Everybody's a Critic, But Some Are Better Than Others. And Yeah, That Smarts.

Categories: Chow Bella

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Typically, here at Chow Bella, we prefer to sit back and let the conversation happen. We break the news, make the pronouncement, share the opinion. Then it's your job, reader, to hash it all out -- and of course let us know when we're wrong.

But after the downright crazy-ness over Laura Hahnefeld's gently critical piece on Tina's Ethiopian Cafe and the hard-core hate generated on Twitter (I'm guessing, given the timing) by her review of Windsor (a restaurant experience she liked, but -- horrors! -- did not love), I'm not the only one (apparently EaterAZ's actually working on a story) asking, "WTF?"

As Hahnefeld's editor -- and the one who watches her agonize over how to best deliver criticism that is constructive and fair -- I'll ask it out loud: What the fuck, people?

Have you never read real criticism? Have you never heard the phrase, "Let's agree to disagree?" Can't we all just get over ourselves? 

Are you that bored?

Look, I'll admit it. I'm old school. I remember the days when letters to the editor actually arrived by mail, hand-written or typed on paper, and while I love my iPhone as much as anyone, I'll also admit that I miss those days. We all had to pause to take a breath before speaking -- both those of us writing the stories and those of us offering our opinions on them.

That might not have been such a bad thing.

Now we've got grown men shrieking on Twitter like Lindsay Lohan in Mean Girls and I marvel both at their ability to sustain an obsession with the local food scene (hey people, it's Phoenix -- get a grip!) and the time they devote to writing 140-character posts about it. Hey, at least these guys are willing to share their names. Far worse are those who clog our comments section (and the comments sections on every other blog and newspaper web site they can find) with anonymous messages, full of outrageous vitriol and entertaining typos and, inevitably, their hatred of people who have come here from other countries to look for a better way of life (a.k.a. Mexicans).

Ah, but I digress.

Ty Largo made some good points earlier this week in an open letter about the Tina's debacle (which reads like a Saturday Night Live skit -- seriously, if you haven't taken the time, it's worth the investment to read through these comments) that only led to personal attacks on Largo. (Classy.) But after reading what Craig DeMarco (co-owner/creator of Windsor) had to say in an email to Hahnefeld this morning, I had to continue the conversation and ask DeMarco to share, too. He graciously agreed.

From DeMarco's email:

Hey Laura,

It's Craig DeMarco from the Windsor. Wanted to say thanks on behalf of the Windsor/Churn team (Lauren, Wyatt, Kris and Brent) for the review in the NT. We took a look at the items that you highlighted and made some decisions on how to improve them. We appreciate the objective feedback and will continue to look at our food everyday with a critical eye. Again, thanks for the press.

Craig DeMarco, Upward Projects

That's what DeMarco does on the computer. He does not spend hours on Chow Bella writing anonymous comments about pressing faces against asses or describing himself as "a dorable." (At least, I doubt it.) He probably doesn't even have time to tweet. When I asked him for permission to use his note to Laura, he admitted that his first reaction to the review wasn't so great.

"It's funny how emotions work," he tells me. "We read the article a few times and at first we were bummed but after we talked about it and looked at the two items Laura really disliked (the smorgasbord and the ribs) we decided it was fair criticism. We made some changes to the execution of those items and now they will be even better. We never expected this to be easy and we grow most when challenges arise."

And that's why Craig DeMarco runs a small, super-tasteful empire and you don't. Actually, I think he reacted so well because as it turns out, he and Hahnefeld both love Beastie Boys album "Paul's Boutique."

Hey, whatever it takes.

So what's my point? I suppose it's this: Here at Chow Bella, we're not in it to make friends. But we're not looking for enemies, either.

We're looking for the same thing you are: a good meal and a vibrant food community. We welcome different opinions; heck, we disagree amongst ourselves all the time. We also try not to take ourselves too seriously, though we do believe that running a good, success food-related business is serious business, indeed. As is being a consumer in this market.

One more thing: Laura Hahnefeld's a fucking hell of a food critic and a great writer, and I'm not the only one who thinks so. Next month, one of the very first pieces she ever wrote for New Times will be published in a national food writing anthology. Can you say that? I didn't think so. Phoenix is lucky to have her.

And with that, I'll let you get back to Twitter. 

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46 comments
Concerned Food Fan
Concerned Food Fan

Are you embarassed by this article yet?  You and your staff are both terrible at giving AND receiving criticism.  So much so that you delete the worst, ignore the best, and somehow pride yourselves on goading local business owners into unfortunately defensive positions regarding the small business they're trying really hard to make work.  Way to go, assholes..

I Eat, We all Eat!
I Eat, We all Eat!

I've often wondered what qualifies one to be a "food critique". What say you?

Anonymous
Anonymous

I wasn't really going to post about this (even though I've been sorely tempted in the past) because I didn't want to hurt any feelings, but this topic seems to be the place to do it: I absolutely can't stand a majority of Laura Hahnefeld's Chow Bella articles. 

So many things irk me: her emphasis on "trendy" elements of dining over good ones, her choice to apply bold formatting to parts of nearly every sentence, her occasional forays into hypocrisy (that week where she posted an article denigrating chain restaurants and then wrote one completely bashing an independent ice cream shop that she had never been to for not being creative or trendy enough), the complete banal inanity of some articles (dog treat day at TWO restaurants?), and most of all, the pervasive amount of negativity.  I'm gradually finding more and more things to enjoy about Phoenix's food culture, and I would like to see the discussion focused around more positive aspects of it.  To your credit, most of the articles on Chow Bella are great, which is why I really enjoy reading this blog.

I was interested in trying Tina's Ethiopian Cafe, but after reading Tina's overblown response to the article here, I'm no longer planning to.  The problem was that until Tina responded, I was firmly on her side.  If she had written a response apologizing for being unprepared for the rush on her re-opening day, or if she hadn't posted at all, I would be irritated at Laura for posting something that could damage a unique local business based on an extraordinary series of events.  I would have expected a professional critic to return at a later time to see how the business had adapted to those circumstances (or hadn't adapted) before writing an article like that.

I also take some issue with the idea that critics themselves are immune to criticism.  In some cases, the people criticizing your aren't doing it because you gave them a poor review- they're doing it because they genuinely don't like certain aspects of your presentation.  As long as they provide criticism in a constructive way (I hope I managed to do that in this post :\ ), it can be used to help improve its target, as with the Windsor.  Even in some of the cases where the criticism does originate from a restaurant owner, it may be justified.  There are ways to present the pros and cons of a dining experience without being needlessly inflammatory.  It seems like some of the criticism of the recent articles here has gotten under your skin, but you need to understand that you're doing the same thing to restaurant owners every day (albeit with somewhat better grammar).  As Eric said, "words have weight."

Noname
Noname

You reap what you sow... As Laura Hahnefeld's editor, have you ever read some of her venomous responses to reasonable comments to her over harsh and overstated critiques?  They are at the very least less than professional.  So why is that New Times is so 'surprised' by getting back the example they have set?  Even in Ms. Hahnefeld's review she admits it was an off night and didn't get to try a representative sample of their food.  Instead of trying it a second and third time, she chose to take them to taste without the benefit of a fair sampling.  You get what you give, New Times.

just my opinion
just my opinion

  For a long time, New Times held the floor in its food conversation with readers/browsers thanks to stellar writing (Seftel, Laudig, Lemons, et al.). I just don't think it has the chops these days to deliver what can quiet and content an audience that cut its teeth on better talent. 

Danielle
Danielle

Would like to see Amy or/and Laura put their blood sweat and tears into opening and running a successful restaurant.

And then have a publication, I'm sorry, tabloid, like New Times shit all over it.

Marthabratcher
Marthabratcher

Snore. The journalists at New Times know "a lot" about "a lot"

But they don't know shit about restaurants or being a real food critic.

This coming from a woman who does own and operate a restaurant.

Shannon Louis
Shannon Louis

WOW people! Laura is a food critic and this is a food blog! The people who run it have a right to their opinions and their style of running things. If you don't like it, don't subject yourself to it, or start your own blog if you know how it should be done. But for god's sake show a little respect. They are all people just trying to do a good job. There are real problems in the world...maybe focus on those???

Wayne Michael Reich
Wayne Michael Reich

"Have you never read real criticism? Have you never heard the phrase, "Let's agree to disagree?" Can't we all just get over ourselves? "

This from the "Editor" who drove three hours to go crap all over Yuma, with a "review" that was written before she squeezed herself into her rental car?

Generally, when I don't like a place, I rarely invest in a road trip to reinforce my already held beliefs.

Thanks for the laugh borne of hypocrisy, Editorzilla- I really needed it.

Respectfully,Wayne Michael Reich(http://waynemichaelreich.blogs...)

PS: My Yuma trip is scheduled for October... the road trip offer still stands. And yes, you can stick your head out the car window the whole way it you want.

[Release the New Time's Trolls, Amy!]

DesertSmokeBBQ
DesertSmokeBBQ

While I don't always agree with what I've read between the covers of the NT and I genuinely miss Michele Laudig as Chowbella (due to her writhing style and point of view), I can certainly appreciate what Laura is doing analternate the support voiced by her "Chain of Command."

Social media sites such as twitter and Facebook allow individuals the instant ability to have their voices heard. Positive posts/comments tend to be embraced while negative ones seem to draw backlash (such as this piece). A critic SHOULD agonize over what they are about to publish, these are real peoples lives, hopes and dreams that are being written about and good, bad or indifferent, a critics words have real effects.

While I applaud the support you are willing to show publicly for your employee, I submit that it's your JOB to support and guide your subordinates but in my opinion, your use of these "pages" to lash out at those who disagree with your/her POV. Just a humble opinion from someone who has nothing better to do than sit around slinging arrows at defenseless food critics....

Mike Todd
Mike Todd

Hey, Amy. I just spent some time trying to find the Twitter stuff you reference here ("hard-core hate," "shrieking"), but I came up empty. Could you give us a couple of paraphrased or verbatim examples of the kinds of comments you're talking about?

Thanks.

Hgraham6
Hgraham6

I love this.  And you nailed it, in all ways.  Great discourse, Amy....  

Nina Simmons
Nina Simmons

Unfortunately, egos run rampant on Twitter. I 100% agree with you that the reviews were objective and well written. Well done Amy and Laura.

Ericeatsout.com
Ericeatsout.com

Amen! As an amateur critic, I have had to learn the hard way that words have weight. Also, most of America has bigger worries than searching out the most authentic example of North Korean vegetarian molecular gastronom in Apache Junction. Most of the world doesn't live in foodnik Shangri La. I think that Laura had big shoes to fill when she took the job and it is nice to see her supported at the top. Well done. She isdoinga great job.

tdhurst
tdhurst

Either moderate your comments, turn them off, or turn a blind eye to them and Twitter, but don't for a second think people are going to believe that the Phoenix New Times, which profits from sensationalistic story after sensationalistic story, is somehow not at all responsible for this kind of mess.

This kind of behavior has been bred by the likes of you and Cizmar for years, but now that it's come back to bite you, you're upset? Please. Spare us your righteous condemnation.

And old school is dead. It's never coming back. Pining away for the days of print, long-form journalism with hour and days of lead time are over. You helped create this antagonistic group of readers and now you should have to deal with them.

Concerned Reader
Concerned Reader

Apparently criticism of the "critics" is not allowed...those posts get deleted..

Concerned Reader
Concerned Reader

Laura has the same contrived, overly-descriptive-but-not-really-descriptive food writing style every single food writer for these free alt-weeklies seems to have.  I read two pages worth of a review, and walk away feeling like I've basically just read the menu. 

I do think it's funny that you're trying so hard to pat yourselves on the back, though.  You're definitely god's gift to Phoenix.

Patrick
Patrick

Great job Amy and Laura

Zach Fowle
Zach Fowle

Ability to distinguish between words such as "critic" and "critique" would be a start. 

Wayne Michael Reich
Wayne Michael Reich

Noname-

You're my new hero.I am so buying you a cheese-basket.

respectfully,

Wayne Michael Reich(http:waynemichaelreich.blogspo...)

PS: Can't wait to see what Amy's response will be, although I'm sure her backpedaling could qualify as an Olympic event.   ;)

Connor
Connor

Shouldn't someone be able to be honest with a restaurant to help it improve? And honestly, I don't really see what was so horrible about either of those reviews.

And no, I'm not trying to comment on the story as a whole.

DesertSmokeBBQ
DesertSmokeBBQ

while I generally agree with your comments, the fact of the matter is, both the writer & editor put their "opinions" into print so to speak, opening them to interpretation and different POV's. It's my opinion that a piece like this can only serve to polarize opinion, the editor is a "professional" journalist and thus knew exactly what he was doing when he wrote it as well as what type of response his comments would garner.

You'rePredictable
You'rePredictable

No surprise this brought you out from under your rock self promoting and cyberstalking again.  Your weird obsession with Amy Silverman continues to be just that:  weird.

DesertSmokeBBQ
DesertSmokeBBQ

That last paragraph got jumbled, "smart phones" will be the death of us ALL!!"While I applaud the support you are willing to show publicly for your employee, I submit that it's your JOB to support and guide your subordinates but in my opinion, your use of these "pages" to lash out at those who disagree with your/her POV are just as bad as those you point out (after-all, YOU are the "professional".   Just a humble opinion from someone who has nothing better to do than sit around slinging arrows at defenseless food critics...."

Amy Silverman
Amy Silverman

It's there -- or it was. I haven't gone looking to see who's taken what down. It's gone on for months. And those folks are starting to show up here, so I'm sure it'll appear here soon enough for you -- though I'm sure everyone will be on their best behavior for now. Unfortunately I can't really decipher what they're trying to say.

Amy Silverman
Amy Silverman

That goes for you, too, Kristen. If you know of any comments we've deleted, I want details.

Concerned Reader
Concerned Reader

Careful there -- New Times critics are apparently better than you.  I would keep your criticism in check knowing that fact..

Amy Silverman
Amy Silverman

Dear Concerned Reader: I don't know of a single such post we've ever deleted, and if you know of one, please show me. We take that very, very seriously. I'm not saying it hasn't happened, only that I've never done it and it's never happened with my knowledge and I don't want it to happen.

I get that you can write whatever you feel like (particularly anonymously) and walk away, but for me that has ramifications. If you want to protect your anonymity, you can call or email me: my direct line at New Times is 602-229-8443, email is amy.silverman@newtimes.com 

just my opinion
just my opinion

Thanks for providing us yet another articluation of what's wrong with the working end of this blog site, Zach: Too much attitude, too little aptitude.

Wayne Michael Reich
Wayne Michael Reich

"No surprise this brought you out from under your rock"

Honestly, I'm just flattered you came out from under your bridge to tell me what you think.

What I do find interesting is that you zoned right in on my critical comments over all the others that have been posted here- seems kinda like you might have a personal issue with yours truly.

But I'm flattered, nonetheless. Nothing says "character" like someone posting their heart-felt beliefs anonymously from the shadows of the Internet.

respectfully,Wayne Michael Reich(http://www.WayneMichaelReich.B...)

Mike Todd
Mike Todd

OK. I thought you were talking specifically about some things that were posted yesterday in response to the Windsor review, so I looked for "Windsor", "windsoraz", Laura's last name, "new times", various morphs of "chowbellaphx", etc. I even combed through a conversation that I thought might be the source of your upset. I found some critical comments, but nothing mean-spirited or vitriolic.  

Anyway, I was just trying to figure out what you were alluding to, so as to have a starting point for a conversation about some concerns you raised here. 

Regardless of any perceived hatred and/or shrieking, one extended comment I have still stands...

I'm not sure I understand the implication that Phoenix diners in particular shouldn't be obsessed with their local food scene. I would actually find it odd if, in a metro area of this size, there weren't at least a handful of people who shared this kind of obsession and who, you know, actually talked to each other about it, out in public even. Moreover, I would think that you of all people would be downright giddy to know that you and your staff weren't just shouting into the apathetic void of McNuggetland. It sounds like you're interested in having an increasingly vibrant and interesting food scene here; I know I am.

tdhurst
tdhurst

It's their site, if they want to block me or moderate their comments that's their choice. They're going to have enough blanket supporters that I'll fade away.

Concerned Reader
Concerned Reader

I specifically wrote not just a response to the original article when it was posted, but a response to *your* assertion here that you never delete comments.  Both showed up in the comments when I posted them -- I could see them listed with all of the other comments when I reloaded the page --  then a few minutes later mysteriously disappeared, never to reappear.  So, how can I show you a comment that was either deleted by you, or by your comment system?  Just like the driving force behind the compulsion to post this article, my guess is they disappeared due to thin skin..

Concerned Reader
Concerned Reader

I specifically posted a fairly tame but critical response shortly after this post went up.  It was almost immediately deleted.  You can post all the contact info you want, but you know it happened..

Wayne Michael Reich
Wayne Michael Reich

My cherished you're predictable-

Since you're an anonymous cyber coward, I think I'm gonna stick with feeling flattered for now, since the opinion of someone I don't know, like, respect, or fear cuts zero ice with me.

Hissing at me while hiding in the Interenet's shadows really doesn't impress me, but it does make me laugh, so thanks for all that.

As a side note, may I reiterate once again that the only negative comments you've responded to are mine alone- got a personal beef with me, kitten?

It certainly seems so. What a shame you're too craven to do anything substantial about it.

You really make me giggle...

Wayne Michael Reich(http://waynemaichaelreich.blog....)

Dominic Armato
Dominic Armato

"...I marvel both at their ability to sustain an obsession with the local food scene (hey people, it's Phoenix -- get a grip!)"

I have to say, Amy, though I think your level of frustration with some of the inanity and venom that have been floating around recently is understandable, this bit troubles me as well.  Not that this should come as a surprise since I'm... *ahem*... a touch more towards the obsessed end of the spectrum.  But just as that energy can be harnessed for evil, it can also be harnessed for good.  And if anything, a city like Phoenix is *more* in need of a small crowd of obsessive souls.  It's not New York, San Francisco, etc. where you can't throw a stone without hittng fabulous eats.  Finding the good stuff and getting the word out here takes time and effort, and you guys (thankfully) seem to be on board with that plan, so I can't understand why you'd pooh-pooh it when it's coming via Twitter rather than via the NT.  And not to beat a dead horse, but before you chide people for writing on Twitter, consider the alternatives for somebody in Phoenix who wants to contribute to the discussion without going to the trouble of creating and launching a blog.  They're... less than compelling.

Perhaps I'm reading too much into it, and perhaps that was just some (understandable) frustration coming through.  But it doesn't seem right to lump the civilly obsessive in with those who just like making noise.

Concerned Reader
Concerned Reader

They are moderating the comments -- they delete the ones they *really* don't like..

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