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oakapple

Advice for the NYTimes's New Restaurant Critic

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What issues? The guy is openly gay - and apparently middle of the road politically (although some people don't think so after his Berlusconi bashing). What's offensive about that?

Precisely. There's nothing notable, offensive, or relevant about that, is there? I don't see why someone's politics or sexual orientation are relevant in any way, shape, or form to their qualifications for the job. So why did you mention these things, in that case? And why have you mentioned Berlusconi twice? Are you suggesting that Bruni was unfair to the main media mogul in Italy who is also Prime Minister, and that, therefore, he is not to be trusted with restaurant reviews? If so, that could be relevant, albeit pretty tenuously.

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I think I asked what his qualifications were to be THE food critic for the New York Times.  Is knowing what it is to eat well - and liking to eat well - enough for you (I mean - you're likely to run a restaurant that might be reviewed by this guy - not me)?

To me - well - I know hundreds of people who know what it is to eat well - and like to eat well.  All you have to do is go to a lawyer or doctor convention to find them.  And I'm sure there are tens of thousands more I don't know.

So is that what the fate of dozens of restaurants in New York is riding on - the opinions of someone "who likes to eat well, and know's what it's like to eat well"?  I don't know whether to laugh or cry (think I'll laugh because I don't run a restaurant).  Robyn

The last time the NY Times picked a restaurant critic, liking to eat well seemed too much to ask for. As I recall, Grimes had never really written about food or restaurants and professed to neither being an expert or particularly enjoying eating out.

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Robyn said:

If I had to vote on things - I'd vote only for "best food" (and not best wine list, table linens, dishes, flowers, interior decorating, etc.).

Trouble is, the things you're saying you'd leave out are part of the experience for an many, if not most, diners. You can't eat decorations, but being in a beautifully designed space makes a difference. I do think Zagat has the right idea (if not the right ratings) by rating food, service, and decor separately. If all you care about is food, you can ignore the others.

Soba noted that the review of Atelier was "one surprise out of many during Grimes' tenure." Grimes gave it three stars, but as I re-read the review, I don't find a single negative comment. Now, a three-star review is a high distinction in itself (or is supposed to be), and there needn't be anything particularly wrong with any restaurant so honored. But Grimes notes that Atelier has "signed on" to the Daniel program, and Daniel is four stars, so the review ought to tell us what's missing.

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One thing to recall when discussing the Bruni choice is that reporters at major newspapers routinely change beats for reasons ranging from boredom to family to a desire for a well-rounded career before being bumped up into an editor's chair. The New York Times surely feels that anybody talented, experienced and intelligent enough to hold down a major foreign bureau has the basic skills to move into a different part of the paper -- be it food, business coverage or stalking the Washington beat. If he has the fundamentals to be a good food writer -- a palate, a keyboard that can sing, curiosity about and a true lust for good food -- his lack of current experience will be insignificant a year from now.

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That makes sense, Busboy.

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Oh ho, Atelier's rating was one surprise out of many during Grimes' tenure.  It's haute French cuisine, of the Lespinasse/ADNY level.  Chef Gabriel Kreuther, formerly the chef-de-cuisine of Jean-Georges, opened Atelier in early 2003.  The restaurant is located in the Ritz Carlton on Central Park South.  I think you might like it.

Many on eGullet thought that it merited four stars.  How wrong we were...

From reading your links - I think I would like it.

How much does a 3 versus 4 star rating in the NYT mean in New York? To me - it's simply the difference between extremely competent food - and food that "sings" (the kind where you must have extra bread or a sauce spoon to sop up every single smidgen of sauce). And I think that distinction is a very personal thing (not to mention that if a chef is off by just a little on a particular night - his "singing" might be a half note flat).

For anyone who is inclined to point out potential inconsistencies in my messages after reading this - I'll say that when I'm critical in terms of consistency in restaurants - I'm not talking about the distinction between "great" and "near great". I'm talking about the difference between "great" and "near great" - and just plain yucky (food that's supposed to be hot is cold - it has too much salt or something else - or it has too little of something else - etc.). IOW - it tastes very much like one of the mistakes I make in *my* kitchen on a regular basis :smile: .

By the way - I'd be a terrible restaurant reviewer. When I'm eating a great meal - the only word that comes into my mind is "yummy" (and it's been that way even before Rachel Ray :biggrin:) . How do these people come up with all these words to describe their eating experiences? Robyn

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What issues?  The guy is openly gay - and apparently middle of the road politically (although some people don't think so after his Berlusconi bashing).  What's offensive about that?

Precisely. There's nothing notable, offensive, or relevant about that, is there? I don't see why someone's politics or sexual orientation are relevant in any way, shape, or form to their qualifications for the job. So why did you mention these things, in that case? And why have you mentioned Berlusconi twice? Are you suggesting that Bruni was unfair to the main media mogul in Italy who is also Prime Minister, and that, therefore, he is not to be trusted with restaurant reviews? If so, that could be relevant, albeit pretty tenuously.

Well - I always thought that the head restaurant review person at the New York Times was supposed to have an extraordinary amount of expertise and experience dealing with food. And this guy didn't. So I wondered why the heck he got the job.

Judging from the messages here - I think my reaction now is "silly me". There are all kinds of people who've gotten this job with a similar lack of food qualifications (e.g., Grimes didn't even like to eat out).

So what is this position - kind of a reward to someone who wants it for a job well done elsewhere?

I am not being sarcastic here - I am being serious. I used to think of the position as being "way up there" (given to fabulously qualified people whose opinions were worth ten times mine or anyone else's). From what I'm hearing - perhaps my pedestal shouldn't be so high.

What are your expectations concerning the qualifications for this position?

By the way - as far as Berlusconi goes - my impression (perhaps incorrect) is that Bruni's articles about him didn't make him the most popular foreign correspondent with the government in Italy - and that perhaps it was time for him to come home. Robyn

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By the way - as far as Berlusconi goes - my impression (perhaps incorrect) is that Bruni's articles about him didn't make him the most popular foreign correspondent with the government in Italy - and that perhaps it was time for him to come home. Robyn

Amanda and Grimes told the NYT that they needed somebody tough enough to take on an entire foreign government, to stand up to the NYC eGullet crowd. That's how Bruni got the job.

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What issues?  The guy is openly gay - and apparently middle of the road politically (although some people don't think so after his Berlusconi bashing).  What's offensive about that?

Precisely. There's nothing notable, offensive, or relevant about that, is there? I don't see why someone's politics or sexual orientation are relevant in any way, shape, or form to their qualifications for the job. So why did you mention these things, in that case?...

Pan - In retrospect - I don't think I was sufficiently blunt. I thought that most people who held this position had fabulous qualifications - and that Bruni was an "affirmative action" candidate. What I'm hearing here is that more than person who has held this position didn't have fabulous qualifications. And Bruni is just another person who's supposed to learn the job while he's doing it.

You'll have to excuse me - but how does this make the position of food critic at the New York Times any different than the position of food critic at the Florida Times Union (our local paper in Jacksonville FL)? Robyn

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The last time the NY Times picked a restaurant critic, liking to eat well seemed too much to ask for. As I recall, Grimes had never really written about food or restaurants and professed to neither being an expert or particularly enjoying eating out.

So how did he wind up being the big deal restaurant critic at the NYT?

I am beginning to think that I was wrong in terms of this being an "affirmative action" thing. This is really "the emperor has no clothes" thing. Kind of like appointing a political hack to be a Circuit Court of Appeals judge. You have to kowtow in front of someone who doesn't have the slightest idea what he/she is talking about (in your opinon).

What's your take on this? Am I wrong? Is the head restaurant critic at the NYT supposed to be an enthusiatic amateur? Robyn

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If he has the fundamentals to be a good food writer -- a palate, a keyboard that can sing, curiosity about and a true lust for good food --  his lack of current experience will be insignificant a year from now.

What about the 50 or so restaurants that he reviews while he's on his "learning curve"? Will it be insignificant to them? Robyn

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Trouble is, the things you're saying you'd leave out are part of the experience for an many, if not most, diners. You can't eat decorations, but being in a beautifully designed space makes a difference...

Agreed - but I think there's more variation in terms of the spaces people like than the food they like. Could be wrong.

On my part - I smoke - so I appreciate restaurants in warmer climates with lovely patios where I can dine and have a cigarette now and then. Sitting in an overstuffed room for 3-4 hours without smoking drives me up a wall.

I also like cutting edge flower arrangements (I've seen some magnificent ones in the last year) and heavy oversized flatware. And fun modern "drop dead" bathrooms. I confess - sometimes I go to restaurants where the food's supposed to be mediocre because I want to see the interior decor :wub: . Robyn

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If he has the fundamentals to be a good food writer -- a palate, a keyboard that can sing, curiosity about and a true lust for good food --  his lack of current experience will be insignificant a year from now.

What about the 50 or so restaurants that he reviews while he's on his "learning curve"? Will it be insignificant to them? Robyn

You have a credentials fetish.

The New York Times, which, admittedly, has a mixed record in hiring restauarant critics, has chosen to hire someone whos resume you do not approve of. You have never met the person (nor have I, admittedly), you have never dined with them, you don't know their tastes, their passions or their ability to compellingly summaraize the abstract thinking that goes into our restaurant review. Yet you suspect, first, an "affirmative action" hire (as though pulling a gay man off the international beat and putting him on restaurants would be an advace) and then accuse the New York Times of putting a political hack on circuit court...as though being a restaurant critic were as important as holding power over people's lives.

If you were coaching a football team, would you draft the player with the best proven skills, or the one with the greatest potential? I don't know how the Times makes its decisions, but attacking Bruni for not having the resume you want -- before you've read a review -- is juvenile. Hell, here in DC we've got Tom Seitsema, who has a spectacular resume and is yet as bloodless as Grimes was.

Without having read your paper, I don't know if your critic at the Florida Times Union is a genius on the way up; a hack in the back pocket of every restaurant owner who can comp a meal; or a competent mid-level professional for a decent regional paper. I do know that they haven't proven they can handle an international beat at the nation's most important newspaper. Rome bureau chief is not food writing, but it allows one to demonstrate certain basic skills that every journalist or critic needs if they are to excell.

And, for those 50 restaurants, better to be reviewed by someone with a passion for food and an ability to communicate, than another bureaucratic ticket puncher from the minor leagues.

PS, let us note that our own Fat Guy's career in food writing -- inconsistent but trending towards brilliant (so shoot me, FG) -- was a bit of a random turn from his previous career. But like Jake Barnes, he had affecion, and he's great. Maybe Bruni will be, too.

Until we have something to read, try not to sound so shrill.

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Advice for the NYTimes's New Restaurant Critic: If you ever post on eGullet, please stay on topic. Thanks.

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Pan - In retrospect - I don't think I was sufficiently blunt. I thought that most people who held this position had fabulous qualifications - and that Bruni was an "affirmative action" candidate.

Affirmative action? Huh? Whatever.

But what is your advice to Mr. Bruni, as the New York Times's new restaurant critic?

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Advice for the NYTimes's New Restaurant Critic: If you ever post on eGullet, please stay on topic. Thanks.

Be more passionate than analytical; celebrate food, not design; help us separate the profound and timeless from the merely fashionable.

And, when tempted to take yourself too seriously, remember the famous description of what it takes to be a football coach: "you have to be smart enought to do it well, and dumb enough to think it's important."

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The April 12th front page article by Alexandra Wolfe "The 60-Minute Critic" concerning the food critic situation at NYT was very interesting and funny at times. I could not get to the piece on their web site so no link, sorry. It starts below the fold.

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Like Busboy said.

Second the motion.

And from the sidelines, it's interesting to check into this thread and see all the flailing about Bruni's credentials. I recall an e-g post a while back on whether there was a relevant difference between food journalists and people who decide to go on a Web site and declare themselves food writers. Sitting here at my newsroom desk with 26 years of background, 14 or 15 of them in food writing, I had a similar sensation to the one some of you seem to be voicing: Who are these people and what are their credentials? What are their ethics? Do they understand the power of words in print? Do they have the daily necessity of accountability?

Stephen Shaw is an excellent example. (Pardon me, Fat Person.) He was a talented amateur in a different line of work who made himself over into a reviewer. Bully for him, and he's been quite good at it. But he also had a steep learning curve, and given the staying power of the Web and the kind of attention e-gullet has gotten from the print media, he arguably can carry as much weight as The Times.

As Busboy and Tony have pointed out, there are plenty of examples of people who made themselves into food critics. Perhaps that's the value of a Bruni: Aren't most restaurant patrons really just talented (or not) amateurs when they walk in the door and pick up a menu? Isn't there a value in being represented by a critic who doesn't bring an eye tainted by too many innings of inside baseball?

On the Johnny Apple comment: He's a damn good writer. Proof, once again, that a great writer can write anything, from politics to food.

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Robyn,

I agree with you. I don't think that reviewers need to be vicious or catty. I believe a restaurant review should be knowledgable and informed about the food, service and atmosphere. When I read a couple of Ruth Reichl's last columns, her reviews seemed to me to be more about her power and ego than about the restaurant. As if being editor of Gourmet, author, etc. etc., isn't enough....

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The April 12th front page article by Alexandra Wolfe "The 60-Minute Critic" concerning the food critic situation at NYT was very interesting and funny at times. I could not get to the piece on their web site so no link, sorry. It starts below the fold.

I think someone else linked to this someplace else, but I can't find it now and I can't find it now on www.nyobserver.com.

Hmmmm....

SML

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You'll have to excuse me - but how does this make the position of food critic at the New York Times any different than the position of food critic at the Florida Times Union (our local paper in Jacksonville FL)?  Robyn

How is the position of King of France better than than of King of Andorra. My guess is that it pays better and that you get to eat in better restaurants. But that's just my prejudice. I've never eaten in Jacksonville.

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If he has the fundamentals to be a good food writer -- a palate, a keyboard that can sing, curiosity about and a true lust for good food --  his lack of current experience will be insignificant a year from now.

What about the 50 or so restaurants that he reviews while he's on his "learning curve"? Will it be insignificant to them? Robyn

You're familiar with the terms "expendable" and "collateral damage." :biggrin:

On a more serious note, my understanding is that we're getting a guy who's demonstrated some passion for eating and has shown he can write. The star system has been wounded so well by past reviewers that I wonder what sort of damage Bruni can do while he's getting up to speed.

I agree with the recent suggestions about passion except that I don't believe it need come at the expense of analysis, that there's any trade off or that either must necessarily weigh more heavily. I should think one can be passionately analytical about food and write engagingly and successfully.

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i don't think there's necessarily a learning curve. he's given (or through common sense knows) the general guidelines for star ratings and he begins to rate the restaurants the way he feels they should be rated. no collateral damage, etc.

to reiterate, this is a SUBJECTIVE post he has accepted. we as the reader have as much input in reading his reviews and deciding what we want to accept or reject based on our knowledge of the restaurant scene, etc.

so i guess this thread is as much advice to the new critic as it is advice to the readers of the new york times.

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