Sky Full of Bacon


The Nagrant-Gebert Sessions Rematch, Pt. 3: Let’s Hate On Foodies

Continued from Part 2 here. Submit your questions/observations/rants in the comments and we’ll do our best to address them on Friday.

MICHAEL GEBERT: Talking about restaurants is, of course, merely the prelude to talking about talking about restaurants— that is, the whole food media/online foodie scene, which is to say, talking about ourselves. You brought up some good points on Monday which I want to get to, but if there was a big story this year, I think it was the fact that the whole world got together and announced that it was sick to fucking death of foodies already. The media (including our own Tribune just last week) announced that they were sick of their readers being interested in what they write about, and lots of chefs announced that they were sick of people photographing their food and talking about it online, and The Atlantic and Tony Bourdain hated on Alice Waters, and Graham Elliott got mad at me for dissing on a photo of a Grahamwich, and Natalie Zarzour doesn’t like you or anybody very much.

My first thought is, I’ll listen to a newspaper complaining about people obsessing over a trivial part of life the day it apologizes for wasting an entire section on sports for the last century and a half. My second thought is, I’d hate foodies too if I had ever met anybody like the awful annoying people they describe, but as with the Why-I-Hate-Locavores stories that turn up every few months, the straw men that get marched through these pieces don’t bear all that much resemblance to the real locavores or foodies I know, who are generally interested, thoughtful,  and generous with money and praise. And my third thought is, as I said at Ellen Malloy’s place, if chefs don’t like people talking about them online, believe me, it can be arranged and you can see how much you like it then. But what do you think? Are we just in a patch of grumpiness from the people who’ve mostly benefited from the foodie explosion, albeit in ways that can be damaging to the professional ego when ordinary folks get to express their opinions too, or is there some justice in the feeling that the foodie thing has become a monster raging out of control?

MICHAEL NAGRANT: That’s always been the mode of journalism, right? Trumpet the zeitgeist and then right at the peak, trample all over it. That being said, I don’t know that Chris Borrelli’s piece in the Tribune is a “patch of grumpiness from the people who’ve mostly benefited from the foodie explosion, albeit in ways that can be damaging to the professional ego when ordinary folks get to express their opinions too.”

I mean he was pretty even-handed about saying he was a contributor to the problem and that he made his living off the back of the movement. Plus, Borrelli doesn’t even really care about food like half the journalists in town. He’s just a good writer who happened to get the food beat. As a result, he’s generally one of the better food writers in town, because he hasn’t lost himself in the BS and forgotten to tell a good story along the way.

That being said, do you really think these locavores or evangelists are really straw men? I hear you. Most of the people we know don’t fit the stereotype. However, I guarantee Alice Waters, and frankly half of the moms of kids in my son’s peer group -who wouldn’t know a gougere from a profiterole – would be clucking her tongues at me if they saw me taking my son for chicken nuggets at McDonald’s. For those people, I don’t think there’s really a middle ground. Then again, the irony is that Tony Bourdain while dubbing Waters culinary Khmer Rouge or whatever, is also swearing he’ll never take his young daughter for nuggets at the evil empire too.

So, sure I guess there’s some double-dealing, but you know they say the sign of a great intellect is being able to keep both sides of an argument in your head without going crazy. Most things in life are shades of gray, and it’s not necessarily disingenuous to profit from a movement and also be critical of aspects of it – that’s just smart engagement.

I mean the Zarzour quote about me, Sula and Dolinsky not knowing fuck-all isn’t what it seems. I totally get it. I’m sure what she really meant was “no one really knows how hard it is” and that’s true no one does, not even those of us who have supported her along the way. I mean I’m always talking about she candies her own citrus, makes her own marzipan, spends six hours to make 30 cassatine, infuses her own liquors etc….but I don’t really know what it’s like to work as many hours, living in the bakery. I don’t know exactly the struggle that it takes to continue to use expensive product because it’s the best thing you can use, even when using AP flour, tons of sugar, and industrial oils make 90% of the world happy. Yes, a $9 cannoli is absurd, but she was making a statement. If all those mom’s looking down on me for giving my son the occasional chicken nugget didn’t spend all their money on truly bad commodity pastry from “cute” boutique shops and spend the rest of their time bashing Zarzour for selling a $4 cannoli, it probably would have stayed at $4 or 5 bucks and been the best one you’ve ever had and worth every penny. Instead it will now disappear.

The thing is, there are a lot of d-bags out there looking for free stuff who are more interested in rubbing elbows with famous chefs or in raising their level of self-importance than telling a good story or being generally interested or knowledgeable about food. I think if anything that’s what a lot of people are raising their hackles toward now. I don’t think Paul Kahan has a problem with Sky Full of Bacon videos or Hungry podcasts. I think he has an issue with bad Yelpers, people who don’t know how to mute a flash in the middle of nice service, people who expect chefs and restaurants to be their personal servants, and so called writers/bloggers who tweet what restaurant they’re about to arrive at five minutes ahead of time.

GEBERT: Well, I’m not sure that not caring about food would exactly be an endorsement of Borrelli’s position in this piece; it makes it sound more like a cry for help to his bosses, to get transferred. But I do think these kinds of pieces wind up being easy thwacks at straw men. I know tons of locavores of various stripes, and lots of people with weird hippie notions about food, and the one kind I have never, ever met is the one who gets self-righteous about your rutabaga traveling 501 miles to get here. They’re all about, hey, check this out, it’s awesome, not puritanical rules.

Likewise, foodies are infinitely variable, and obviously a lot of folks on Yelp are of the “I know my Chinese food, and Lao Sze Chuan didn’t have any of the classics like P.F. Chang’s offers” stripe.  LTHForum is better, certainly, but it’s not like there isn’t a lot of Twitter traffic mocking posts there, too.  But these colossal foodie jerks— I’ve maybe come to know of exactly one of them, in all these years, and he’s a guy who’s richer than God and believe me, those guys have been throwing their weight around since before Babbage’s Difference Engine. The internet and Michael Pollan didn’t make them happen.

But let’s get back to the local scene. I loved Pasticceria Natalina when it first opened, but if anything, I feel guilt as a journalist rather than as a foodie who failed to live up to Natalie’s expectations, because I was one of those who wrote things which praised her treats so lavishly that they probably encouraged her to think she could do anything (and that people were a-holes if they wouldn’t pay anything for it). And sorry, a bakery is a business, and Andersonville is probably too expensive a place for it, and there are only so many times that I can go into one shop and walk out with one small $30 box with tonight’s dessert in it. And as Kennyz pointed out on LTHForum, she can say that people buy her quality of stuff every day in Sicily or wherever, but that’s because a cannoli isn’t $9 there. (LTH being LTH, the claim was immediately followed by actual citations of recent prices paid in Europe.) So I’m not convinced that there wasn’t some way to make that business work somewhere in Chicago and educate people along the way, but turning a cute little bakery into some kind of anti-consumerist performance art piece probably wasn’t it.

I mentioned my little run-in with Graham Elliott, which was somewhere in the high four digits of most consequential foodie stories of the year and hardly bears repeating, but to me shows a couple of things about the way the world works now between fame-seeking chefs and online voices clamoring to be heard and the professional food media blogs always looking to turn something into A Big Story. Certainly on the one hand Elliott has been very good at being his own best publicist, a larger than life attention magnet.  And Grahamwich got a hell of a lot of opening attention for a sandwich joint, climaxing with all those photo essays of a completely empty, food-free Grahamwich at 9 in the morning of its opening day.  They were like foodie zen— image after loving image of brand new countertops on which nothing resembling a sandwich was to be seen yet. You have to call that a triumph of a chef getting the food media to buy into his myth and follow his every move.

Except a picture of a sandwich did go out at the same time— a snapshot of a spinach-colored veggie wrap, taken by a non-food nightlife blogger. Not to insult her photographic skills, but it was just a snapshot and the thing looked like a wrap from the most ordinary strip mall lunch spot, no GEB magic. And I tweeted to that effect, and Elliott shot back that I was a douchebag hater or something. Which may be true, but still, the one image of the actual food that’s out there is this green log, so you’ve got this complete disconnect between the media rhapsodizing about the coming of Grahamwich and the only reality anyone’s seen (I’m not sure it still isn’t the only photo of a sandwich I’ve seen from there).

So Elliott is great at playing in this world on the level of a bigger-than-life celeb chef who can F-bomb back against bloggers or Chicago Magazine or whatever and only gains in cachet from doing so.  But the next level of being a participant on the scene for your own purposes isn’t just fighting back against bloggers as pipsqueak worms, it’s being cool and strategic enough to turn the current your way.  If he’d called me— or some blogger with better photographic skills— and said, hey, douchebag, why don’t you come see if you can take better photos, I guarantee you there would have been a whole bunch of much sexier shots of the sandwiches out on all the blogs a few hours later.

Which maybe brings us back to something you said on Day 1, about how there are so many outlets now covering the scene: “I think part of the blame is the blog war (and this includes old school pub blogs too – not just the new guys) we got going on. Everyone’s fighting for the last scrap and as a result they feel compelled to cover every two-bit line cook and his or her dream as if they were the next Thomas Keller. Mediocre falafel shacks in the suburbs are given the same pre-opening treatment/gossip as Grahamwich.” Basically, there’s no gatekeeping any more— everything is hot news, everything goes out to the world and makes noise as if it were the most important thing that ever happened since the last most important thing.  Is this a good thing or a bad thing?

NAGRANT: I’m not saying Borrelli doesn’t care about food. I’m saying he’s not “inside baseball.” He’s not obsessed with the culture or the competition from bloggers and his motivations are likely not about tearing them down, but rather a genuine concern about where this whole thing is going.

There are a bunch of people who think they know everything and they’re making it hard for people who are trying to be original or unique in the marketplace by always tearing things down. There is nothing more odious than the reviewer or the food blog poster who says, “Well I’ve been to Italy and whatever they serve at X restaurant is not a proper piece of agnolotti.”  Such phraseology is a blatant attempt to sound like you’re cosmopolitan or somehow qualified to judge more than someone else and always a set-up for a teardown.  And who cares what Italy does? I don’t care if they were the originators.  I’m not likely to be on a plane to check it out tomorrow.  I want to know what’s good here, right now? Americans make certain types of pizza better than Italy ever did, and that never would have happened if we just tried to match or ape Italian cuisine.  The real question that needs to be answered in these cases, is the thing good, period?

I think Pasticceria Natalina worked. I think it still works, but I don’t think its owners want to continue to operate it given all the hard work and conflict it takes to maintain their standard, that’s all. Sometimes it’s just too tough and you need to move on. Thomas Keller failed in New York before finding a way to make his standard work at the French Laundry. The Zarzours will find something that works for them.

As for Grahamwich, well I had this exact conversation with a local blogger. I said, “Why are you going in at 9 a.m. to take a picture of nothing. Don’t do it.  You’re not being unique. Everyone’s going to do the same thing, so what’s the value?”  This obsession, not even with food as much as the things around food, is the precise problem I think Borelli’s sort of getting at.

We need less worship and obsession and more judicious substantial storytelling. That being said, I’m not saying Elliot’s sandwich shop doesn’t deserve coverage. It does. Just take a look at that website.  While the load times are a little annoying and he decides to play music on it which I think 97% of web surfers hate, it’s a very interesting interactive approach to a food website. Likewise the sandwich options being offered at Grahamwich are likely to be much better than their tired counterparts served elsewhere. I guess I would have liked to see a story on the construction of the menu, how Elliot came up with the flavor profiles he did or how he invented certain flavors.

I don’t think what’s happening is a triumph of the chef as much as a failure of journalism. Then again, the chef has a lot to do with exploiting that failure.  Elliot is smart enough to know that we’re so obsessed with the celebrity that instead of doing a journo preview, he invites celebrity chefs and key tastemaker friends the day before, knowing full well, they’ll send tweets and journos will eat that up.

Of course, what happened is that in doing that, he also exposed that while chef friends and their girlfriends might be great cooks and slick talkers, they’re not always the best judge of quality or the best photographers. Also their coverage can come across as biased and not often informative, and in the case of the terrible photo of the veggie wrap, sometimes detrimental.  I mean Elliot can call you a d-bag, but he knows that picture made that wrap look like a POS.

Then again half the food bloggers operate the same way as those chefs too because they don’t care about quality as much as speed and the scoop or having people listen to them or scoring attention from a particular chef, so really I’m not sure it matters who gets the preview.

That being said I’d still rather get my news from the most disinterested party I can.  Clearly I respect Grant Achatz and what he does. I wouldn’t have begged to work on his cookbook if I didn’t. That being said, I’m not sure what I’m learning from his tweets about local restaurants.  He’s tweeting often about friends in the industry – there is nothing to be gained from saying a critical thing and everything to be gained by being nice to his peers and that’s likely what we get.  Also, if you’re Grant Achatz, everyone in food knows who you are and I guarantee he gets most people’s A game and not necessarily the experience most “normal” people get.

On a different note, but along the same lines, the last page of Food and Wine this month had Stephanie Izard’s hot list or whatever.  One of the things she recs is Black Dog Gelato. The thing here if you’re paying attention is that the owner of Black Dog Gelato used to be one of Izard’s employees.  So, sure maybe she does love Black Dog, but does she love it better than other Chicago options or is she just pimping a friend?   If you really want to learn something from Achatz or Poli or Izard or whoever is talking, you need to know the places they went and didn’t tweet or talk about.

TOMORROW: We take a walk on the low-rent side

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11 Responses to “The Nagrant-Gebert Sessions Rematch, Pt. 3: Let’s Hate On Foodies”

  1. Mark S. Says:

    I think that Mike (vagueness intentional) nails it with the comment that “they don’t care about quality as much as speed and the scoop”.
    With the number of restaurant blogs out there, not to mention the yelpers, pros and dailies, the only way to get traffic is to get the scoop, regardless of quality. The battle for first look isn’t born from curiosity, but from desire for traffic and/or attention from the food community.

  2. David Hammond Says:

    Guys, thanks for a very entertaining read.

    Nagrant wrote in the final paragraph of today’s articulate fisticuff: “Food and Wine this month had Stephanie Izard’s hot list or whatever. One of the things she recs is Black Dog Gelato. The thing here if you’re paying attention is that the owner of Black Dog Gelato used to be one of Izard’s employees. So, sure maybe she does love Black Dog, but does she love it better than other Chicago options or is she just pimping a friend?”

    Being partial is not the same as pimping. Izard may like Black Dog Gelato precisely because it’s a friend’s product and so, inevitably, she’s drawn to it with a much more positive attitude than she would be to other products. Psychology may very well be influencing physiology: the gelato may actually TASTE better to her precisely because it was made by a former associate.

    We’ve all read those studies about how, for instance, a wine with a fancy French chateau label will be perceived as better than a bottle of the exact same wine with an Arizona Winery label on it. The psychology of taste is tricky, and the connections and circumstances under which we sample the food we’re writing about are very difficult to untangle, examine, and correct for.

    Many of us have had face-to-face encounters with many Chicago chefs. Some of those chefs could probably pick us out of crowd of random diners. We’re known, however much we may try to slither, hat over eyes, into the back booth. We’re known. So we have a kind of relationship with the chef, and it can be a struggle to be objective. I sometimes take pause when I have to write something negative about a dish prepared by a chef I know. I still write the negative thing, but who’s to say I’m being as tough as I might have if I’d never met the person. And I DO want to meet the person, because one of the joys of food journalism is meeting the people who make the food. I find chefs, for the most part, to be a fascinating amalgam of imperious command and humble eagerness to serve, huge egos who want to make us happy by giving us food we like, the stern mom and nurturing mom rolled Kali-like into one.

    Of course, we can avoid contact and handle some exchanges with chefs over the phone or by email, and frequently we do, but there’s nothing that compares with having a chef prepare a dish, put it in front of us and ask, if only with the eyes, “How’d you like it?” Then I tell the truth exactly as I taste it, and maybe even influence the final creation, which I hope will be better due to the small bit of influence I’ve been able to exert.

    And that’s why I don’t give a damn about those who complain about people like us who put the search for good food so high on our life list of priorities. We’re committed to making everyone’s lunch a little better. You got a problem with that? This seems to me an undeniably laudable quest, worth arguing over (frequently obsessively). Arguing about where to find the best taco makes a lot more sense to me than arguing about a lot of other pursuits that seem to bring out the worst in people (check page 7 of today’s Sun-Times: “3 Year Sentence for Blinding Man in Cubs-Sox Fight” – this poor jomoke was beaten and blinded at a child’s party by “Cub’s backers…after they argued about their baseball allegiances.”). This is, of course, a matter of taste.

    For a while now, both Gebert and Nagrant have been experimenting with a kind of writer-in-the-story almost free-associative/cultural criticism approach that I happen to like quite a lot. It feels subjective, focused almost as much on the writer as on the object, the food. It’s also entertaining. Food writing is entertainment, and so the same standards of objectivity that apply to other portions of the paper (say, the front page) do not seem to apply exactly. We’re talking about taste here, not some kind of measurable reality, so what we’re saying is always mediated by a personality.

    That said, Black Dog Gelato seems pretty good to me, and I never met the guy who made it. That doesn’t make my rec more valid than Izard’s.

  3. kity Says:

    Two things:
    1. To be fair, wasn’t graham partially pissed because you said his veg wrap was turkey as you scoffed at its appearance? That sort of fundamental descriptive error by a yelper/blogger/etc. is the sort of thing he has been complaining about w/respect to online writing since his Avenues days, and frankly discredits the criticism as the same sort of self-promoting (with a contrarian bent) scooping/sensationalism that you’re accusing all the 9am-ers of. I get that you need to drive pageviews and build a reputation as a witty authority too, but at least tell the whole story if you’re going to imply that he randomly called you a dbag because he hates critics or has a fragile ego.
    2. Which brings me to my second point. People put their blood, sweat and tears (one hopes not literally) into the restaurant business and yet somehow a good deal of hobbyists/scenesters that blog or review are able to maintain intellectual distance from the livelihoods that hang in the balance as they defend their right to pose as an authority and attack. I think there’s room for everyone at the table that wants to come in and write and eat and think about food, but to there are more serious motives to question than the chefs that recommend industry friends. Chefs, servers, ex servers have ALWAYS promoted their friends and their friends spots, and you’d be foolish to think any recommendation you got from anyone wasn’t fueled by all sorts of odd motivations worse than the simple desire to have you eat a talented friend’s food and keep his place in business. Motives from friends or simply other diners I have sat near run the gamut: desire to appear worldly, or witty, or democratic, or culturally competent (as when my parents recommend something trendy they think is age appropriate for me but disliked themselves). In any case, the longwinded point was all of us who care are guilty of caring too much about some things and not enough about others, and as a young person I often have to remind myself that just because I’m discovering something for the first time it hardly means it is new or interesting to others- but if I shut up and sit down, well…then I will never know.

  4. Todd Lemmon Says:

    I thought my first Grahamwich–which will also be my last–was way too salty. Plus $20 for a coke, sandwich and bag of whole-lot-of-OK chips is way too spendy. Great discussion here. I, too, could do with a lot less douche/gas baggery overall with food writing. Though I’d live a highlight reel from that whole L20 thing. That was Roman Colliseum good.

  5. Kenny Says:

    Thanks again to both M’s for what is the most entertaining food-related read since Nagrant wrote something somewhere about wanting to see some attractive female chef’s drip pan.

    If chicken nuggets at McDonald’s are the “middle ground” between food “evangelists” and whomever their opposites are, then off-white is the middle ground between white and black.

  6. Michael Gebert Says:

    Kity: I’m not sure how much difference it makes whether I thought it was turkey or veggie, which is probably why I had forgotten that detail. (I also think I may have read that incorrect description wherever I first saw the photo. Or not, who knows.) The point was, it just didn’t look like much in that snapshot, just another spinach-green wrap like we’ve all had a million times, and I think the other Mike gets to the heart of that matter: you can manipulate your coverage to keep it to friends and family, but sometimes you want someone from the outside for a variety of reasons— more capability and artistry, the value of an outside opinion, etc. If I’d shot it, I would have made it look as good as this:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/mgmax/52834036/

    The other point is really Nagrant’s to defend, but I would say that the “chefs put their heart and soul into it and you bloggers just stomp on it” argument doesn’t hold much water for me. One, because I put my heart and soul into whatever I had to do to make the money to eat there, and you don’t get any slack if you burn me with an expensive meal. Two, because I’m not a vicious critic at all, in fact I often think I’m too nice, or at least run way too many positive reviews (but part of that is because I’m pretty good at avoiding places that I won’t like). Whatever the minimal value of a positive review here is, a lot of chefs have enjoyed it and fairly few the reverse, and I would think anyone who has been in a Sky Full of Bacon video has certainly benefited from being given airtime to be thoughtful and intriguing. (That’s surely why they did it, because it’s not like millions will see it like a TV segment.)

    Anyway, I don’t think either of us is saying that chefs scratching their buddies’ backs is a big deal, I think Nagrant is making a point about the way the media environment is changing– we think we’re getting closer to the real thing when we can hear directly from chefs, but they may also have an agenda we don’t know about.

  7. M Says:

    Just wanted to comment that the argument/backlash against certain types of foodies is far from a straw man. I’m a server who has worked in a variety of restaurants, from high-end fine dining to casual – mostly chef-driven – and I can promise you that obnoxious foodies do exist, and pop up quite often. I’ve been quizzed on obscure plants and the children’s names of our farmers by people who are sure they know more about food and wine than I do (and invariably don’t) and feel a pathological need to show it in public. It’s not extremely common, but pretentious wankers are drawn to this business.

    Just last week, I waited on a particular guy whose disdain for our restaurant and cuisine permeated every exchange he had with me (he was the guest of a friend of the owner). I currently work at a smaller restaurant (an LTH GNR) that is more of an old school Chicago place than a trendy, market driven scene. We use local and organic produce in season, but our meat is not grass-fed, organic, free-range, what have you. This guy made me feel I had to apologize for our chef making such a choice, when on the face of it, that’s absurd. Guy tried to make me feel *ashamed* that our charcuterie wasn’t like La Quercia. He was almost angry by the end of the meal, although he enjoyed most of it (it was like pulling teeth for him to admit that though).

    The whole episode really made me think about the Chicago restaurant scene as a whole, what foodies have done to it, and how expectations have changed in the past few years. What we do at our restaurant is serve food that is consistent and pleases our guests, which, to me, is the most important thing in this economy for a restaurant’s survival. I shouldn’t have to apologize for that simply because we make certain sourcing choices that allow us to serve entrees at a more reasonable price point – and, to be honest, that our guests prefer (corn fed beef, lamb that’s not too gamey), etc. I’ve done the whole locavore thing, and I was proud to have been part of it at that time. I’m just as proud to be serving guests food they enjoy now, whether it’s approved by snobby foodies or not.

    You two may feel the “foodies” you know are not these kinds of foodies, but I would be willing to bet that many of them are. You just have a higher tolerance because they are your people. Everyone says, “oh, I’m not like that,” just like everyone says they can’t possibly have bad breath or whatever because they can’t smell themselves, you know? I felt that Trib article was right on time, and on point. I mean, the Trib is always like years behind everything, so if it makes it in there, you know it’s really been going on for a while. 🙂

  8. artjackson Says:

    Great series fellas. Now go to your corners and come back swinging! Or should I say stirring! Stirring 10 minute cocktails! Ba-dum-bum-CHING!

    This installment got me thinking of a few things. Foodie overload is entertaining to read and to talk about. But I think that since it has reached such an apex, great things will/have come out of it. How about access to good cheap wine? Or access to truffle oil? You can have too much of a good thing but remember when these things didn’t seem accessible except for in fine restaurants? How about the increased accessibility of REAL food to really poor people? I’d argue that for every fun or ridiculous foodie thing there’s also something seriously good that comes out of it. Are the foodies the people that are making the changes though? Who or what is a foodie? I’m not sure that matters. What matters is what comes out of the big foodie cloud that everyone is talking about.

    Michael G, you bring up the sports page analogy. I love to play sports but I’ll admit that I’ve never read a sports page. However, I’d sit and listen to Frank Deford tell stories about sports all day. It’s the same sort of interesting approach to telling food stories that I most appreciate. But like Deford, it takes talent, skill and experience to do it well. I think this is what separates the Geberts, Nagrants and the Borellis, and many of the talented other Chicago writers from the sea of commentators out there.

  9. Mike Nagrant Says:

    Hammond, you know I’ve been trying to put your eye out for years. ? I will say those paragraphs above are some of the most compelling I’ve read about why dropping anonymity is worthwhile. I appreciate it because I believe you that you don’t pull the punch when there’s one to be thrown. Maybe you don’t always go for the uppercut, maybe just a jab, but as we work toward better civility in discourse, that’s all any of us should be going for anyway.

    I also like that you’ve nailed down what it is I do, because I haven’t been able to do it myself, i.e. this pursuit of “free-associative/cultural criticism”. I feel like many folks in the establishment (i.e. hardcore journos or j-school grads) dismiss this work because they’ve been taught to write a lede, support it, and then get out quick in the voice of the publication. Any use of the “I” voice is seen as egotistic and self-indulgent, and discursiveness is considered sloppy.

    The thing is anytime I tell a personal story or make what might be a more limited cultural reference, I’m very conscious of trying to make it apply to a broader experience. I throw stuff out almost all the time if it has no resonance beyond myself. Otherwise, I might as well write it in my pink diary and keep it under lock and key. As for the discursiveness, well, people who love food aren’t one dimensional, just as I’m not. Sometimes I want to write about music too – why can’t I if I know something about it and why won’t someone want to read about it in the context of a food article if they can? I mean the number one problem with food writing in non-super-foodie minds is that it’s “food writing”. I couldn’t put it any better than Art (that’s Mr. Jackson if you’re nasty) regarding Frank Deford. People who hate sports who hear one of Deford’s sports stories will be hooked for life. Most people regard food writing as they do brussels sprouts. But, if any of those people ever get a perfectly caramelized salted brussels sprout coated in maple balsamic glaze, they realize there’s a whole lot more goin’ on than they ever though possible.

    I mean I’m hesitant to say this, because it might sound like I’m puffing myself up or making it seem like I’ve pursued some conscious path (trust me I’m not, since as I said, I never could figure out what I was really doing ‘till you pointed it out here in the comment section) but in some ways what we’re doing relative to the old food writing is like the transition from swing to be-bop. I like me some asymmetrical phrasing and some dissonance. It doesn’t always work, but when it does it’s interesting and exciting.

    Kity, I appreciate what you’re saying about people’s lives on the line etc. I consider that fact every time I put finger to laptop keyboard. I hate the critic who believes their work is to tear people down – clearly they need some Xanax. While I tend to be tough at times, I’ve only written one truly nasty review in my time (Yats!) and I assure you it was proportional to the crass money grab and the lack of integrity being pursued at that place on a daily basis.

    The dirty truth is that we’re all looking for something to celebrate (or as Gebert says, he’s really good at avoiding bad places). We want nothing more than to find the next great chef or the best sweetbread yet, and so most of us are already predisposed to positivity. But, when something is bad, I say to the people who created that experience, Did you actually shed any blood, sweat, and tears? Did you actually care about your own livelihood before you walked away from the table for 20 minutes without checking on us? Do you really care about your job if you compared every white wine on the list to pinot grigio? The responsibility of the restaurant is just as great in the equation. Yes, of course, people have bad days. If you’re a good critic, you return to see if the bad experience was an anomaly.

    And, in the end, let me not kid myself, the only person who has the power to close a restaurant these days anyways might be Sam Sifton, and even that’s debatable and in no small part, not just because of the criticism, but also because of the economics of NYC commercial rent. Then again Ole Hardwood seems to have burned down quite curiously – maybe it takes three bad reviews these days.

    And to be clear, yeah, I have no problem with chefs scratching their buddy’s back. I just want people to understand that getting your news closer to the source doesn’t mean it hasn’t been filtered.

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