" involving restaurant politics and or incidents in the buisness without fact checking i can think of several cases where he has printed false information based upon rumors. If he sticks to food hes fine, anything more than that is questionable.

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i can think of several cases where he has printed false information based upon rumors.

I can think of several instances where the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and 60 Minutes have done that. The Feedbag probably gets some stuff wrong, though no clear examples are coming to mind and none have been cited. But the Feedbag is certainly not a rumor mill. Most of the information is either fact or opinion.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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In reverse chron order here are the most recent Feedbag entries:

"Veritas Rolls Out Major Bar Menu"

"Where to Eat in Williamsburg"

"How to Use a Wine List 101"

"Now Here’s the Flaming Cocktail You’ve Been Missing Out On"

"Metromix Scores First Marea Food Porn"

"Craig Hopson Rolling Out One Very Trippy $74 Menu at Le Cirque"

"Times Hails Bars With No TVs"

"Tony Bourdain and I Hit Keens on No Reservations"

"Who Will Be Food and Wine’s Best New Chefs?"

"Black Truffles and Blue Jeans at Daniel: The Slideshow"

"Heading to Orwasher’s, In Search of the Perfect Bun"

"John Tesar is Coming to a Fishtail Near You"

"Txikito Produces a Genius Hamburger in My Own Backyard"

"New Review Fridays: Raines Law Room"

"Is This Sculpture At the Armory Show Me? Or No?"

I'm having an extremely difficult time finding anything objectionable there. I see no rumormongering, shilling or anything of the sort. Does anybody else?

So far we have heard the following accusations:

Josh is simply in those people's pockets.
after seeing that whole burger video he did and his (IMO) shill for Pat Lafreida really turned me off to his site.
Where he tends to go wrong is when he comments or prints "stories" involving restaurant politics and or incidents in the buisness without fact checking i can think of several cases where he has printed false information based upon rumors. If he sticks to food hes fine, anything more than that is questionable.

So now I think those who are making such accusations might think about either substantiating them or retracting them. After all we wouldn't want to publish unsubstantiated rumors, would we?

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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So now I think those who are making such accusations might think about either substantiating them or retracting them. After all we wouldn't want to publish unsubstantiated rumors, would we?

Actually, there is no need to substantiate them; Josh did so himself. The original "accusation" was that Josh was in the hype business, and he basically responded: "Yup, I am." It was alleged that he gets comped all over town, and he said, "Yup, I am." So the basic facts really aren't disputed at all. The word "shill" lacks a crisp definition, but people who do what Josh admits he does are often called "shills." It might not be fair, but that seems to be the common usage of the term. Edited by oakapple (log)
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I'll be the first to agree that Mr. Cutlets did a terrible job defending/explaining himself. But to go back to the accusations:

Josh is simply in those people's pockets.

Is the claim that he's taking bribes? That he trades favorable coverage for free meals? That publicists are trading sexual favors with him? Those claims, or any permutation of them, are nonsensical. I've known Josh for something like a decade and have never seen even a hint of such conduct from him. He writes favorably about meals he pays for, as well as comped meals, just like the overwhelming majority of food writers. He likes some restaurants that have nubile publicists, and some restaurants where the publicist is a Yahoo! mail account administered by an ugly guy who can't speak English. Moreover, Citysearch gives Josh the budget to dine wherever he wants so there is no need for him to beg for food.

after seeing that whole burger video he did and his (IMO) shill for Pat Lafreida really turned me off to his site.

By any definition of "shill," this accusation implies that Ozersky is engaged in some sort of disingenuous attempt to promote Pat La Freida. In other words, that he is motivated by something other than the belief that Pat La Freida has awesome meat. I think it's much more likely, in fact I think it's 100% likely, that Mr. Cutlets simply thinks Pat La Freida has great meat. Mr. Cutlets is a fan of Pat La Freida, simple as that. There's no conspiracy here. Now I happen to think Pat La Freida is overrated, but that's just an honest disagreement. It doesn't mean Mr. Cutlets is a shill.

Where he tends to go wrong is when he comments or prints "stories" involving restaurant politics and or incidents in the buisness without fact checking i can think of several cases where he has printed false information based upon rumors. If he sticks to food hes fine, anything more than that is questionable.

Here there have been no examples cited, so there's nothing to dispute.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Look at that list of items you published. Most of them are touts, pure and simple.

I don't retract at all. You and Josh are proving my point.

Josh said somewhere recently (I think it was in connection with some big food industry event in Miami or Aspen or somewhere -- I find it hard to care about those things), in defense of food blogs, that the industry doesn't always sufficiently appreciate how people like him generate excitement about places that are essentially in the business of putting chicken on plates.

To me, that says it all about Josh's view of what he does.

I'll repeat that I in no way mean to be criticizing Josh personally -- or even singling him out. The other professional food blogs are essentially the same.

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The word "shill" tends to get used a few different ways. An obvious case is if the chef asks his best friend to post what purports to be an independent "review" (or even worse, the chef writes it himself). Josh Ozersky is not that type of shill.

The term is also used sometimes where the writer isn't "in bed" with the chef or restaurant, but the favors exchanged invite a serious question as to whether the review could be reliable. It is, of course, possible for someone to honestly believe they are objective, and yet to be mistaken. I assume that when Fat Guy first knew Josh Ozersky 10 years ago, Josh wasn't getting comped as much, because he wasn't as well known.

Josh's policy (if it is a policy) to only write about things he likes becomes a "Take my word for it" proposition. You don't know which beef purveyors he "rejected" before giving all that attention to Pat LaFreida, who I agree seems to be overrated.

In terms of the factual accuracy on Josh's blog, I don't have an issue with it. He makes mistakes at about the same rate as all the other blogs, and when they're pointed out, he corrects them.

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I'll repeat that I in no way mean to be criticizing Josh personally

What you said was:

Josh is simply in those people's pockets. 

To me that's a clear personal criticism and deserves either to be substantiated or retracted.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Just to inject a little bit of definition into this discussion, I think the appellation "shill" needs a little bit of clarification here.

The word is of fairly recent (20th century) coinage, and originally referred to a paid confederate who acted as a decoy or enthusiast in concert with a gambler or auctioneer with the goal of driving up the wager or auction price.

In later years, it has come to mean someone who is secretly paid or otherwise compensated to edorse a product publicly while pretending to be impartial.

In internet usage it may either have the modern meaning above, or may refer to someone using a false internet persona to promote himself (or his business).

Unless someone is suggesting that Josh is somehow compensated by, for example, Pat Lafreida for evangelizing about his products and services, then there is no way Josh can be said to "shill for Pat Lafreida" or anyone else. Enthusiastic promotion of a business or product does not equal "shilling." I have, for example, enthusiastically professed my admiration of the pizza at Franny's in Brooklyn. Does that make me a "shill"? Are people suggesting that Pat Lafreida is giving Josh bags of steaks in exchange for positive mentions in the media? Will Pat Lafreida cut off the supply of steaks if Josh writes that he found an ever better burger somewhere that doesn't use Pat Lafreida's meat? Steven sometimes gets boxes with amazing meats from Lobel's. Steven has occasionally written about Lobel's being one of the best butchers around. Shill?

Edited by slkinsey (log)

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You don't know which beef purveyors he "rejected" before giving all that attention to Pat LaFreida

Who cares?

It is, of course, possible for someone to honestly believe they are objective, and yet to be mistaken.

It's also possible for two people to disagree without one of them resorting to a conspiracy theory to explain away the other person's positions.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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lets be honest some of these blogs are simply pay for play. Restaurants use the bloggers for a desired outcome, ie public exposure for a new dish or opening of a restaurant, Its a marketing tactic. The bloggers use the restaurants for food, attention, the ability to tag along at industry parties, ect ect.

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I have, for example, enthusiastically professed my admiration of the pizza at Franny's in Brooklyn.  Does that make me a "shill"? 

Oh totally. Everybody knows that. I would much rather dismiss you as a shill than actually engage you on the merits. It's so much easier to question motives than to have a conversation.

You're also a shill for cocktails.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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