Members of the food community know that in this time of Instagram influencers and Yelp reviews, restaurant criticism is a dying art. The loss of former Sun Sentinel restaurant reviewer John Tanasychuk hammers that point home for every diner in South Florida.
Tanasychuk passed away at the age of 61 from pneumonia on March 17. He had been fighting lung cancer for the past several years. He is survived by his husband, Steve Levin; his sisters, Barbara Tanasychuk and Cathy Tanasychuk; and his father, Benjamin Tanasychuk.
John Tanasychuk was a native of Windsor, Ontario, where he began his career as a journalist at the Windsor Star. He moved on to the Detroit Free Press, where he was a lifestyle features writer, restaurant critic, and food editor. Former colleague Georgea Kovanis, who works as a reporter and columnist for the Detroit Free Press and the USA Today Network, calls him “one of the best people I’ve ever known. Funny, witty, kind, sincere. John gave me — and everyone, really — his full attention when we spoke to him. He made us feel like what we had to say was important because he was genuinely interested. That served him well as a reporter, of course. People loved talking with him. And he was easy to talk to. I always felt I could tell him anything without judgment. I think I might have even told him how much I weigh.”
Tanasychuk inspired that kind of confidence and camaraderie. Miami-based food publicist Karen Barofsky, who worked with him for 20 years in South Florida, remembers Tanasychuk fondly. "He was the most generous, kindest, sweetest man I have ever known. He also possessed a razor-sharp wit and an incredible sense of humor. We shared a hatred of the word ‘mouthwatering’ when describing food. I started drinking gin because of him. I’m a former spelling bee champ, but it probably took me ten years to spell his name without looking it up.”
He also ran the test kitchen for the Detroit Free Press, where he explored his love of cooking. But although Tanasychuk knew a tremendous amount about food, Kovanis says, he “wasn’t a food snob. He enjoyed a hot dog, a pork chop out of the fridge.”
“John was an amazing cook, could make anything. He excelled at dinner parties,” husband Steve Levin remembers. “He loved making Indian and Middle Eastern food and was always trying out new recipes, which meant previewing them before guests came over a few times just to make sure.”
Beginning in 1999, Tanasychuk worked at the Sun Sentinel as a features and food writer, restaurant critic, and editor of the food section. He was well suited to the job of reviewing restaurants in particular by virtue of both experience and interest.
“When it came to reviewing, John’s journalistic curiosity was at the root of them," Levin says. "He sought out the stories behind the restaurants he visited, interviewing chefs and owners as part of the process. His reviews were mini-masterpieces, so thoughtfully considered, always fair. Even in a bad review, he’d find some redeeming quality and hope for improvement in a restaurant.”
Emma Trelles, the art critic and a features staff writer at the Sun Sentinel who worked with Tanasychuk from 2005 to 2008, remembers him as “a cultured and witty man who I felt an instant connection with. John just had this low-key charm about him that was irresistible.”
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An excellent, award-winning writer, Tanasychuk was nevertheless a humble, self-effacing literary citizen. Levin says, “He was always laughing, telling stories full of love and life, and listening to other people’s stories. He always had the best advice, supporting and advocating for the people he loved and worked with.”
Tanasychuk retired in 2015 and split his time between Ontario's Ipperwash Beach and Miami. But his work relationships continued beyond newspaper life and morphed into friendships. Colleagues and friends are pouring out affection and anecdotes on his Facebook page, which has become a tribute to his charm, generosity of spirit, and talent.
“It was the best relationship I ever had with a journalist," Barofsky, the publiscist, says. "Even before we became friends, he understood that we were there to help him get the important factual information he needed for a review, interview, or feature. I missed his voice at the Sun Sentinel as soon as he left, but I’m going to miss his presence in my life forever.”
Services for Tanasychuk are private, but donations are welcome in his name at the American Cancer Society or a charity of choice.