Can you believe it? Four years ago this weekend, I launched Another Food Critic.
What began as a college project has since spawned 475 restaurant reviews spanning eight states, all in a quest to find the most delicious restaurants in America. It’s been a heck of an adventure, a heck of a hobby, and I’m thankful to each and every reader of the six-figure traffic this site has brought in.
New friends, new professional gigs and new opportunities to judge high-stakes food competitions aren’t the only think Another Food Critic has brought me though. There have been a few more life lessons that are just as wonderful. For example…
You can try the same dish at 100 different restaurants, and when someone has prepared it in just a slightly different way, you remember. Some of my favorite restaurants add simple little things to make their dishes good. A dozen places in Dayton make good sweet potato fries. The ones I crave though? The only spot that adds a touch of cinnamon. Some places have finely-tuned salsa recipes, others take them out of a box. Some places use fresher ingredients and those taste a world of a difference over what you try in frozen ingredients. You become able to reverse-engineer a dish in your mouth, figure out what herbs are in it, why they work together, and what could be added. It’s like letting other people do the trial and error for you.
Not bad at all, considering we’re not talking about cooking classes or anything.
Some of my readers wouldn’t believe it, but I absolutely love Chinese food.
Nowadays one of the most common criticisms of Another Food Critic is that it is especially harsh on Chinese restaurants. But that’s just what happens when you find really great food: it makes you better and picking out what works and what doesn’t work. Any other inland dwellers can understand what I’m so picky about when it comes to seafood. There’s a clear range of food.
At some levels, reviewing so many restaurants will make your palette picky to an extreme. I can tell if you’ve served me a burger that came as a frozen patty. I might even be able to tell the distributor you used. After a few dozen of those, I am now picky about burgers.
A lot of places aren’t trying to reinvent the wheel, and I understand that. But only so many places can get by with a following of loyalists pining for the intangible memories and other things.
Let me start off by saying I was not healthier at first. In fact in the past four years I’ve ping-ponged in a 30-pound weight range. And make no mistake, it was the work I did outside the restaurants that brought me back down in weight. It’s why I occasionally write about my running. I’ve finished five half marathons now, and that has been a direct result of how disgusting I felt when I weighed the most.
That said though, there’s a genuine dissatisfaction you get when you go to place after place that dumps fries and other greasy food all over your plate. The most creative and skilled chefs aren’t frying everything, and in fact the best dishes I’ve tried have been some of the freshest, the most reliant on really good ingredients, and just generally showing the technical skill with the ingredients you don’t see when you dump them in batter and a vat of grease.
4. Being a food critic has given me a sense of adventure
In honesty, when I came to start this blog, I just wanted to try some new restaurants.
Before the hundreds of thousands of hits, before the freelance work in the food business, and before the judging of food contests in cities I’d never imagined visiting, this blog was born out of a simple curiosity of what kinds of food I was missing out on.
Have you ever eaten alligator? I never would have thought of it before I built this site. Maybe it’s common in some parts of the world, but not in the Midwest, where this blog is based. Think of it that way; there are entire styles of cooking you’ve never experienced. Entire kinds of food, spices, ingredients, things you can’t even imagine being cooked in places strange and wonderful. Some of them you can try in a kitchen a few miles away. Kind of makes you want to see what you’ve been missing, doesn’t it?
And for the record, alligator isn’t half bad.