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Chodorow's Response to Bruni's Review


weinoo
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I'm definitely in the camp that says this is pretty much a non event.

Oh, come on! How can you say that a day of early-afternoon mirth is a non-event? I'm sure this will be the talk of the town for at least another sev-- oh, look! Something shiny!

--

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A "restaurant reviewer" (the traditional and standard term) is arguably somewhat a public advocate....
Frank Bruni has the "public advocacy" part of the job nailed. But I think a restaurant critic is more than just a consumer reporter.
put differently, you're talking about two different job descriptions -- someone who has to write a restaurant review every week is fulfilling a different function than a general aesthetic critic (which, frankly, I don't think restaurants deserve.  food is not literature.  let's not get too full of ourselves.)

You're confusing two different things.

The quality or the nature of criticism doesn't change because it happens to be delivered in bite-sized chunks via periodic newspaper articles. The book, music, dance, art, and architecture critics do the same thing. Fundamentally, it is still criticism.

Does food as an "art" belong on the same plane as literature? Probably not, but I don't see the need to settle the issue. Cooking is partly an art. If you're going to write intelligently about it, it helps to have seriously thought and written about the topic for a long time, rather than just parachuting in after a stint as Rome bureau chief.

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The NY Press is off by a wide, wide margin: how many reviewers have "formal culinary training?" And what exactly qualifies as "formal culinary training?" I went to cooking school and cooked professionally, therefore I am qualified (even though this is in fact what I do for a living?)? Respectfully, I don't buy it. It is my job -- first and foremost -- to present to the public as clear a qualitative and experiential look at a restaurant as is possible; it goes beyond food, certainly, to include environment, surroundings, and service. It also needs to be informative, entertaining, sensitive, and evocative. This is not to say that many if not most reviewers have axes to grind at least once in their professional lives, and we'd be lying if we said we didn't: perhaps we've been "snubbed" and it has left a sour taste in our mouths (see famous tale of Reichl being recognized by Sirio Maccionni, after he stuck her at a table near the bathroom and yanked a menu out of her hand to give to someone else "who really needed it"); perhaps we were food-poisoned by the seafood salad. Who knows.

Professional culinary training, in whatever form it manifests itself, certainly helps and generally doesn't hurt reviewers; that said, it's always an ironic thing when a chef complains loudly that they've been dissed by a reviewer who "isn't a real food person" and therefore has no idea what they're talking about. So a professionally-trained cook-turned-reviewer/journalist comes along and the chef complains again because the reviewer knows too much. A no-win situation.

I meant to add this link to a 1996 Salon article on the subject of battling Dining Divas:

http://www.salon.com/nov96/interview961118.html

Edited by BeefCheeks (log)

BeefCheeks is an author, editor, and food journalist.

"The food was terrible. And such small portions...."

--Alvy Singer

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this will be forgotten in two weeks (just like Prime Time Tables was).

I'm definitely in the camp that says this is pretty much a non event. Rich egomaniacs purchase vanity advertorials in newspapers all the time, and most of the time nobody cares.

I definitely go to camp with you guys.

Edited by Sneakeater (log)
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A "restaurant reviewer" (the traditional and standard term) is arguably somewhat a public advocate....
Frank Bruni has the "public advocacy" part of the job nailed. But I think a restaurant critic is more than just a consumer reporter.
put differently, you're talking about two different job descriptions -- someone who has to write a restaurant review every week is fulfilling a different function than a general aesthetic critic (which, frankly, I don't think restaurants deserve.  food is not literature.  let's not get too full of ourselves.)

You're confusing two different things.

The quality or the nature of criticism doesn't change because it happens to be delivered in bite-sized chunks via periodic newspaper articles. The book, music, dance, art, and architecture critics do the same thing. Fundamentally, it is still criticism.

Does food as an "art" belong on the same plane as literature? Probably not, but I don't see the need to settle the issue. Cooking is partly an art. If you're going to write intelligently about it, it helps to have seriously thought and written about the topic for a long time, rather than just parachuting in after a stint as Rome bureau chief.

my point is that he's not a "critic"...he's a reviewer.

let's take the visual arts: John Russell used to write about exhibitions, now he writes reviews of art books. in contrast, Jad Perl writes meta-criticism...sometimes making his point by use of a specific exhibition, but always in the service of a larger point. arguably, one is a reviewer, the other a critic.

(indeed Chodorow to the contrary, professional architecture critics aren't necessarily trained in architecture...but they do all have training in aesthetics in some fashion)

Edward Rothstein is today sort of a critic at large for the Times...which makes sense...his background is with the unique Committee on Social Thought at the U. of Chicago (an interdisciplinary program once helmed by Leo Strauss, then Allan Bloom, now Robert Pippin and featuring such diverse scholars as Wendy Doniger, Marc Fumaroli, Mark Strand, and J.M. Coetzee (also the winner of an obscure literary prize). If Rothstein decided to write an article within the field of food criticism, I'd be most interested in reading it...but it wouldn't be a restaurant review per se...even if he used a restaurant with which to make a larger point.

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"Critic" v. "reviewer": spot on.

You know what? I didn't even notice that thing when I read the Times this morning. I just filtered it out as noise. It wasn't until I logged onto eGullet that I realized that this momentous event in the New York food scene had occurred.

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Agree this will be forgotten about by 1:37am tomorrow, but at least someone has made the point about the Times' critic's favorite game - making personal attacks in restaurant reviews.

It speaks volumes about his personality, character and lack of integrity. That the Times would continue the employment of this petty individual speaks volumes about their current standing as a reputable newspaper.

As I have stated a few times - from the best newspaper in the country (arguably the world) just 10-15 years ago to being the third best paper in NYC (behind WSJ and VV) is a very steep decline. But one that is well deserved. (Not just food - but the entire editoral staff.)

Congratulations NY Times - no paper has ever achieved these lofty heights in a such a short period of time.

Rich Schulhoff

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

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Rich egomaniacs purchase vanity advertorials in newspapers all the time, and most of the time nobody cares.

CNBC did a report on this: "Food Fight" - with reporting from the restaurant floor itself, about a half hour ago (Power Lunch... where else?). They didn't fail to mention that a page (unique) buy in the Times is $75k

"I took the habit of asking Pierre to bring me whatever looks good today and he would bring out the most wonderful things," - bleudauvergne

foodblogs: Dining Downeast I - Dining Downeast II

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CNBC did a report on this: "Food Fight" - with reporting from the restaurant floor itself, about a half hour ago (Power Lunch... where else?). They didn't fail to mention that a page (unique) buy in the Times is $75k

BeefCheeks is an author, editor, and food journalist.

"The food was terrible. And such small portions...."

--Alvy Singer

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"Critic" v. "reviewer":  spot on.

In the first place, can someone provide a coherent explanation of the difference? Nathan proposed Edward Rothstein. He has written for the Times for years. Was there a magical moment when his writings crossed the line from reviews to criticism? How would the rest of us mortals recognize when that mythic Rubicon had been crossed?

Perhaps what Nathan is trying to say is that food has a utilitarian aspect that literature and fine art do not. Its utilitarian aspect is amply covered by reviews that say, "The Niman Ranch pork chop tasted great, but at $32 was over-priced." But there is more to cuisine than just providing good-tasting nourishment at a fair price. Otherwise, who needs Jean Georges, when we can just get a bucket of chicken at KFC?

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behind the Voice?????????????????????????????????????

this was a joke, right?

as for whether it was appropriate to mention Chodorow's foibles...I absolutely think so. he made himself into a public figure and made his administration of his restaurants a subject for comment.

ditto for Ramsay.

you can't reap the economic benefits and assert that commensurate criticism is out of bounds because it is "personal"

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I don't believe Rothstein was ever a reviewer, per se. He was hired to be a critic at large. That was the point of hiring someone with his educational background.

I'm perhaps having difficulty phrasing this...my background was in the academy (I had some of the same grad profs as Rothstein) so to me the distinction between criticism and reviewing is obvious and even assumable (of course there are overlaps!).

hmm... put it this way. one is concerned with overall aesthetic judgments...even existential questions relating to (or arising from) the topic at hand. one is concerned directly with consumer-related value judgments (should I see this Alvin Ailey production?) as opposed to (the Rite of Spring as an advent of the collapse of modernity).

to analogize: a reviewer writes: "The Brothers Karamazov, though at times a wooden and overly didactic novel, contains powerful instances of religion-soaked imagery culminating in a trial that evinces Dosteyevsky's full dramatic gifts."

a critic writes: "Dosteyevsky's concern with children as a motif for ordinary Russians, in both their everyday cruelty and generosity, is especially poignant in the Brothers Karamazov"

That is the difference. I trust I make myself obscure.

Edited by Nathan (log)
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to amplify the distinction:

take oakapple's moniker...it implies he's a Gilbert & Sullivan fan.

there's a clear distinction between a review of a specific production of Iolanthe and an essay that uses G&S as a lens with which to touch on aspects of late Victorian society. the first is a review, the second is criticism (in the sense I'm using the word).

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to be fair, reviewers are often mis-entitled "critics" today...I think as an attempt to give them authority.

and not just in the food world.

but art people are still certainly aware of the distinction between Russell and Perl.

edit: what I'm trying to get at here is that insofar as there is something called "food criticism" as the discussion of culinary excellence....it is something different than a weekly restaurant review...which in my view really is a form of consumer advocacy (essentially, is this place worth my money?).

that is why I have no problem with Bruni being very price conscious in his reviews (I think that's desireable). I don't think that food criticism should be especially concerned with price.

now, the point has been made here that theater and dance reviews don't really take account of price (at least in NY -- though there's a great deal of parochiality in assuming that's the case everywhere else as well)...but, ultimately dining is democratic in a way that theater and dance are not. the vast majority of the population will eat in a restaurant at some point...the majority will never attend a theater or dance production. more importantly for this topic, the majority of NY Times readers probably eat at restaurants several times a week...I doubt the majority of NY Times readers attend theater or dance performances even once a year (more like once every couple years). the level of frequency certainly weighs in on how price-conscious one is.

Edited by Nathan (log)
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Also, one thing I'll disagree with: I think the percentage of the people who actively read the Times's dance reviews who go to a lot of dance is a lot greater than the percentage of the people who actively read the Times's main restaurant reviews who eat out a lot in "review"-level restaurants. I think a lot of people read the Times restaurant reviews for general interest, or as porn. I don't think a lot of people who aren't actively interested in dance follow the dance reviews.

I think some of the evidence for that is that the Times could never get away with having a dance reviewer who's as ignorant about dance as Bruni is ignorant about food.

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Also, one thing I'll disagree with:  I think the percentage of the people who actively read the Times's dance reviews who go to a lot of dance is a lot greater than the percentage of the people who actively read the Times's main restaurant reviews who eat out a lot in "review"-level restaurants.  I think a lot of people read the Times restaurant reviews for general interest, or as porn.  I don't think a lot of people who aren't actively interested in dance follow the dance reviews.

I think some of the evidence for that is that the Times could never get away with having a dance reviewer who's as ignorant about dance as Bruni is ignorant about food.

oh sure. but I don't think that's a disagreement. if anything, the relative affluence of people who actively read the dance reviews (talk about a field with a massive income gap between the consumer and performer!) is almost certainly higher than that of people who actively read the restaurant reviews.

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"Critic" v. "reviewer" isn't some new concept Nathan cooked up for the purpose of this thread.  It's this standard accepted distinction.

If there is such a difference in theory, it is not rigorously observed by any Times critic, in any field where it employs them.
edit: what I'm trying to get at here is that insofar as there is something called "food criticism" as the discussion of culinary excellence....it is something different than a weekly restaurant review...which in my view really is a form of consumer advocacy (essentially, is this place worth my money?).

The trouble is, if we accept your argument that such criticism does not belong in the NYT weekly restaurant reviews, then where does it belong? I can't imagine a marketable book written on this premise. If such criticism is going to exist at all, the weekly restaurant reviews are the only place it could plausibly come from.

In that sense, food criticism is different from literature criticism. Once written, a book exists indefinitely. Most cuisine worth writing criticism about exists only for the few short minutes that it sits unconsumed on your plate. Anyone professing to write thoughtfully about it would have to do what Frank Bruni does: visit the restaurant, order food, eat food, figure out what to say. Whether the format in which he writes is a weekly review, or some other medium, is utterly beside the point.

Edited by oakapple (log)
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"Critic" v. "reviewer" isn't some new concept Nathan cooked up for the purpose of this thread.  It's this standard accepted distinction.

If there is such a difference in theory, it is not rigorously observed by any Times critic, in any field where it employs them.

It's not up to the WRITER to follow the distinction. It's up to the reader, to know what they're getting.

But really, Times writers mainly write about events, on deadline. That's classic reviewing. Sometimes, they get to write "Critic's Notebook" thinkpieces. And some of them (like Rothstein) only write thinkpieces like that. That's closer to criticism. (I'll spot you that given the restaurant reviewer's choice of what to write about each week, and hence control over his deadline, it's not strict deadline "reviewing" in the absolute classic sense.)

Edited by Sneakeater (log)
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