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NYT correction re: Spice Market review


Fat Guy
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I love how the Times will correct factual errors, however picayune . . .

"A picture caption last Wednesday about Anson Mills grits, a brand served at many prominent restaurants, misidentified the purée served with a grits cake at Charlie Trotter's in Chicago. It was black trumpet mushroom, not chocolate."

But has no mechanism for saying something like . . .

"We fucked up by not mentioning Gray Kunz in the Spice Market review."

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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A restaurant review in the Dining section last Wednesday about Spice Market, on West 13th Street in Manhattan, awarded it three stars. The writer was Amanda Hesser, The Times's interim restaurant critic. Last May, before her assignment to that post, Ms. Hesser published a book, "Cooking for Mr. Latte," that was praised in a jacket blurb by the restaurateur Jean-Georges Vongerichten, who later opened Spice Market. He wrote: "Amanda Hesser's charming personality shines as the reader experiences the life and loves of a New York City gourmet. `Cooking for Mr. Latte' is perfectly seasoned with sensuality and superb recipes." The review should have disclosed that background.

http://www.nytimes.com/corrections.html

So, yeah, a half-assed correction finally makes its appearance.

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That's pretty harsh: an editor's note on the main page. I don't even think this merits a note in the dining section, no less humiliation in front of the whole Times audience. And really, what was the New York Times thinking when it appointed Amanda Hesser to the interim reviewing position in the first place? Every editor involved in that decision surely knew that she had been reporting on the dining scene for years and has relationship upon relationship with most major chefs and restaurateurs. Were they expecting her to bog down every review with a disclosure statement?

And talk about failure to see the forest for the trees. The three stars and the failure to mention Kunz are what's wrong with this review. Not the failure to disclose some stupid book-jacket blurb.

Were I in Hesser's shoes, I'd feel betrayed by my editors and my newspaper -- this should not have happened. The Times is so confused and panicked about journalistic ethics in the wake of the Blair incident that it's now hanging its reporters out to dry with no good reason.

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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The Times is so confused and panicked about journalistic ethics in the wake of the Blair incident that it's now hanging its reporters out to dry with no good reason.

At least the Times should definately feel safe that Hesser wouldnt pretend to go to a Jean Georges restaurant. Unlike Blair.

They really did hang her out to dry though. Something must have happened that we are unaware of. They must have gotten a lot of complaints.. But that three stars certainly did stick out like a sore thumb.

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They really did hang her out to dry though. Something must have happened that we are unaware of. They must have gotten a lot of complaints..

Something must have happened...

Like around 3 pages of us taking that review apart, not a little based on her relationship with JGV.

With things like the Blair incident tweaking the Old Grey Lady, she shouldn't have done the review in the 1st place.

And she should have mentioned Kunz and Ong.

That's some cheffy karma/voodoo coming back at 'cha!

2317/5000

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I think this appeared today:

A restaurant review in the Dining section last Wednesday about Spice Market, on West 13th Street in Manhattan, awarded it three stars. The writer was Amanda Hesser, The Times's interim restaurant critic. Last May, before her assignment to that post, Ms. Hesser published a book, "Cooking for Mr. Latte," that was praised in a jacket blurb by the restaurateur Jean-Georges Vongerichten, who later opened Spice Market. He wrote: "Amanda Hesser's charming personality shines as the reader experiences the life and loves of a New York City gourmet. `Cooking for Mr. Latte' is perfectly seasoned with sensuality and superb recipes." The review should have disclosed that background.

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It's here. Scroll down. But the text at this link will probably be replaced in a few days.

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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The whole Spice Market review was really rather a mess and, in my opinion, blew Amanda Hesser's credibility to pieces. I can only imagine what happened over at The Times for them to do this, in the front section, no less. A mighty well deserved slap, though the higher ups really should have stopped it before it started. (Ahem...Sam Sifton? Anyone home?)

I suspect a new "interim reviewer" will be arriving shortly. They can't seem to find anyone who wants the job. Can't blame 'em.

--s

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I think she deserved it. The Times review influences a lot of people when making their decisions. She effectively helped "steer" customers to a friends and did not disclose the connection/relationship that she had with the chef/owner.

To me, this is a clear violation of an implied ethical code that all reviewers have with their readers.

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i guess if she had given spice market a negative review or at least a more staid review we wouldn't be questioning it as much as we are.

also, if this were myself, i probably would have approached my editors and attempted to bow out of the review based on my relationship with jgv. i'd like to think that if i were in that position, my journalistic ethics would be triggered first.

speaking of which, did any of us write a letter to the editor? i'm notoriously bad at saying "i should write a letter..." and then never following up on it.

Edited by alanamoana (log)
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So how was she to have disclosed that nugget of information without losing credibility with her audience? And how is she expected to write-up the restaurants of the other chefs she knows? And there are many.

I don't think she'll ever be able to distance herself from all the people she has had to write about for years. She has been reporting on restaurant trends, she has had to speak to these people over and over again for a long time. They all know her. I don't think she'll ever be able to escape that. This is a problem way beyond anonymity.

Then again, she's not helping her case by gushing over someone like Jean-Georges twice in the past month.

This proves that the only realistic candidate for that job would be someone from outside the Times, or even New York.

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So how was she to have disclosed that nugget of information without losing credibility with her audience?

Lesley, did you read Burros' review of Casa Mono? She disclosed her relationship with the chef. I thought that increased her credibility, though many eGulleteers quite reasonably objected to Burros' stated dislike of anchovies and the fact that she declined to eat cockscomb (and probably some other thing, I forget).

Is it possible for a restaurant reviewer to recuse himself/herself?

By the way, I also disagree that a New Yorker couldn't be a good reviewer. It's possible for someone who knows and even likes a person to determine that that person sucks as a baseball player, driver, or cook, isn't it?

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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Yes, I did read that review, but I think you can only get away with a line like that once, or at the most twice. What if you have to say it over and over again, and before every four-star restaurant review? Forget it, your credibility is shot.

As for a reviewer not being from New York, the only reason I say that is because any high-profile food writer in New York is bound to have come in contact over and over again with chefs, and eventually get a bit chummy with one or two. I would think that most topnotch New York food writers would be in the same boat as Hesser.

However, the disadvantage of going with an outsider is ending up with someone who knows little about the New York, New Yorkers, and the history of the city's restaurant scene -- which makes for very food-driven, dull reviews.

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which makes for very food-driven, dull reviews.

I wish we had more of these, when Ruth Reichl used to use the first half of her reviews to describe the couple sitting at the next table, it used to drive me crazy.

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Being a New Yorker didn't hurt Bryan Miller or William Grimes, did it?

I also would think knowing chefs thru writing about food and trends, etc. for years shouldn't have an effect on writing reviews.

The guy wrote the front flap blurb for her book, it's a bit of a diff..

2317/5000

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which makes for very food-driven, dull reviews.

I wish we had more of these, when Ruth Reichl used to use the first half of her reviews to describe the couple sitting at the next table, it used to drive me crazy.

In other words, you want a William Grimes.

Part of the difficulty of being a restaurant critic is in writing style. You want to write a review that while technically and materially accurate, will want to make a potential customer informed enough to want to (or not want to) patronize any given restaurant. A restaurant review has to have SOUL. The problem is that for many -- and for me, in my opinion -- some reviewers' styles lack that intrinsic quality. Reichl had it in abundance. (She has a degree in creative writing I believe.) Grimes, probably not as much. (Compare the two and you'll see that paragraph for paragraph, there is a vastly distinct style as to be almost night and day.)

Hesser has ability -- and more than a bit of talent as well. Maturity and style are neither. In my humble opinion, these things take time to develop. We can only hope that they do in Hesser's case.

Soba

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It's a rough call. What should or shouldn't have an effect on any reviewer may or may not be what does have an effect. In the end it's not why your reviews may seem to be slanted, it's that they appear to be slanted to other observers. This reviewer and every other's reputation is staked on the credibilty they build with their audience over time.

Earlier I, somewhat facetiously, noted that "Vongerichten is only mentioned ten times, not counting the number of times he is referred to by pronoun" and that Gray Kunz was not mentioned at all. It was reported in the Post, a paper whose accuracy I don't trust, that the Jean-Georges organization is reminding the press that Kunz is not an owner. Nevertheless, other reviewers seem to feel his input as consultant and cook in the kitchen is still noteworty. Hesser's ommission of Kunz seems suspiciously as if she's heeding some PR instruction. It's all the more glaring that Kunz is not mentioned here when Vongerichten was mentioned in the review of Asiate. That review might have been an appropriate time for someone at the Times to have raised an eyebrow.

I think it's terrific for someone to champion a particular chef--I certainly have my favorites--but I don't think it need be done at the expense of other chefs.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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Disclosure of the Hesser/Vongerichten "relationship" is a red herring. If she disclosed it and still wrote a sycophantic, inappropriate, wrong-headed review, she'd still be in the wrong. If she didn't disclose it but she wrote an independent, fair, well-reasoned review then she'd be in the right and such a disclosure would be a screaming, gratuitous distraction. The problem here isn't that she failed to disclose Vongerichten's book blurb. It's just a fucking jacket-quote; who gives a shit? And as Lesley and I have said, if you're going to put a long-time local food-reporter in a critic's position, and then you're going to act surprised when that reporter has relationships with every major chef in town, well, in that case you're what's known as a moron. The problem is that the review demonstrated bad judgment on its own terms. By focusing on an ethical non-issue the Times has managed to humiliate and discipline Hesser for something she didn't do while ignoring the underlying deficiencies that are rapidly eroding what's left of our confidence in the Times reviewing system.

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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If she didn't disclose it but she wrote an independent, fair, well-reasoned review then she'd be in the right and such a disclosure would be a screaming, gratuitous distraction.

Steven's right. That's the heart of the matter.

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Disclosure of the Hesser/Vongerichten "relationship" is a red herring. ......And as Lesley and I have said, if you're going to put a long-time local food-reporter in a critic's position, and then you're going to act surprised when that reporter has relationships with every major chef in town, well, in that case you're what's known as a moron.

Well I must be a moron, but I see a distinction that you refuse to recognize. The fact that reviewers and chefs are in the same broad field, and interact on an incidental social basis is to be expected and need not be disclosed. As soon as there is any business relationship, and writing a major blurb for one's book is such a relationship and, not in my view at all insignificant, it must be disclosed. Relationships such as blood or by marriage or close personal friendships should also be disclosed. It seems to me that this is required for basic journalistic integrity.

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And as Lesley and I have said, if you're going to put a long-time local food-reporter in a critic's position, and then you're going to act surprised when that reporter has relationships with every major chef in town, well, in that case you're what's known as a moron.

You dont certainly have to act surprised that the reporter has relationships with chefs... But you should be really surprised that the reporter values their relationship over there duties. It makes no difference if the two were married for christ sakes, someone in that high of a position should be able to seperate the two. To think that a NYT critic can have her opinion so easily swayed , attacks the credibility of all other critics.

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It makes no difference if the two were married for christ sakes, someone in that high of a position should be able to seperate the two.

In some sense you're making my point. Does anyone believe that it would be ethical for a wife to review her husband's restaurant in a major newspaper and not be obligated to disclose the relationship. I would be very surprised if there are many takers on this one. If one accepts that this needs to be disclosed, than the only remaining question is where to draw the line.

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I once reviewed a restaurant my husband was making desserts for and I said his tiramisu was mediocre. It was mediocre. He told me why it was mediocre, but that didn't matter to the readers. I was just doing my job.

He barely spoke to me for a week.

Had I disclosed our relationship in the review, some might have thought I had it out for him. So you see in many ways, you're damned if you do and damned if you don't.

Also about the Spice Market review, there might have been little said had her words been limited to praise. But that review read like a love letter, and the fact she left out Kunz gave the impression -- rightly or wrongly-- that she had perhaps taken sides in a dispute between the two chefs. In the long run, what's more important, the chef who owns the place, or the chefs who pulled together the dishes being reviewed? I would say the latter.

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He barely spoke to me for a week.

The prospect of inviting the anger of one's spouse is just not a reasonable burden to put on a reviewer. The fact that disclosure could lead to misunderstandings in the other direction, all points to supporting the point that reviewers should not get involved in the appearance of conflict of interest, it's a no win.

I do agree that independent of this discussion regarding disclosure, Hesser's review was horrible from many points of view: inadequate description, over the top emoting, excessive focus on JGV, and lack of mention of Kunz, who I view as the most interesting fusion chef in the world, even more interesting than Roellinger. I have little motivation to visit the Spice Market, but if I were to do so, Kunz would be the only reason.

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