What Is the Role of the Food Critic?
Welcome to Chow Bella's Bites & Dishes, where Valley chefs and restaurateurs respond to a question New Times food critic Laura Hahnefeld has on her mind. Have a question you'd like to ask? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Writer, analyst, restaurant rater? To the reader, the job of a food critic may consist of several responsibilities.
But what about Valley chefs and restaurateurs? What do they think a food critic should be doing? I stuck my neck out (gulp!) and here's what some of them had to say.
As chefs, we often get caught up "playing for the band rather than the audience." It's necessary for us to push the limits occasionally, but we need to have people who can objectively let us know if we are moving in the right direction and remind us who we are cooking for. Food critics are those people. Unfortunately, everyone who logs onto Yelp automatically thinks they're a food critic. We can take constructive criticism -- we just have to make sure we're listening to the right people.
A food critic is, at times, judged a lot more harshly than other people in the business. The ultimate goal of a food critic is to find out where the masses are going and make the general public aware of what they are getting for their money. They can help narrow down the options by presenting the best of the best.
Food critics play a vital role in our business. Lots of people have their favorites that they read whenever a new review comes out, and if we do our jobs properly, we have little to worry about. They inform the public of new openings, new menu roll outs, and hits and misses. I read them frequently and they certainly influence where I go, to a certain extent.
A food critic should provide thoughtful, well-informed, and unbiased information so that the public can make decisions about where to spend their money. A well-developed palate and professional integrity should be part of being a food critic. It's our job as operators to be ready to put up our best regardless of the guest (food critic or not). All guests are food critics and some of them get published.
I'm reminded of the time Alain Ducasse was given a less-than-stellar review by the New York Times, and he responded with a letter to the editor explaining that he had earned more Michelin stars than anyone else on the planet, was an expert in his field, and how amusing it was to him for a dilettante food writer to pretend to understand the food better than the chef.