Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Food Critics: Jonathan Kauffman, Lauren Shockey and Hanna Raskin Weigh In
We don't expect you guys to read every little thing we write. After all, Eating...Our Words publishes at least ten posts per day. But every once in a while, a topic arises on which we've pontificated in the past -- and in those cases, we like to re-run a previous post which we think still addresses the issue with some relevance. Parts of this post were previously published on June 26, 2011.
I have yet to meet a food critic who looks -- or acts -- like Anton Ego.
Last week, the owner and chef of Lucille's took umbrage at our cafe review of his restaurant -- not a glowing one, but also not a complete slam -- and took to the comments section to voice his dissatisfaction.
"This is not journalism, this is an attack done in poor taste," wrote Christopher Williams. " "Since we are unable to satisfy your discerning palate with our 'leathery ice tea,' we invite you to dine else where in the future."
And in a move that restaurant critics everywhere have seen since the day that they first crawled out of the primordial ooze created by the likes of Craig Claiborne, Williams blamed the harsh review on advertising. Or rather, Lucille's lack of interest in advertising with the Press.
"To any restaurant who wants a good review from the Press, and avoid this type of attack," Williams finished, "you had better fucking advertise now!"
This type of misguided criticism reminded me of one of the last times I'd been accused of shilling for ad dollars after an equally tough review of Tan Tan -- rather, of the second location of a long-time Houston favorite, the original iteration of which I'd often praised in the past. In the comments section of that review from 2011, one commenter accused us over and over of slamming the restaurant because it had apparently cancelled its advertising with us.
None of us look like Mr. Creosote, either.
"I understand Tan Tan recently cancelled advertising in the HP so HP turns around & writes a damning review as retaliation," the anonymous commenter griped. "I've seen this Houston Press tactic in the past. HP never criticizes the businesses paying for advertising space in the paper."
The truth of it is that there is a hard-and-fast line between editorial and advertising at our paper. And while I'm quite sure that our sales reps would prefer it differently some days, the fact remains that advertising doesn't have any input into our editorial product, and vice versa.
This week at The New York Times, restaurant critic Pete Wells answered a series of questions addressed to him from readers who reacted strongly to his review of Guy Fieri's American Kitchen & Bar in Times Square. Wells didn't have to deal with criticisms levied against him about advertiser dollars, but readers did have some excellent questions about the overall process and ethics behind reviewing restaurants for a living.
The questions were similar to those often posed to critics across the nation.