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  
bloviatrix

Food Critics

Recommended Posts

here's what bugs me: criticism--no matter the topic--that is aimed more at the academic than the sensual. this happens with art and music, not just food. the critic seems to be more concerned with relaying the theory of the piece (plate) and forgets that most people still listen, see, eat for pleasure. if you can let me know why this piece is important within the context of the subject and still relate the pleasure that comes from looking at it, listening to it, tasting it, then i'll read you no matter what you're writing about. otherwise, you're just talking to the same five guys in your masters discussion group.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I have had education in how to read space and other things in art, Michael. And have lived with a gallery-represented artist in Soho in a time when there were only three places to eat in the entire neighborhood...Spring Street Bar, Broome Street Bar, and EAT. And have met and dined and conversed about art at length with the gallery owners who were first to move downtown into that neighborhood in a time of festering magnificent renewal and growth.

Do we know each other? :raz: I was here when the Spring Street Bar opened and we suspected it was the beginning of the end, but I've also had critics, be they artists, journalists or others commenting or writing on art, teach me to see things in my own work I didn't see when I made it. People can't really open open other people's eyes or your taste buds, can they can open minds and enable one to better understand and better appreciate art, music, food, etc.

Pan is on to something here and we must separate the concept of restaurant reviews and food journalism from what any of us is used to reading. There's no doubt many of my professors were brain dead, but the idea of education, even formal education is not a bad idea. The idea that one could learn from reading is a good one. If what one reads isn't enlightening, one is reading the wrong stuff.

Russ, I get pleasure from intellectual undertanding and here I may even side with those I seem not to agree with. If it's explained to me, it may be more meaningful when I taste it.


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.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
So you don't believe it's best for people to be ignorant, only that a review of a meal doesn't educate anyone. Could it, though, if a critic gave a good analysis of the thinking behind the meal?

I'm searching to see if this is a trick question, Michael. :biggrin:

I don't see why not, unless the 'critic' brought a set of opinions into the mix and got them all blended into the analysis of the thinking behind the meal.

For that is not reporting facts, that is something else.

And it seems to me that food reviews are being put under the category of 'journalism' in terms of how it is thought we should think of them.

But here.

We are talking about how people, individuals, react to and then critique a meal.

My experience is that I could seat four individuals around a table.

I could match those individuals in terms of similar educations.... cultural backgrounds....general personalities...even as to how they had spent the day up till this moment in time.

I could serve them four plates of the exactly precise same meal cooked by the same person with the same ingredients plated at the same time served by four servers who looked and acted as close as any four clones could.

And I could call them afterwards and say "What did you think of the meal?"

And I could get four distinctly different answers.

Yep. It has happened. :rolleyes:

It is sort of like the stories of how when police interview bystanders about what the perpertrators of a crime (jeez bad choice of words when talking about a meal, but whatever... :wacko: ) look like, they will get completely different 'eyewitness' reports.

I just like to see and feel things for myself. And not be told I am being 'educated' by what is actually someone else's personal opinion.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
You say it like it's a bad thing. Critics aren't visiting restaurants 100 times in order to take a reliable statistical sampling of how often the dish is flawed. They're visiting 1, 2, 3 or maybe 5 times if it's a well-funded critic like at the Times. I'd like to see them get the dish in its best incarnation. If you have a steakhouse that serves 100 steaks and overcooks 2 per 100, and the critic visits once, and gets one of the overcooked steaks, how is that a helpful review? Let Zagat's surveyors determine how many steaks out of 100 are overcooked, and let the critic get a properly cooked steak in order to write about the quality of the meat.

Not a bad thing, but to illustraten that yes critics, if recognized, do get better treatment than the average diner. A critic's job is to inform his/her public about the type of experience they are likely to get at a restaurant. In an ideal world, we would all like to think that we can be unaffected by that "special" treatment, but that's hardly realistic. Take my recent experience at Per Se, many of my dishes are flawed, so if I were the critic, I'd probably wouldn't have given it four stars. But, in tallking to a food critic I knoow, he said he had a wonderful meal there, adding that they do know him. So, I may be wrong here, but I would see no point of reading a review, just so I can get the view of a critic who's food has been tripled checked for correctness, if I, as the average diner, would not have gotten the same treatment.


Ya-Roo Yang aka "Bond Girl"

The Adventures of Bond Girl

I don't ask for much, but whatever you do give me, make it of the highest quality.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Karen, I think that someone who claims to be giving an objective opinion is at worst a liar and at best deluded. There is no such thing as objective taste. But I don't think the fact that whatever opinion anyone has is subjective makes it worthless or necessarily uninteresting.


Michael aka "Pan

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Take my recent experience at Per Se, many of my dishes are flawed, so if I were the critic, I'd probably wouldn't have given it four stars.  But, in tallking to a food critic I knoow, he said he had a wonderful meal there, adding that they do know him.  So, I may be wrong here, but I would see no point of reading a review, just so I can get the view of a critic who's food has been tripled checked for correctness, if I, as the average diner, would not have gotten the same treatment.

I would have to agree with Ya-Roo on this. At the highest end - and indeed, at lower price levels, too - I'd give more weight to the experiences of non-VIP eGulleteers than VIP critics.


Edited by Pan (log)

Michael aka "Pan

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Karen, I think that someone who claims to be giving an objective opinion is at worst a liar and at best deluded. There is no such thing as objective taste. But I don't think the fact that whatever opinion anyone has is subjective makes it worthless or necessarily uninteresting.

Michael, I just had to chime in here after following the thread to say that the point you just made is spot on and needs no elaboration, IMHO. I agree completely.


Barbara Laidlaw aka "Jake"

Good friends help you move, real friends help you move bodies.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

My experience is that I could seat four individuals around a table.

I could match those individuals in terms of similar  educations.... cultural backgrounds....general personalities...even as to how they had spent the day up till this moment in time.

I could serve them four plates of the exactly precise same meal cooked by the same person with the same ingredients plated at the same time served by four servers who looked and acted as close as any four clones could.

And I could call them afterwards and say "What did you think of the meal?"

And I could get four distinctly different answers.

Of course and I'd argue that a critic can do no less than tell me what he thought of his meal(s). He can do a lot more however if he, or she, is someone worth reading. We should continue to make a great distinction between restaurant reviews and food journalism, but I believe the best reviews actually enter the realm of food journalism. Most readers of restaurant reviews see them as consumer reports. Those reviewers who write for this audience and who don't strive to reach a higher level (at least higher in my opinion) are the ones who are most likely to be least reliable after then are recognized. Those who can turn in weekly columns that are culinary journalism will most be able to rise above the personal treatment they get and those who can enrich what they have to say about a restaurant from contact with the chef enough may overcome the loss of being recognized.

What I fear here, as in much of online discussion is that when each of us says reviewer we are really thinking of very different people. I've seen restaurant discussions go astray and realize that one party is speaking about a place he sees as having white tablecloths and a sommelier, while the other person is talking about a place with formica counters where a cup of coffee is presented as you sit down.


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.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I think mebutter made a very important point when he talked about consistency in his reviews and that he strives for the point that a reader can determine whether or not they are likely to enjoy a restaurant based on his review - positive or negative. This is the same value I believe Robert Parker has to the wine world. I may not like everything he does and I may love some wines he is less fond of, but I can pretty reliably determine what I will or won't enjoy based upon his descriptions moreso than his numerical scores read without context.

My restaurant dollars are precious enough that I prefer to not squander them if possible. To the extent that I can get a sense of a reviewer's ouvre and be able to gauge his or her tastes to mine, that reviewer has value to me in more than just a journalistic sense. If that reviewer educates me with facts as well as his opinion and does it with engaging and entertaining writing so much the better.


John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Karen, I think that someone who claims to be giving an objective opinion is at worst a liar and at best deluded. There is no such thing as objective taste. But I don't think the fact that whatever opinion anyone has is subjective makes it worthless or necessarily uninteresting.

A liar or a knave, huh?

Nope, not worthless nor uninteresting. Just depends on how the thing is being presented...as an opinion or as a perceived fact...and the way it is written will inform the reader as to how the writer intends it to be taken.

To me, pomposity is tolerable at moments. It can be amusing and useful in creating a mood. But pretension sticks in my gullet.

To me, I consider a review or a criticism.... entertainment and a view into how other people think....most particularly the writer. If it holds more than that because of whatever has been put into it, that is great.

The entertainment part is of the most value to me. Obviously, other things will be of value to other people.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
What I fear here, as in much of online discussion is that when each of us says reviewer we are really thinking of very different people. I've seen restaurant discussions go astray and realize that one party is speaking about a place he sees as having white tablecloths and a sommelier, while the other person is talking about a place with formica counters where a cup of coffee is presented as you sit down.

This is possible and probable that different reviewers are being thought of, Bux.

But I am thinking of nobody specific at all...in terms of the questions I have.

Does a 'review' of a restaurant, as we generally understand it, as written by most reviewers across the country...fall under the category of traditional 'journalism' and therefore is it to be taken and read in the same ways journalism is? Is it subject to the same rules even though (to me) it seems to be a very different experience to prepare a traditional journalistic report which is based on verifiable facts rather than subjective opinion?

There are lines being crossed here in ways of writing about things that makes the writing about things somewhat muddied and unclear to my mind.

And I love good writing. I love good writers... and admire good journalists who take the time to research and check facts.

This seems rather unclear to me....and it also galls me that people might read an opinion as a fact.

And basically I have to admit I don't really care a whole lot, except I felt belligerent today. :biggrin:

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Karen, would you be willing to name any names of food critics who present their views as facts?


Michael aka "Pan

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

i have to say i'm amazed that anyone reads any kind of criticism as objective fact. of course it's opinion. just because the writer doesn't say "it seemed to me," that should be understood.

further, i dashed off the last post in a rush. i hope i didn't come across as not appreciating the pursuit of intellectual conversation in criticism. nothing gives me greater pleasure. but intellectual conversation unleavened by sensual joy is a pretty dull thing. and unfortunately i find that all too many critics are more interested in me appreciating their intellect to the exclusion of the thing they are reviewing. it exists as a text for them to dance upon.


Edited by russ parsons (log)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

A restaurant review at many traditional daily newspapers, and I say many not all because different papers do different things, is opinion. It is the critic's assessment of the restaurant. Ok, so that's personal.

But underpinning a good review is fact-based reporting - the history of the restaurant, ownership, what's the menu like, wine-list, even the right address, telephone number and web page (simple things like this gotten wrong enrage readers.) It's nice if the reviewer has an idea of what the food should taste like, some cultural or culinary history of the given cuisine and the methods used to achieve it. A knowledge of basic culinary terms is necessary too. That's why many reviewers are classified as "specialists" by their human resource division.

Overseeing the reviews are the editors. There may be one, there may be a shitload, but usually the editor - feature editor, food editor, magazine editor and copy editors up the wazoo - are looking not only for a good, entertaining read but they're looking for mistakes, errors in fact, weakly-supported assertions and, if they can, flaws in your culinary/reviewing expertise. Why? Because they want to give the readers the best product they can - and they don't want to deal with angry restaurateurs or whiney readers.

So reviewers at traditional newspapers are accountable - to the editors who "test" the copy and to the readers who read it.

That's the standard, more or less. And if you want to learn more about it go to the website of the Association of Food Journalists. www.afjonline.com. there's a section called restaurant critics guidelines - guidelines because journalists hate being told what to do and, frankly, restaurant criticism is still so relatively "young" in the biz (those hard news types took their time recognizing the "baby" was one of theirs) that papers have differing standards. Heck, there are differing standards for reviewing within newspapers.

I helped draft these guidelines and I think they work relatively well. For some critics I know, the guidelines helped them better their position at their newspapers and thus serve the readers better.


Bill Daley

Chicago Tribune

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Karen, would you be willing to name any names of food critics who present their views as facts?

Nope. Decide for yourself.

Copout! :raz:

You're the one who brought it up, and since (correct me if I'm wrong) you wouldn't suffer professionally by naming names, I thought you would. I have yet to feel that a food critic was presenting his/her views as facts. The only tangentially related thing I can think of is the criticism Jonathan Gold has gotten for presenting inaccurate "facts" about cuisines he's apparently not nearly as much of an expert in as he seems to claim. But wrong facts are a different issue from opinion masquerading as facts, and besides, I'm getting that story mostly second-hand from an eGullet thread on the California Forum, Jonathan Gold, On the Korean psyche.

Seriously, I sort of think you owe it to us to tell us who you think does this, lest we consider that you've just set up a straw man (woman?).


Edited by Pan (log)

Michael aka "Pan

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I had questions and concerns that I 'verbalized'. They were my own questions and concerns and I did not presume to say otherwise. Literally, I had no specific person in mind but rather a body of work(s) by many here and there....and a tone that I picked up. It is possible that it is only me that picked up this tone...but I never claimed it as a fact that required 'answering for'. I merely stated my own thoughts, for myself, on that 'tone'.

The questions were about the genre, and the questions were about stylistic approaches, about what is perceived to be the 'correct' approach...and the questions were about human nature.

If there is a straw man or woman in your mind, they really are yours alone. If there is none, great! Whisk away my impertinence.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'll drop this for now, but not before asking whether anyone else feels that some food critics present their views as if they're facts, and if so, whether anyone would like to give any examples.


Michael aka "Pan

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
And basically I have to admit I don't really care a whole lot, except I felt belligerent today. :biggrin:
i dashed off the last post in a rush.

Considering the pitfalls of message boards, it's a wonder our discussions stay as civil and useful as this one has been. We all need to remember that the poster to whose comments we respond may be having a bad day and that the post we read is not necessarily the culmination of a life long study, nor the poster's final opinions on the subject at hand.


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.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Overseeing the reviews are the editors. There may be one, there may be a shitload, but usually the editor - feature editor, food editor, magazine editor and copy editors up the wazoo - are looking not only for a good, entertaining read but they're looking for mistakes, errors in fact, weakly-supported assertions and, if they can, flaws in your culinary/reviewing expertise. Why? Because they want to give the readers the best product they can - and they don't want to deal with angry restaurateurs or whiney readers.

My sense is that editors and their work is not well understood or appreciated by the general public, even that which reads. I suspect this is true up and down the board in regard to books and periodicals alike, but it would be interesting to have a separate discussion, in its own thread, about the role of editors in regard to publications such as food sections of daily newspapers.


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.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Considering the pitfalls of message boards, it's a wonder our discussions stay as civil and useful as this one has been. We all need to remember that the poster to whose comments we respond may be having a bad day and that the post we read is not necessarily the culmination of a life long study, nor the poster's final opinions on the subject at hand.

Absolutely. Would this not hold true for reviews also?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Considering the pitfalls of message boards, it's a wonder our discussions stay as civil and useful as this one has been. We all need to remember that the poster to whose comments we respond may be having a bad day and that the post we read is not necessarily the culmination of a life long study, nor the poster's final opinions on the subject at hand.

Indeed. I was concerned that I, too, might have been overly belligerent yesterday and almost PMed Carrot Top to that effect, until I saw she could take it. :biggrin:

Forum hosts are human beings, too. :biggrin:

And now, back to your regularly-scheduled program...


Michael aka "Pan

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I'll drop this for now,

Ah...so kind of you, Michaei.

Tally-ho, chop-chop and all that.

Yours in times of war and peace,

Karen-San

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Whew, glad that's over.

I was going to suggest that we all leave Pan and Carrot Top alone in this thread to thrash it all out! :biggrin:

And I totally agree with Bux, a thread on editors would be important. they are the "forgotten" man or woman in the journalistic process.

I'll drop this for now,

Ah...so kind of you, Michaei.

Tally-ho, chop-chop and all that.

Yours in times of war and peace,

Karen-San


Bill Daley

Chicago Tribune

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...