How To Become A Food Critic

You could be he
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I figure I'm getting too fat, drunk, and impossibly snotty to hold this job much longer, so I hereby give readers a heads up. If you're planning to try to oust me from my oystershell- and hamhock-encrusted throne as Food Critic at Broward-Palm Beach New Times, there's a handy wiki how-to I'd like to bring to your attention:

How To Become A Food Critic

And you'd better freaking start this morning, because according to the advice rolled out in this Wiki you're gonna need a degree from the Culinary Institute of America, an MFA from the Iowa Writer's Workshop, plus the indiscriminate appetite of a piranha and the self-discipline of a yogi, not to mention the bank roll of a Warren Buffet to ever dream of snatching MY dream job out from under my ample butt.

There's quite a lot to ponder here, with varying degrees of horror and amusement, but a few of my favorites include:

This job is not for the faint hearted.

Entirely true. You'll be absolutely certain that the "duck confit" on the specials board is in fact a chicken leg left over from last week's "Coq au vin," and that it is indubitably full of microscopic bacteria on a mission to reshape your intestines into a Gordian knot. But you will eat it anyway, because you are hungry.*

*Note, after 6 months as a food critic, you will ALWAYS be hungry.

Try anything and everything you come across, no matter how strange or foreign it may seem, and record your impressions as descriptively as you can. Training your palate is like exercising a muscle.

True. Your palate is probably the only muscle you're going to be exercising for a long, long time. Except for an occasional waddle through the "plus size" department in search of a roomier pair of underpants.

Travel to food and wine festivals, from first class to the obscure.

Once you've landed the job, of course, New Times will have a generous budget in place for your global festival tour. Until then there's the "Roadkill Cookoff" in Marlington West Virginia (September), the April Waikiki Spam Jam, the annual RC Cola and Moonpie Fest in Tennessee, and the Hamburg, Arkansas Armadillo Festival. Bon Appetit!

Study the art of cooking. Take cooking classes non-stop. You should attain a "chef" level in cooking as a goal.

Or use my short cut: Insist that your significant other answer all interrogatory questions with "yes, chef" or "no, chef."

Study French, Spanish and Italian. Learn at least one language fluently as well as being versed in the languages of Japan, China and the Mediterranean.

Voulez Vous coucher avec moi? Ce soir?

When you go to a new restaurant, go with three friends.

Who will expect you to foot the bill.

Bring someone who's familiar with that kind of cuisine (such as if the cuisine is ethnic, and your friend grew up in the country it originated from).

Because you of course have a plethora of "friends" who grew up in Bangkok, Hong Kong, New Delhi, Addis Ababa, Dublin, Ankara, and Riyadh. I've found it more convenient to just ask my friends to DRESS UP AS IF they came from an ethnic-cuisine eating country and pretend to know a lot about the food we're ordering. This is an instructive and entertaining way to learn about the culture and origins of injera and baklava.

Ask everyone to order something different (including appetizers and dessert) and take two bites of every dish, including your own. Then stop eating.

Then stop eating. Three little words....

When you do land a job at a newspaper, keep a travel bag packed at all times in your office or car.

Because you never know when a chef, disappointed that you compared his zuppa toscana to "toxic scum", is going to take out a contract on you?

-- Gail Shepherd

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Join the New Times community and help support independent local journalism in South Florida.