As allegations of harassment or assault by chefs and restaurateurs in the food industry surface, where does this leave the critic, whose job has been — traditionally — to write about food, service and decor? How do restaurant critics respond?
I bet many restaurant reviewers — and their editors — have lost sleep over their changing roles.
And that’s great! People in our industry should wrestle with sexism, power and abuse. These are the issues of today, not just what is on the plate. There isn’t one uniform response in the food media, but here’s what’s happened so far:
Eater has removed coverage of restaurants of alleged assaulters in guides and maps. In the future critics will avoid reviewing restaurants veiled in sexual harassment controversy.
2. Bon Appetit magazine is keeping tabs.
On the magazine’s website, Senior Editor Julia Kramer wrote that from now on, when the magazine compiles its list of the 10 best new restaurants in America, “we factor in not just the food and the vibe, but whether or not the chefs and owners seem like shitheads.”
If you’d like to keep up with the chefs and restaurateurs accused of sexual harassment, Kramer says the magazine is keeping tabs. She also explains that “This is a magazine and website about cooking, restaurant, and food culture all over the country. But right now, we’re breaking from our usual stream of recipes, cooking tips, and round-ups.”
3. A newspaper critic says it’s not his job.
In a recent article for The Philadelphia Inquirer, food critic Craig LaBan left no doubt about his decision, at least in the headline. It read “It’s not my job to pass judgement on a chef’s character.”
He’s troubled by the idea that critics are “expected to focus on a dining experience, but also simultaneously make casual character judgments before doling out reviews on a weekly basis.”
True. It would be different if he was a critic who also wrote an investigative piece about a chef, as former Times-Picayune critic Brett Anderson did about John Besh and his 25 accusers. Then he would research and interview, gathering data for a long piece. That is not the job of most restaurant critics.
But on the other hand, why not just avoid giving press to restaurants mired in sexual assault controversies, as Eater has?
4. Another newspaper critic thinks it’s not his job but worth mentioning in a review.
Jonathan Gold, food critic of The Los Angeles Times, said he didn’t have much of a choice, because chef April Bloomfeld opened a new restaurant in his town, and it was worth a good review. But he also had to mention her association with Ken Friedman, the co-owner of her restaurants. The sexual misconduct allegations, as reported in the New York Times in an explosive story, made headlines for weeks.
So he mentioned it. And then he asked questions:
“So, if you boycott the Hearth & the Hound to express your distaste for Friedman’s alleged acts, are you silencing an important woman’s voice? Does the ineffectiveness of Bloomfield’s responses to Friedman make her complicit in his alleged misconduct? (“I know that it wasn’t enough,” she posted on Twitter.) Or could she have been as fearful of the wrath of a powerful industry figure as were the former employees who spoke out against him? Is it more important that she apparently brushed off complaints about Friedman, or that she did the proper thing and referred some of the women to outside labor counsel? Did she need to quit her job? If you had built an empire through your imagination and sweat, would a partner’s alleged misbehavior cause you to dissolve it?”
Like LaBan, he followed by saying he’s really there to write about the food and the place. He said these are not questions for restaurant critics.
5. A third newspaper critic explains why she gave a top review to a restaurant affiliated with an alleged abuser.
In a long, self-examining piece, Houston Chronicle restaurant critic Alison Cook defends her action of giving a 4-star review to a restaurant with a chef accused of assault, while also acknowledging her allegiance to the #MeToo movement.
6. The James Beard Foundation excluded restaurants affiliated with known abusers from its awards.
The foundation recently called on voters (who include food writers) of its 2018 awards to reconsider actions past and present, and advocate changes to end “a culture of silence and complicity.”
See if you can tell in the restaurant semifinalists, if you’re keeping tabs.
7. Some writers have called for an end to glamorizing male chefs.
A few have taken to Twitter (notably Pete Wells of the New York Times) to call for an end to glamorizing male chefs and making them into celebrities, through fawning profiles and reviews.
Alison Cook cops to that impulse at the end of her essay. “For too long, [restaurants] have been treated and written about as extensions of a chef-auteur’s ego. I’m as guilty as the next person of that sin.”
Personally, I’m thrilled that editors and critics are wrestling with their own roles and power. I’m thrilled that some women in the industry have come forward about sexual assault and harassment, perhaps widening a path for others. These actions come as a direct result of the #MeToo movement.
What are your thoughts about whether or how to cover restaurants tied to sexual assaults, and how to do so?
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You might also like:
- The Role of the Restaurant Critic in the Age of #MeToo. (I was working on this post when this appeared.)
- The bleak future of food criticism: Yelp reviews, puff pieces and no accountability for restaurants
- Former Restaurant Reviewer Says Reviews are Irrelevant.