Editorial: The critic’s first duty

Every now and then, former professional restaurant critics vent about the trials and tribulations of the trade. It’s no feast, some say, and between the weight battles, the constant work to avoid being exposed, and the never-ending scrutiny from all sides. Sometimes it even requires a super-long column to vent. I like reading these memoirs. It keeps things in perspective. As a food writer and a journalist, it’s not easy to reconcile the job sometimes. One side of you does not want to demean the livelihood of another person, while the other side of you does not want to be reduced to an advocate for every place that ever put food in your mouth.

The divisiveness of the role of the food critic aside, let’s remember the real reason they exist: to tell people about food.

There’s this obnoxious back and forth about professional critics these days. On one extreme you have Adam Fleischman, Noah Ellis and Jordan Kahn wasting people’s time whining about food critics coming to their restaurant (You couldn’t handle a critic coming to call you out on your food. That’s all there is to it. Get over yourselves.) Critics don’t write to be snobbish. Critics don’t get fame when nobody knows their identities, and they sure don’t review for their own health. Red Medicine seems to have forgotten that critics ARE customers. They expose exactly what people can expect when coming to eat, and in this case the message is, “we’re going to waste your time with our incompetence and then act like we’re doing you a favor.”

On the other extreme, though, you have bloggers like Ladyironchef owner Brad Lau. In 635 restaurant reviews, he has almost nothing bad to say. Only now and then does he decide to hurt anyone’s feelings. Oh, and he may or may not be trying to get the restaurants to give him free food. That depends on who you ask. It shows the other side of the fence; the problem is that a blog which does not give constructive criticism is inherently unhelpful. People want to know whether or not a place is worth the time and money. While I agree different people have different tastes, everyone is better served by the whole truth about a restaurant’s strengths and weaknesses.

When it comes down to it, the critic’s first duty is to the people. It is not to make a restaurant owner happy. Hire a PR firm to do that.

That’s what I’m here to do, at least. Let me know how you feel about that.

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