In the old days in newspapers and magazines, if a restaurant chef or owner didn’t like my review, they called my boss. The editors never passed the phone call on to me.
But now that reviews are online, chefs can vent at reviewers directly, and that is not a good thing. Two bloggers who wrote less than glowing reviews of good restaurants were subject to vulgar and harassing comments that generated a lot of press.
The incidents brought up some good questions, however, about our expectations of reviewers, and I’ll get to that. First, let’s look at what happened:
1. Chef’s response: “…Wear a condom on your tongue to contain the orgasm of your ignorance.”
Dubai food writer and blogger Samantha Wood of FooDiva wrote a review of Giannino, an offshoot of a three-Michelin starred restaurant. She and a friend paid more than £200 (around $350) for a two-course meal, a shared dessert and a glass of prosecco. Her review praised the food but complained of a small wine list, prosecco not served in champagne glasses, service that needed fine tuning, and “extortionate” pricing.
The next day, the chef de cuisine at the original Giannino trattoria in Milan left a comment. He explained that restaurants traditionally serve prosecco in white wine glasses. Fair enough. He continued with a few other reasonable points but then lost it.”Go please to other restaurants in other locations,” he wrote. “check them out but don’t forget to wear first a condom on your tongue in order [to] contain the orgasm of your ignorance.”
He concluded: “All the above is direct[ed] also to all ‘professors’ [who] without having a clue of what they are talking about [keep] writing, twitting, Facebooking [sic]. Guys get a life!”
Did he mean customers, I wonder? Or other bloggers whom he thinks are not qualified to post, or who comment too much?
The post went viral, with stories in the London Telegraph and Daily Mail, and an Italian newspaper. As a result, the management of the Dubai restaurant offered everyone who posted a comment on Wood’s post to dine for free at the restaurant.
After a frenzy of comments and interviews, Wood, who has a PR background, is philosophical. “I do think his response is an isolated incident,” she said in an email. “Most of the chefs I know would never treat food writers, bloggers let alone customers like that …With the proliferation of blogs and social media, chefs have to deal with opinions and reviews like these on a daily if not hourly basis – it’s part and parcel of their job.’”
2. Chef’s response: “Nice way to gain respect with chefs. I think your [sic] a C**t”
Chef Claude Bosi tweeted this message after reading a review by hobby blogger James of Dining With James about his meal at two-Michelin starred Hibiscus in London. James didn’t like his starter or the service. After more viscious tweets from Bosi and other chefs piling on, James shut down his modest (100 follower) Twitter account. I find that sad and disturbing, to have been bullied in this way.
Some commenters in the posts and in subsequent articles brought up points worthy of discussion: If bloggers can dish it out, should they be able to take it? Wood let the chef’s comments stand on her blog instead of deleting them, so to me this means she could take it. And by leaving them on her blog, she showed an out-of-control chef acting unprofessionally, which made for a good news story and lots of hits. Should she have deleted the comment?
Another commenter asked if FoodDiva is ignorant about Italian food. This second issue, about knowledge, is a tough one. Most food critics are self-educated, and it’s impossible to know everything about every cuisine. I struggled with this issue when I reviewed. On one hand, I berated myself whenever I found out something I “should have known.” On the other, reviewers represent consumers, who certainly do not know everything about food or care to. They want to be informed, entertained, and to fantasize about going there themselves.
Reviewers ask themselves lots of hard questions when they sit down to write, such as:
- Am I showing off my knowledge of a subject most readers don’t care about?
- Which criticisms are most worthy of mention? How gentle or how harsh should I be?
- Am I picking on minor flaws to be entertaining?
- Am I writing for my readers or to the chef?
However rough it was to be attacked by chefs, both bloggers offered mostly positive reviews while pointing out flaws. That is standard form for criticism, perfectly defensible. While there’s no excuse for how these chefs and some commenters responded, I hope these developments won’t deter restaurant writers from writing anything critical at all. As I have despaired many times, many food bloggers feel they shouldn’t be critical.
Another thing that struck me about these events is that not all restaurant critics are equal. James loves to eat in fine restaurant and then write a few words about his experience. Wood is editor-at-large for Dubai’s Gourmet magazine and a freelance food writer. Wood pays for meals out of her own pocket and James probably does too. Should we hold hobbyists to different standards of criticism than freelancers, and freelancers to different standards than professional, salaried reviewers for newspapers and magazines, who are paid to visit restaurants more than once, with the restaurant footing the bill? Should readers be able to tell the difference? I’m interested in your thoughts.
Related restaurant news:
- Speaking of professional restaurant reviewers, I hope by now you’ve read the clever skewering of the New York restaurant owned by Guy Fieri, a Food Network star. New York Times Critic Pete Wells, who visited the restaurant four times, wrote his cheeky critique entirely in questions. It was his first negative review, brutally honest, and aimed at an irresistible target: a high-profile 500-seat restaurant with a celebrity chef owner who seeks out quality American food, at least on television. If you’re going to trash (rarely, I hope), this is the kind of target that makes sense.
- Did you know that the American federal minimum wage for tipped restaurant workers is $2.13 in most states? The amount hasn’t increased in 21 years. Read Mark Bittman’s piece about the 10 million restaurant workers who can barely put food on the table for themselves.
(Photo courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net)