John Curtas is …

The Worthlessness Of Restaurant Critics

Michael Winner, the restaurant critic for The Sunday Times of London has called food critics the most pathetic, useless group of people on the planet.

And you know what? He has a point.

On the lower-archy of jobs, he considers them just a millimeter above public relations folks.

Because on some level, the value of what we do never approaches that of a landscape worker, pool boy, or bank clerk – much less a line cook, schoolteacher or biologist.

All we do, if you think about it, is do much more of what is (next to sex) the most enjoyable, essential of human activities (eat) and then write stories and opinions based on our experiences.

There’s something inherently voyeuristic about both our dining and sharing of same with our audience…and just like all voyeurs, we’re really more bystanders than participants in whatever we’re interested in.

All of this is by way of introducing a conversation with Shimon Bokovza — one of the owners of Sushi Samba recently — who took me to task for my mostly negative review of his restaurant.

I admired his confronting me like an adult, and asking to meet me face to face, and it was refreshing to politely debate him about the merits of his concept restaurant, without ever have to watch him perform a “Full Andre” –- named for the cheesecloth-skinned Andre Rochat — signifying those who prefer pirouettes of pique and petulance to honest discourse about the quality of the food.

We had barely sat down when he mentioned that my review struck him as mean-spirited at the worst, and like I’d had a very bad experience at best.

While protesting that neither was the case, it struck me that here was a passionate, successful guy, who probably wasn’t used to someone reporting on his life’s work in such disrespectful tones. After all, he and his employees are the ones working hard at creating and maintaining a high-pressure business, and yours truly is simply observing and then writing about it.

During our talk, done over some superb sakes by the way, courtesy of super sake sommelier Tiffany Dawn Soto, it occurred to me that my biggest mistake in my review was deciding to write about Sushi Samba in the first place. Like Tao and Lavo, critiquing these nightclubs/restaurants is a bit like shooting fish in a barrel for a critic. They’re really not about the food as much as the experience, and I doubt if 90% of their patrons know or care the slightest about fine distinctions in flavor or authenticity.

Like I said: maybe we are the most worthless people on earth, but in my more puffed-up moments, I like to think of myself as a consumer advocate – helping you listeners and readers make informed choices about where to spend your food dollars.

But after an hour with Shimon, all I could think of were the words of the immortal Max Vandeverre – the critic in that great food movie: Who Is Killing The Great Chefs Of Europe (as he is eating himself to death – or so he thinks) – all he can summon in his last breaths to say is: “I was never worthy of any of you….”

And so it is.

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