Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Still we get the same old gruel

Last night I enjoyed a delicious, genre-defying meal in the charming company of the Michelin-starred chef who had devised it, so it is instructive to remember that hacks and chefs don’t always get on so well.  Consider the example of the Beverly Hills restaurateur who has barred the LA Times critic from his establishment, as well as putting her photograph, pseudonym and even mobile number on his website. Noah Ellis of Red Medicine said of the critic, Irene Virbila:
We don’t care for her or her reviews. Our purpose for posting this is so that all restaurants can have a picture of her and make a decision as to whether or not they would like to serve her. We find that some of her reviews can be unnecessarily cruel and irrational, and that they have caused hardworking people in this industry to lose their jobs.
Of course, it’s up to Mr Ellis whether or not he allows Ms Virbila into his restaurant, although it’s possible to argue that his own cruel, irrational behaviour, if replicated by others, might cause hardworking people in the restaurant review industry to lose their jobs. And it’s also interesting and maybe a little cheering that, amidst the clamour of food bloggers and the like, he believes a single dead-tree critic still wields so much power.

But ultimately to pick on one critic for being a bit nasty (“cruel and irrational” rather than “wrong”) is to miss the point. Critics don’t exist to close restaurants or musicals or careers. They should provoke and cajole, encourage and query, nudging others to think about food or drama or words or music in new ways. A healthy critical dialogue – which is just as likely to be kind and rational as anything else – is proof that people care deeply about the subject matter, and ultimately encourages them to consume it. In the long run, if that doesn’t happen, a hell of a lot of people stand to lose their jobs, no matter how hard they work.


The Poet Laura-eate said...

I have no idea why people take food so seriously.

Though that said, Simple, fresh, friendly service still seems too much to ask of many eateries.

And in Britain many still expect a tip ON TOP of the service charge which I think is wholly unreasonable - it should be one or the other.

Anonymous said...

And then there was the libel action taken by a pizza place in Belfast against a reviewer from the Irish News - they were awarded £25K against the newspaper.
But that wasn't the end of it...
Story is here http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2008/mar/11/medialaw.pressandpublishing

Tim F said...

Most food shouldn't be taken seriously, PL – in common with most books, music, TV, etc. But every now and then, you encounter something pretty special. I've had it four or five times this year, and it was a very good year. (Agree with you on tips.)

BWT: "Nobody likes a bad review, but if I can't write honestly, good reviews are pointless." Neat summary of the whole thing.