Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create a free account.

Sign in to follow this  
Fat Guy

NYT correction re: Spice Market review

Recommended Posts

Sorry about that. There's some confusion about the March 27, 2002 article (our fault, not yours). It is actually about Philippe Vongerichten, a manager at the restaurant and the chef's brother.

As far as I can tell, there is only one unambiguous reference to an in-person meeting.


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)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

i think what's happening in a number of these write-ups is that la hesser is ambiguously trying to suggest a deeper level of access than she might in reality have had. this desire for perceived proximity, if my perception is correct, may in fact have been successful and ironically has come back to bite her in the ass.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Excellent work to assemble all that, but the most immediate context was her 2/25/04 review of Asiate, which ends with this sentence:

And for that alone, I might order a glass of sake, stay for the gougères, then feign illness and steal across Columbus Circle to Jean Georges for a meal that never disappoints.

[link].

Whatever you think of the ethics of that particular critical strategy, it was why people felt that her appraisal of Vongerichten might be intemperate.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Great work, Andy!


Michael aka "Pan

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Hi there-

I'm relatively new to eGullet, and I have to ask: Are things usually this catty around here, or only when Amanda Hesser's name comes up?


Amy Traverso

californiaeating.blogspot.com

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Welcome to eGullet, amytraverso.

A little bit of context perhaps: Amanda is the interim restaurant reviewer for the NYTimes, and as such, her performance has been -- according to more than a few members -- less than adequate as befits the main restaurant reviewer for one of the most prominent newspapers in the country. Taken by itself, the reaction to the review of Spice Market might not be as justified, if one does not take into account her reviews of (*cough*) Asiate and Hearth, among others. It's less a question of "are Hesser's reviews spot on and accurate with respect to the restaurant in question", subjectivity and personal taste notwithstanding, than "are Hesser's reviews trustworthy, are they informed, and would the general public be able to place as much trust in the voice of the Times critic as they would have been able to, say ten to fifteen years ago".

Soba

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Hi there-

I'm relatively new to eGullet, and I have to ask: Are things usually this catty around here, or only when Amanda Hesser's name comes up?

it's usually just amanda. she makes people foam, for some reason.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Hi there-

I'm relatively new to eGullet, and I have to ask: Are things usually this catty around here, or only when Amanda Hesser's name comes up?

it's usually just amanda. she makes people foam, for some reason.

Is it a mystery to you, Russ?

Also, I join in welcoming a fellow flutist (I assume) to these boards!


Michael aka "Pan

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I like Mandy's writing when it's at its best.

I would like it to always be at its best and better.


"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

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Is there any way to pull up or link to a piece Hesser did a few years back chronicling her bar crawl across London sampling absinthe? It was a truly superb piece of writing--and an indicator, I think, of what she's capable of. It's a tough situation for Hesser--the very writing for which she is most reviled (the Latte stuff) has probably been at the same time the most rewarding and lucrative. The restaurant critic gig is a death sentence for most any writer--it's like spending too long writing Penthouse Letters; bad for your sentences. (And in Hesser's case--spectacularly bad for her Q rating among chefs and restaurateurs--an astonishing number of whom are now ready to drive her out to Fresh Kills and dig a hole).

Not that Amanda cares or should care what the hell I think (or what anyone thinks for that matter), but if I were her? I'd get the Hell away from the whole Times style book. I'd take a year off, travel far far from New York. And I'd write. I'd write like a demon--whatever I felt like writing. And I'd drink more.

If you sift back through all the "Fun With Mayonnaise" and "Perfect French Fry" articles--and the insipid Latte shit--there's a really good writer in there somewhere.

The New York restaurant world--in fact the WHOLE restaurant world--is like an extended, inbred, hillbilly family. Hesser needs to get some fresh--or at least different--air.

Drop her in Myanmar--alone--with a gallon jug of Fleischmans and about a hundred twenty bucks? And I'd bet she'd come back with some good stuff.

Of course, that's my answer to everything.


abourdain

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Of course, that's my answer to everything.

Yes, but in this case I agree.

It wasn't much help in answering my question about terrines though.


"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

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Well, I admit I'm more partial to her reported pieces than I am to her Latte pieces, but for me, the anti-Amanda thing raises a couple of interesting questions. One: how much of this is her seemingly perfect "package" (she's cute, thin, successful, young, powerful, married to a NYer writer, yaddayadda). Two: how much are readers willing to let young writers grow and learn and make mistakes?

I met her this weekend at the IACP conference, and I confess I was suprised that she was so likeable. She was pretty open about the fact that she's still learning and taking chances and finding her way...and that the Times encourages her to do this. All that "this generation's answer to MFK Fisher" stuff isn't coming from her, and it seems to make her uncomfortable. So here she is, churning out dozens of stories a year and some are better than others.

Perhaps people feel that the Times shouldn't invest so much in young, developing writers...that they shouldn't become staff reporters until they are as fully formed as, say, R. W. Apple. But as a relatively young writer myself, churning out story after story on tight deadlines for my employer, I find it kind of comforting to see other writers trying new things and sometimes even failing.

One last thought: I think the intensity of the response to her seems to have more to do with her packaging. Same reason people like to see Martha Stewart fail...no one is allowed to seem so perfect. Because, really, why do we care so much more about her than we do about Marian Burros or Florence Fabricant or William Grimes, who have all fumbled on occasion...as all of us have? Why are we so much more invested in her?


Amy Traverso

californiaeating.blogspot.com

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Oh, and I meant to thank everyone for their welcomes...and for their honest replies. It's nice to be here.

Amy


Amy Traverso

californiaeating.blogspot.com

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Well, I admit I'm more partial to her reported pieces than I am to her Latte pieces, but for me, the anti-Amanda thing raises a couple of interesting questions. One: how much of this is her seemingly perfect "package" (she's cute, thin, successful, young, powerful, married to a NYer writer, yaddayadda). Two: how much are readers willing to let young writers grow and learn and make mistakes?

I met her this weekend at the IACP conference, and I confess I was suprised that she was so likeable. She was pretty open about the fact that she's still learning and taking chances and finding her way...and that the Times encourages her to do this. All that "this generation's answer to MFK Fisher" stuff isn't coming from her, and it seems to make her uncomfortable. So here she is, churning out dozens of stories a year and some are better than others.

Perhaps people feel that the Times shouldn't invest so much in young, developing writers...that they shouldn't become staff reporters until they are as fully formed as, say, R. W. Apple. But as a relatively young writer myself, churning out story after story on tight deadlines for my employer, I find it kind of comforting to see other writers trying new things and sometimes even failing.

One last thought: I think the  intensity of the response to her seems to have more to do with her packaging. Same reason people like to see Martha Stewart fail...no one is allowed to seem so perfect. Because, really, why do we care so much more about her than we do about Marian Burros or Florence Fabricant or William Grimes, who have all fumbled on occasion...as all of us have? Why are we so much more invested in her?

To be perfectly fair, we might cut Amanda some slack if her writing with respect to her performance as interim critic were informed and credible.

Unfortunately, one can't help but note that in the short time that she has been the interim critic, these two qualities, essential to any restaurant review, are sorely lacking. Fwiw, imo, we care less about how our chopsticks find their way to those delectable morsels than about a fair and accurate assessment of how a particular restaurant performs at a given level of cuisine on any day of the week.

If we wanted name dropping and star power, why there's always Page Six.

Growth and development are fine for any writer at any stage of one's writing career. However, once you're on the main stage in the pages of the New York Times dining in/dining out section, one would expect that the critic -- even an interim critic -- would be able to find his or her way among the glare of the floodlights without too many stumbles. :wink:

Soba

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

i've chimed in too many times here defending amanda. she is a friend. but soba, you've got to be kidding me. "if she were informed and credible"? that's absurd. of course she is. no one has quibbled with any of the facts of her reviews. they have argued with her judgement, both of her choice of restaurants and of her evaluation of those restaurants (which are valid, though it does seem to me that the difference between her 3 stars for spice market and somebody else's 2 1/2 stars is far from decisive). what you cite as problems are stylistic, not substantive (which is not to say that they should be ignored, just that they don't go to either "informed or credible").

i think amy has hit the nail on the head (bad pun considering amanda's lack of girth, i guess). nobody seemed to mind her when she was dong reporting. it was the latte stuff that lit the firestorm. i said then and i'll say now that those were not my favorite pieces of hers, but i did admire her for trying a new approach. and just to point out that mileage may vary, her book collecting those was named the best book of the year in the literary category at the iacp, as judged by a panel of journalists, chefs and cookbook writers.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
i've chimed in too many times here defending amanda. she is a friend. but soba, you've got to be kidding me. "if she were informed and credible"? that's absurd. of course she is. no one has quibbled with any of the facts of her reviews. they have argued with her judgement, both of her choice of restaurants and of her evaluation of those restaurants (which are valid, though it does seem to me that the difference between her 3 stars for spice market and somebody else's 2 1/2 stars is far from decisive). what you cite as problems are stylistic, not substantive (which is not to say that they should be ignored, just that they don't go to either "informed or credible").

i think amy has hit the nail on the head (bad pun considering amanda's lack of girth, i guess). nobody seemed to mind her when she was dong reporting. it was the latte stuff that lit the firestorm. i said then and i'll say now that those were not my favorite pieces of hers, but i did admire her for trying a new approach. and just to point out that mileage may vary, her book collecting those was named the best book of the year in the literary category at the iacp, as judged by a panel of journalists, chefs and cookbook writers.

Interesting that you left out the rest of my quotation.

I said:

To be perfectly fair, we might cut Amanda some slack if her writing with respect to her performance as interim critic were informed and credible.

She is informed and she is credible as a food writer, but not, imo, with respect to her performance as interim critic of the Times.

A one star review for Asiate is a "stylistic problem"? An evaluation of Spice Market that wasn't even in the league of "fair and accurate", at least according to several reports here on eGullet, is not a "substantive" criticism? I'm not exactly sure what you're trying to get at here. As for her writing STYLE, well that is a whole other topic and one I have made clear my position on earlier in this thread.

I have no problems with Amanda the food writer and Amanda the reporter. (Actually, I'm probably one of the few on this site who enjoyed the Mr. Latte series.) She has many strengths as we've noted. Perhaps uninformed and not credible is too harsh, I'll give you that. My problem with Amanda the restaurant reviewer is that while she views the job as an opportunity to expand, to develop and grow as a writer, I feel that the position is suitable more towards a writer who's been around for quite some time, with the appropriate skill set and who's aware of the proper gravitas/influence that the critic of one of the most influential papers in the country can have. I think Amanda doesn't possess that view, and it's reflective in her reviews.

Mr. Bruni has a difficult path ahead of him made all the more difficult by Amanda's performance thus far.

Soba

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

From the Amanda Hesser archives, per A. Bourdain's request...

A Modern Absinthe Experiment

Amanda Hesser - NY Times - May 31, 2000

"It shimmered in a soft eddy. I had intended to taste it like wine, breathing it in and letting it sit and roll around my mouth. But somehow, it shot down my throat like a bullet. I recall it went something like this: first, there was a scream of anise and herbs, then what felt like a steaming hot cotton swab spread over my tongue, and a flash of heat raced to my stomach..."

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
A one star review for Asiate is a "stylistic problem"? An evaluation of Spice Market that wasn't even in the league of "fair and accurate", at least according to several reports here on eGullet, is not a "substantive" criticism? I'm not exactly sure what you're trying to get at here.

soba, i'm sorry if you feel i misquoted you. personally, even after re-reading, i don't think i did. let's be clear about our definitions: "informed and credible" pertains to knowledge and background--the facts of the review and the credentials of the critic. you can disagree--even violently--with someone whose opinion is informed and credible (in my experience, actually, those are the best arguments).

a one-star review for Asiate is not a "stylistic problem" but it is a matter of judgement (referred to in my original quote). she just didn't like the restaurant. if she had said, for example, that lumpia originally comes from careme (to pull an absurd example out of my ... hat), then that would go to informed. if she had only limited experience eating in good restaurants, then that would go to credible.

and while it is true that some folks on the gullet disagreed with her spice market rating, i will repeat that another "informed and credible" critic gave it only 1/2 star less--hardly worth a four-page dissection. as for her controversial review of montrachet, sorry, i don't know of anyone (other than, possibly, drew nieporent) who believes that that has been a three-star restaurant for several years.

furthermore, i'm a little confused as to "I feel that the position is suitable more towards a writer who's been around for quite some time, with the appropriate skill set". let's see: trained at la varenne; well-travelled; well-informed on ingredients, techniques and trends; author of two books; six or seven years at the times ... what exactly is missing from that skill set? except that you don't agree with her.

criticize amanda's critical judgement or her literary style, but i really don't think you can criticize her credentials. that's all i'm trying to get at.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
i've chimed in too many times here defending amanda. she is a friend. but soba, you've got to be kidding me. "if she were informed and credible"? that's absurd. of course she is. no one has quibbled with any of the facts of her reviews. they have argued with her judgement, both of her choice of restaurants and of her evaluation of those restaurants (which are valid, though it does seem to me that the difference between her 3 stars for spice market and somebody else's 2 1/2 stars is far from decisive). what you cite as problems are stylistic, not substantive (which is not to say that they should be ignored, just that they don't go to either "informed or credible").

i think amy has hit the nail on the head (bad pun considering amanda's lack of girth, i guess). nobody seemed to mind her when she was dong reporting. it was the latte stuff that lit the firestorm. i said then and i'll say now that those were not my favorite pieces of hers, but i did admire her for trying a new approach. and just to point out that mileage may vary, her book collecting those was named the best book of the year in the literary category at the iacp, as judged by a panel of journalists, chefs and cookbook writers.

Russ:

There's no doubt in my mind Amanda is talented. And smart. And likeable. Hell, I've even met her in person -- I attended the launch party for Cooking for Mr. Latte -- and I can attest to the fact that she is very sweet and personable as well -- although I can't figure out how she manages to be a food person and yet be a skinny belink as she is!

The problem Soba has -- and Shaw has -- and I have -- is that in her tenure as interim restaurant reviewer at the Times, she's made some questionable decisions. Hell, she has done some good writing as well -- but she has also botched things to the point that it will take YEARS for the Times to unravel that mess. She's guilty of some seriously bad judgement, she's screwed some things up, and I don't think most of her peers in the local scene will deny that.


Jason Perlow

Co-Founder, The Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

offthebroiler.com - Food Blog | View my food photos on Instagram

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

i wouldn't dream of arguing with your right to criticize her judgement. i haven't eaten at those restaurants, so i can't say whether i agree with you. my only quibble--and this may seem picayune to anyone but another journalist--is that you should be criticising her judgement, not her qualifications to make that judgement. there's a difference between saying "i don't agree" and "you're less qualified than I to make that criticism." has amanda made bad calls on restaurants? perhaps. if so, does she have the background to know better? almost certainly. to me, that's an important distinction.

and as for the times surviving this, i think if they can get past howell raines, jayson blair and, hell, judith miller, they can get past this.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Perhaps we're crossing wires here because of the gleeful tone of the the thread's subhed?

"Amanda gets her hand slapped" sounds rather like schadenfreude to me. So when one person slaps his (virtual) forehead, exclaiming, "I completely disagree with her assessment!" it reads more like, "I knew that little pisher would get hers and thank God I lived to see it!"


Amy Traverso

californiaeating.blogspot.com

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
soba, i'm sorry if you feel i misquoted you. personally, even after re-reading, i don't think i did. let's be clear about our definitions: "informed and credible" pertains to knowledge and background--the facts of the review and the credentials of the critic. you can disagree--even violently--with someone whose opinion is informed and credible (in my experience, actually, those are the best arguments).

a one-star review for Asiate is not a "stylistic problem" but it is a matter of judgement (referred to in my original quote). she just didn't like the restaurant. if she had said, for example, that lumpia originally comes from careme (to pull an absurd example out of my ... hat), then that would go to informed. if she had only limited experience eating in good restaurants, then that would go to credible.

and while it is true that some folks on the gullet disagreed with her spice market rating, i will repeat that another "informed and credible" critic gave it only 1/2 star less--hardly worth a four-page dissection. as for her controversial review of montrachet, sorry, i don't know of anyone (other than, possibly, drew nieporent) who believes that that has been a three-star restaurant for several years.

furthermore, i'm a little confused as to "I feel that the position is suitable more towards a writer who's been around for quite some time, with the appropriate skill set". let's see: trained at la varenne; well-travelled; well-informed on ingredients, techniques and trends; author of two books; six or seven years at the times ... what exactly is missing from that skill set? except that you don't agree with her.

criticize amanda's critical judgement or her literary style, but i really don't think you can criticize her credentials. that's all i'm trying to get at.

Hm, well let's see:

If you define "informed and credible" as pertaining to knowledge and background, let's see where Amanda stands, eh?

How about a few gems, then:

It's unfortunate that a major restaurant like Asiate had to get reviewed by a first-timer who clearly has some unusual notions of what the stars mean, whose tastes are antithetical to what the restaurant is serving, and who appears to be unable to separate herself from those preferences for the purposes of critical evaluation.
Her analysis of wine pricing, for example, was totally superficial. It was an economic discussion without ever getting into the subject of why people would really care about wine or consider spending big buck for it in the first place. I viewed it is a swing of the pendulum reaction to her overly personal pieces, because this one was totally impersonal.
By the way, Amanda Hesser is confused about the turns at the Yonkers Costco and Stew Leonard's. You can turn directly into Costco on the way up -- directly off exit 6A. The U-turn is only necessary on the way down. If anything this benefits Costco because it creates a situation where everybody who shops at that plaza in Yonkers goes to Costco first and Stew Leonard's afterwards. And if you look at the hill and you happen to drive up there sometime with a friend who is a traffic engineer, which I have, you'll realize and have confirmed that a left turn directly into Costco on the way down would be a hazard and to create it would require some very expensive and unnecessary blasting. In any event, what I objected to about the shopping-trip article -- and this was the same problem I had with the Arthur Avenue article that Regina Schrambling wrote -- was the voice of inexperience. If Amanda Hesser has never shopped at these places before, one of two things should happen: She should shop at them enough to acquire actual expertise, or a freelancer with the relevant expertise should be given the assignment. This is the only way for the Times dining section to be a voice of education. Otherwise you have a report on a phenomenon being written by somebody who is not as conversant with that phenomenon as the audience is. New Yorkers are already going to these stores in droves, so if you're going to tell us about it you have to find something new to contribute to the discussion.

So much for knowledge and background, eh? If you're going to be writing about a restaurant that markets itself towards a certain level of cuisine, has all of the trappings of that level of cuisine that one would associate with a restaurant of that calibre, don't you think your writing should be informed enough to be able to critique that restaurant irrespective of your own personal preferences? I mean, really. That's not asking a lot here.

Ok, let's examine her performance as a restaurant reviewer in the past:

She also claimed in the article that when she came to EG to face her detractors, the cockroaches ran back into the wall, or some such. Well I had a fairly sharp ongoing email exchange with her based on my originally posted question regarding the Emeril article, which I found to be horrible and verging on deceptive. She eventually wrote back that although she has never eaten in his restaurant, she knows Emeril better than I do, because she ate the food that he prepared for one of his shows and didn't like it. She explicitly states that this experience is more important in evaluating his cooking than meals that I had in his restaurant. She then makes the absurd observation that she tasted food that he cooked directly, whereas my food proabably wasn't directly cooked by him.

(although in Amanda's defense, she claims she was critiquing what Emeril offers to the general public, not Emeril's cooking in his restaurants per se.)

I think, however, she should be careful in restaurant reviews not to get into telling people how things should be done. She should be reviewing the place, not telling them how to better their business. Those kind of comments aren't about honesty; it's I-know-better-than-you-itis, and it's a very slippery slope to go down -- especially if you've never owned a restaurant.

Heaven knows, as a restaurant reviewer myself, I've been tempted. But, IMO, it's impossible to do without sounding patronizing.

Let me preface by saying I don't usually read newspaper reviews, so this was the first time I've read anything by Hesser (or at least comprehended I was reading something by her). I have nothing against her personally and am not comparing this piece to any of her other writing. I also have no personal knowledge of the restaurant in question. I haven't been there and I hadn't heard of it before 10 minutes ago. That said...

I just read the review and found it to be full of contradictions and lacking in reporting, examples:

-- "was rewarded with excellent Thai cooking every time." then later, "the fish cakes and corn cakes, both fried — were below par." She should have hedged by adding almost to the first line.

-- "The crab and mango summer rolls ($7) were as narrow as pencils.... the rice paper was wrapped in loose folds so that it felt delicate on the tongue." I suspect that if the rice paper was rolled as described the resulting rolls would not be as narrow as pencils, unless they were some novelty pencil that's extra thick.

-- She quotes an owner, who says "my big gripe has always been that Thai food here is not great. It's not fresh. It's Thai-style Chinese food." She doesn't question or refute this remark, which implies that their style of cooking is more authentic than any other Thai place in NYC. Contradictions: The head chef is not Thai, and has Ruby Foo's on his resume (ack!); then the next dish she mentioned "is described on the menu as 'a Thai Bolognese'.... It is fusion cooking, but don't let that distract you." Boy, that sounds authentic. At least she got the name of, and gives credit to, one of the actual Thai cooks.

-- In the first paragraph she doesn't want to be seated at "the worst table" in the house, without defining or explaining how it is "the worst." She prefers to sit in a booth across the room. I don't like sitting in booths. To me, that would be the worst table. This is a personal preference issue unless she explains that the first table is right in front of the bathroom door or something.

So much for her experience as a restaurant reviewer for the Times, which should be illuminative when you consider that she is now the interim reviewer for the Times.

She may have the appropriate skill set as you say, but was she the right person for the position of interim critic given the above? And who exactly is Amanda writing for: Amanda? The Generation X-set? The Times readership? Who? I can't quite determine.

Soba

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

We called her winsome and she called us cockroaches. That's just not very nice.

And I would like to add that, although I have soundly criticized her for many things, I am also as far as I can tell the only person -- friend or foe -- who has actively and explicitly defended her against the ethics charge implicit in the Times correction.


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)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Sign in to follow this  

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×
×
  • Create New...