Letters for May 2, 2002

Everybody's a critic

Adriaan J. Holt
via the Internet

Burn a candle for Bill: When are area newspaper editors going to insist that their food critics do their jobs properly? These people are totally out of control! It's been a very long time since a food review was printed -- you know, that apparently obsolete one in which the reader is told about the food, its quality and pricing, and perhaps the décor and service. These reviews were basically informative and nonjudgmental (unless a major catastrophe occurred in the kitchen). Nowadays, you get a constant whine from pretenders like Jen Karetnick who don't want to tell you, the reader, about what they have eaten -- they want to tell the chefs how to prepare it. Or, to carry it to the ultimate, ridiculous extreme: how to serve it!

A recent review in a daily South Florida paper complained about the choice of eating utensil with one dish and later suggested a change in the sauce served with another. This critic mentioned 16 dishes -- he gave only four a passing review, finding fault with the others. The faults that were found fell mostly into the category of "I could do it better." And here is the crux of the problem. That is not a critic's job! Or, at least, it shouldn't be. These know-it-alls -- who lay claim to expert credentials in décor, amenities, lighting, sound, wine, service, cooking techniques, culinary skills, architecture, etc. -- are, in fact, just writers doing a job. And that job should not include taking a hatchet to restaurateurs.

They should take their pretensions and snobbery and overinflated egos and, in some cases, rude behavior, and open their own restaurants.

I specifically criticize the egocentric arrogance of food critics. But these critics are by no means alone in their belief that, because they are paid to write about a given subject, people really care about their narrowly focused, biased, out-of-synch-with-the-general-population views.

The number of malcontent critics -- dance, drama, music, television, et al. -- is surpassed only by the number of editors and/or publishers who do not rein them in.

The real professionals, who inform with intelligence, comprehension, and wit, are few and far between. Robert Tolf has moved on (his name appears occasionally in food publications such as Bon Appetit and Gourmet as a Florida source), and Bill Cosford has passed away. No one of their caliber is anywhere in evidence at this time in South Florida.

Jean Chang
North Lauderdale

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