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Fat Guy Lays it on the Table


kitchenbabe
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For what it's worth, what is the point of including the following phrase
Shaw's strategy is to present several cases within each chapter (a residue from law school).
?

If Mr. Fine's intent was to attract attention, he certainly did it in spades.

Soba

edited for clarity and partially in response to Tess' post above.

Well, for one thing it tells you where the author (FG) is coming from. He's originally a lawyer and the case study is a very "lawyerly" thing. It's an investigatory device used elsewhere (think business schools), but this is where FG was exposed to it. You understand the book better by understanding the author.

Of all the quibbles one could have with gaf's review, I think that this is a very minor one.

JPW --

It might be a relatively minor point, but it adds nothing to the review, in my opinion. It's inclusion is almost irrelevant.

I don't know about you but an analysis of a book that's less about the author and his proclivities and more about the content shouldn't be too difficult to pull off.

Yours,

Soba

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For what it's worth, what is the point of including the following phrase
Shaw's strategy is to present several cases within each chapter (a residue from law school).
?

If Mr. Fine's intent was to attract attention, he certainly did it in spades.

Soba

edited for clarity and partially in response to Tess' post above.

Well, for one thing it tells you where the author (FG) is coming from. He's originally a lawyer and the case study is a very "lawyerly" thing. It's an investigatory device used elsewhere (think business schools), but this is where FG was exposed to it. You understand the book better by understanding the author.

Of all the quibbles one could have with gaf's review, I think that this is a very minor one.

JPW --

It might be a relatively minor point, but it adds nothing to the review, in my opinion. It's inclusion is almost irrelevant.

I don't know about you but an analysis of a book that's less about the author and his proclivities and more about the content shouldn't be too difficult to pull off.

Yours,

Soba

Now THAT, my friend, does not seem like an objective opinion given your overall reaction to the work. :laugh:

If someone writes a book about restaurants and nobody reads it, will it produce a 10 page thread?

Joe W

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For what it's worth, what is the point of including the following phrase
Shaw's strategy is to present several cases within each chapter (a residue from law school).
?

If Mr. Fine's intent was to attract attention, he certainly did it in spades.

Soba

edited for clarity and partially in response to Tess' post above.

Well, for one thing it tells you where the author (FG) is coming from. He's originally a lawyer and the case study is a very "lawyerly" thing. It's an investigatory device used elsewhere (think business schools), but this is where FG was exposed to it. You understand the book better by understanding the author.

Of all the quibbles one could have with gaf's review, I think that this is a very minor one.

JPW --

It might be a relatively minor point, but it adds nothing to the review, in my opinion. It's inclusion is almost irrelevant.

I don't know about you but an analysis of a book that's less about the author and his proclivities and more about the content shouldn't be too difficult to pull off.

Yours,

Soba

Now THAT, my friend, does not seem like an objective opinion given your overall reaction to the work. :laugh:

No, but it's an honest desire.

I haven't seen the reviews by the New Yorker et al., but I would imagine those approach the bar I've indicated above.

I hope. :wink:

Yours,

Soba

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Snarkiness in book reviews is quite common, almost as common as plain old meanness. The Boston Globe reviewer, Bob MacDonald, gets snarky in places (though I'm not sure I have a really good working definition of snark). His review begins:

Fat Guy says McDonald's has the best service in America.

Whoa, you might say. Easy there, Big Fella. But Fat Guy makes his case. Fat Guy is the nom de internet of Steven A. Shaw, the handle millions know him by on his website eGullet.com. He's a new breed of food writer, a lawyer gone straight. First it was Jeffrey Steingarten writing for Vogue, then Shaw writing for Elle. Could this be a trend? F. Lee Bailey writing for Harper's Bazaar? Well, Cosmo maybe.

http://www.boston.com/ae/books/articles/20..._kitchen_doors/

It's okay. Book reviews are only partly about the books in question. The reviewer plays a large role in a book review.

I don't make much of the amateur/professional distinction either. There was probably not a specific day on which I went from being an amateur to being a professional, unless you use a strict old-style Olympics definition of being paid any amount of money making you a professional. It's not like in the medical profession, where the demarcation between a professional and an amateur doctor is quite clear and settled. Some professional writers suck; some amateur writers are great; some of the best freelance writers do other things for a living and write on the side. Our own Richard Kilgore, an accomplished book reviewer, is a psychologist by profession.

What were we talking about?

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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Book reviews are only partly about the books in question. The reviewer plays a large role in a book review

Much the same thing could be said about certain restaurant reviewers, professional, anonymous or otherwise.

Steve Klc

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant

Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

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Steven, I actually find that after reading your points, as well as tighe's, I've changed my position on the issue: Whether one is a professional *or* an amateur, I don't think snark is ever appropriate. To be clear, I define snark as catty commentary, and it's becoming far too prevalent in the media, IMO.

Full disclosure: I have used the snark myself in the past, as a last resort and out of frustration, so I'm not approaching this from a holier-than-thou point of view. But as a rule, I now prefer to gnaw my fingers off in place of typing said commentary (you should have seen my *first* foie gras editorial).

I don't mean to say the review above was vicious, so I want to make that clear as well. I did find it somewhat catty in places, but that could be my own interpretation. (What was truly snarky to me was the Turning the Tables review talking about how a "real" journalist should approach restaurant criticism.)

Sheesh, no wonder everyone hates a critic. :rolleyes:

I have used the word "snark" entirely too many times in this post, so I'll climb down from my soapbox now. Back to your regularly scheduled programming.

Jennifer L. Iannolo

Founder, Editor-in-Chief

The Gilded Fork

Food Philosophy. Sensuality. Sass.

Home of the Culinary Podcast Network

Never trust a woman who doesn't like to eat. She is probably lousy in bed. (attributed to Federico Fellini)

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In the end, everyone, whether professional reviewer or otherwise is entitled to their own opinion.

If GAF thinks it's helpful to add that FG is a lawyer then that's his call. Personally, I agree with him - apart from anything it tells the reader that FG is himself not a culinary professional, he's an amateur like the rest of us - it also gives an insight into the way he writes and the analytical tools he uses. Soba may think it's irrelevant, in the same way Doug Psaltis clearly felt it irrelevant to mention that he slapped an obnoxious waiter - but that didn't stop the whole issue resulting in one of the most read eG threads and a hotly debated issue.

This seems to go back to the earlier thread about what is or isn't a decent review.

No-one has to like what Fine says, but equally no-one has to like what Fat Guy says. The delight of eG is that we are a broad church and can debate these things openly, can't we?

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Since I say in the book that I'm a lawyer, it seems entirely rational to mention it in a review! The opening pages are autobiographical, so that information is on the table and open to examination. I felt it was important enough to include in the book, so why would a reviewer be challenged for including it in a review?

Not that I get to choose what is and isn't important. If I hadn't said I was a lawyer, a critic could have brought it up anyway.

That being said, the inference in this particular case is wrong. I didn't get my approach to discourse from law school. I went to law school and thrived in that environment because that was how I was. Prior to that (also in the book) I was a college and high-school debater, and prior to that (also in the book) I grew up in an academic household -- both parents professors, older sister an editor (currently at the Wall Street Journal, but always with the soul of an editor). In my house, at age three you didn't make a claim unless you could document it with examples!

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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And previous to that? And to that? And to that? And to that?

Come on, Dude. Spill.

"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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Shaw's strategy is to present several cases within each chapter (a residue from law school).

This technique is known (somehow apropos) as a red herring.

Why does everyone assume that referring to Steven as a lawyer* is necessarily pejorative? Regardless of whether he is or isn't a lawyer, describing the chapter technique as a case study (like one would find in law school) is a valid and, quite frankly, helpful descriptor. It painted a picture to me at least.

*I'm sure that like all who have escaped the law, Steven describes himself as a former lawyer or reformed lawyer [i can make such jokes because I haven't yet escaped]

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[...]If GAF thinks it's helpful to add that FG is a lawyer then that's his call.  Personally, I agree with him - apart from anything it tells the reader that FG is himself not a culinary professional, he's an amateur like the rest of us[...]

How does his being a lawyer make him an amateur food writer? I don't see that at all.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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How does his being a lawyer make him an amateur food writer? I don't see that at all.

But the real question is does being a food writer make him a amateur lawyer? :hmmm:

Rich Schulhoff

Opinions are like friends, everyone has some but what matters is how you respect them!

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. . . .

If GAF thinks it's helpful to add that FG is a lawyer then that's his call.  Personally, I agree with him - apart from anything it tells the reader that FG is himself not a culinary professional, he's an amateur like the rest of us - .\

. . . .

I'm not so sure it takes all that much talent or experience to be called a professional in most professions these days, but why couldn't one be a professional in two professions. Or three for that matter, as most professionals seem to automatically qualify for the world's oldest profession. Then again some of my most honorable friends are lawyers.

Would you dismiss Steingarten as a culinary journalist or lawyer?

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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First off, I couldn't agree with Bux more: there is no reason one cannot be a professional in a number of professions, look at all the mid-career professionals who suddenly switch. Equally, just because one is lawyer doesn't necessarily mean that one is an amateur.

When it comes to FG, I was saying that I would be surprised if he saw himself as a culinary professional just because of eG and the fact he's written a book. One of the meanings of the word amateur (as its derivation makes clear) is that one loves what one does ie they do it for the love. I'm sure that yet again, FG wouldn't argue that he is involved in food for the love of it - and as I said in my post - like the rest of us.

Additionally, I question whether he himself would compare himself to the likes of Steingarten, Ruhlman and Rogov given their international profile and quantity of published material. I'd be happy to stand corrected.

I think Pan in particular took my post the wrong way and thought I was being critical of FG. I wasn't. I was simply arguing that I disagreed with Soba's dismissive tone to GAF's post and that GAF and FG are both entitled to their opinion. FG expressed his in his book, GAF expressed his here.

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In food terms, of course Fat Guy's an amateur. As far as I know he isn't involved in any way with food production. However, given his corpus of paid-for work he seems entitled to claim professional status as a 'food-writer'.

I suppose his status is somewhat similar to sports writers or political commentators, with a concomitant importance to his area of interest defined by his influence upon it.

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If a culinary professional is someone who works in the food service industry then of course I'm not a culinary professional! If the term culinary professional includes those who write about food professionally, then of course I am that. The International Association of Culinary Professionals would say a writer is a culinary professional -- it includes writers, photographers, nutritionists, publicists, etc., in its membership classes. And this matters because . . . ?

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 International Association of Culinary Professionals would say a writer is a culinary professional -- it includes writers, photographers, nutritionists, publicists, etc., in its membership classes.

Then both the man who writes the restaurant advertorials for the local rag in the hinterland, and the influential metropolitan reviewer are 'culinary professionals' by your cited definition.

And this matters because . . . ?

. . . Because one shapes the culinary landscape and one doesn't.

Ambition in food-writing is rarely directed towards making a positive contribution to the common culinary weal, but rather to acquiring and wielding influence.

Of course, there will always be the Alan Davidson school of encyclopedic writing (I hope), but the tendency today seems to be, as GAF pointed out, about one-upmanship, not just amongst diners, but amongst food-writers also.

Personally, I'm uncomfortable that people like you, by dint of their ambition rather than culinary skill and knowledge, can end up as self-appointed arbiters, and influence the choices of restaurateurs at the moment of orienting their business to the market.

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Personally, I'm uncomfortable that people like you, by dint of their ambition rather than culinary skill and knowledge, can end up as self-appointed arbiters, and influence the choices of restaurateurs at the moment of orienting their business to the market.

Surely a lack of skill or knowledge will come across to a restaurateur, who will also have enough discrimination not to make big decisions based on what one person says in a book? Or maybe some restaurateurs don't have enough sense, in which case I think they have other, bigger problems.

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There's a good standalone topic there about how writers succeed. Especially when publishing on the internet, arbiters are almost by definition self-appointed unless and until they get recognized by the mainstream. And of course it's the case in many areas of human endeavor that ambition is a key to success, especially in an open field where most people are freelancers. I'm not sure what that has to do with Turning the Tables, though. The book is a consumer's guide to getting the most out of dining.

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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And of course it's the case in many areas of human endeavor that ambition is a key to success, especially in an open field where most people are freelancers.

I quite agree, but ambition must be acknowledged to what it is; namely, self-interest. Of course, there's nothing wrong, or even surprising about self-interest.

I'm not sure what that has to do with Turning the Tables, though. The book is a consumer's guide to getting the most out of dining.

Well, the point is that your book offers instruction of how diners should ingratiate themselves with restauranteurs in order to improve their dining experience. This is supported by your own first hand experience in doing the same.

On the other hand you claim that by being a good enough writer, and I assume you believe that you are, one is able to overcome the difficulties of objective criticism presented by being a known personality (in your case known for the above approach) within the food world.

The problem, as I see it, is that ingratiation into, and critical evaluation of, restaurants seem thoroughly inconsistent.

I can understand why your ambition would make you want to maintain both avenues of approach open, and I sympathize, but I don't believe it does anything to enhance your credibility, especially in the public reception of anything resembling restaurant criticism.

Edited by Dirk Wheelan (log)
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Personally, I'm uncomfortable that people like you, by dint of their ambition rather than culinary skill and knowledge, can end up as self-appointed arbiters, and influence the choices of restaurateurs at the moment of orienting their business to the market.

Dirk, have you had some personal experience that has led you to feel this way. Are you a chef or restaurateur that has suffered at the hands of a writer for example? It would be useful to have some context to your comments.

In Steven's case, I think you only have to look at the classes he has written for the eGCI to know that he is not without culinary skill and knowledge and its that, combined with ambition and his ability to write that has led to the publication of Turning the Tables.

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