Never confuse the size of your talent with the size of your paycheck. – Marlon Brando
All wish to have knowledge, but few are willing to pay the price. – Juvenal
ELV note: Chef John Tesar’s feud with restaurant critic Leslie Brenner of the Dallas Morning News has been getting a lot of traction lately. In response to it all, a certain anonymous Dallas chef posted this missive on line, siding with Tesar (complete disclosure: JT is a Facebook friend and a chef we hold in high regard), and calling out Brenner in a number of ways. Both it and our response are probably a bit over-the-top, but both he (the anonymous Dallas chef, NOT John Tesar) and Eating Las Vegas have some rather strong, contrary opinions which we at ELV thought you might enjoy agreeing or disagreeing with. So, without further ado, for your elucidation and delectation, we give you the following war of words:
Dear Go to Hell,
Chefs tough as nails? Maybe some of them, but you sir are a big baby. A small-minded, fragile little girl who objects to someone’s tone of voice. What are you? Twelve? Man up…and admit that you and your ilk get your feelings hurt very, very easily.
A chef is a craftsman who is trained to put out food, in volume, with a minimum of health concerns to those eating it. That’s all you really are. A cook. Not a humanitarian or a philanthropist. “Anyone can write about food,” you say. Well, I suppose so, just the way anyone can heat up food. Even an idiot can make a pot of stew and fill people up with it. And you sir, I fear, are a stewcook. If you truly had game, I suspect you wouldn’t take critical words to heart like sappy teenager.
But being a good chef, a skillful chef, an inventive chef, is another thing entirely. The biggest problem with the food revolution of the past ten years is that too many of you think you are either: 1) rock stars; or 2) doing the Lord’s work. You are neither. You are a carpenter. A plumber. An assembly line worker who may or may not have a clue how to build an entire house or carve a piece of wood until it really sings.
It’s surprising to me how little taste so many of you have. You claim to be these “artists” and strut around with your knives and your tatts like you’re masters of your oeuvre, when most of you can’t make a simple omelet, or know how to season a sauce, or construct a sandwich. Television has done you no favors. It makes even hacks think they can be stars, and when someone (i.e., a real critic) tells them they don’t have the chops, they wilt faster than week-old romaine.
Critics don’t cause people to lose their jobs or families to break up. Having a puffed up view of your own importance is probably the bigger culprit. Many of you go to cooking schools with curriculums that have you spending ten classroom days or so learning about various forms of cooking. You spend ten days on breads, and suddenly, you think you know about baking. Ten days on vegetables, you think you know vegetables. Here’s a clue: you don’t know diddley-squat. What you know least is how things are supposed to taste.
That said, yours truly and another well-known critic once mercilessly criticized a certain dish at a certain French restaurant (to the owner, not in print), and we heard a few weeks later that the chef who had concocted it had been shown the door. He then went on to open a small place serving the Asian-fusion food he loves and does so well, and has made a big success of it. Lesson: sometimes your skill-set and overblown egos need to be brought down to earth by people who know what they’re talking about.
By way of contrast, a sushi chef in Japan can spend ten years in apprenticeship before he’s allowed to carve fish. In America, you take a six-week, community college course on rolling rice and call yourself a sushi chef. French chefs can spend years…..YEARS….carving and peeling vegetables before they’re let near a stove. None of you puffed-up American blowhards can hold a French chef’s paring knife (or a Japanese sushi blade for that matter), and you know it. That’s why you go around pouting about critics all the time.
Leslie Brenner may be the the most petty, insufferable, narcissistic bitch in the history of food writing,* but I guarantee you she doesn’t write her reviews based upon a college journalism degree and the ability to eat and tap a keyboard about it. It’s a fair bet she (and yours truly) have eaten more meals in more restaurants than you and everyone you have ever known have ever even thought of eating.
A good critic (admittedly, there’s only about a hundred of us left in the United States) can parse a persillade and dissect a ma po dofu. Like lawyers and plumbers and chefs, critics (the honest ones anyway), will tell you they didn’t know what the hell they were doing until they had a body of experiences under their belt — which usually takes around ten years in full combat mode.
Your contention that Brenner (or any food critic) “builds nothing, creates, nothing, enriches nothing” blah, blah, blah, is a pile of horseshit and you know it. Restaurant writers are, first and foremost, consumer advocates. We exist to help the public decide where to spend their dining out dollars. As 53% of all American meals take place in restaurants, this is a worthy calling indeed, and belittling it because you don’t like the tone in the way she writes is akin to a third grader hating her teacher because she makes the class do homework.
If you can’t stand the heat, become a librarian. Cooking isn’t about fun and it isn’t about being a star. It is hard work. Really hard work. If you want your ego pampered, go be a f*cking bartender.
So shut up and get back in the kitchen. Cook, chop, travel, eat and read (a chef who reads – now there’s a novel idea). In five or ten years, we’ll let you know if you’re any good.
P.S. If you think you have it rough in little old Dallas, I suggest you google “Michael Winner” (1935-2013; pictured above) or A.A.Gill — both restaurant critics in London (England, not Kentucky you twit). There, restaurant criticism is considered bloodsport. What Leslie Brenner prints is, by comparison, like playing pattycake in a sandbox with someone. Your whiny, spoiled, American ass wouldn’t last ten days in London.
* next to Gael Greene
ELV Note #2: Now, here is the pansy-ass, spoiled white-boy missive that inspired the above rant:
You hurt people. You are a bad person. I write this on behalf of every chef that you mock.
This is not just some classic “chefs-hate-reviewers” rant, but an honest portrayal of what you do for a living, Ms Brenner. Your job is relatively easy in the big scheme of things. Many, many people are qualified to do it. Pretty much any college graduate who has written papers, eaten out very often, and has access to the internet can write about food and restaurants. But you take this job to an unfortunate and ugly place in the journalistic world. You attack chefs personally, then ridicule and rant mercilessly about things that you are not capable of doing well yourself. Everyone is entitled to their opinions (just check Yelp), but you print yours in large-scale newspapers with such venom and condescending tones that it truly hurts people.
I’m not trying to say that you hurt someone’s feelings. Kitchen people are tougher than nails and can handle that kind of garbage. If you ever spoke to those you write about in the tone with which you pen your craft, I think you’d find out the hard way just how tough the back-of-the-house personnel tends to be. You hurt people in much worse ways. Your vitriolic spew causes people to lose their jobs. I’ve seen restaurants that were doing just fine get a public flogging from your snotty little style, then suddenly begin to lose money. Tremendously hard working people who put in 80 hours a week in hot kitchens quickly find themselves looking for a job, moving to other cities, ripping their kids from their schools. How do you think it feels when a child comes home crying because you made fun of his dad in the paper, then dad loses his job and his school classmates ridicule him for it? This is not an example of what might happen. This happened. Owners have had their marriages break apart because of your “style” of writing; not because anyone did anything wrong, but because you find sport in this somehow. The business owner who sank a life savings into his dream is nothing more than fodder for you. So what if someone loses their life savings and dreams, at least you got a few good zingers in, right? Critics around the country manage to do their job with professionalism, but somehow you can’t seem to do your job while keeping anyone else’s dignity in mind. You show no common courtesy for other people whatsoever. You could be professional without being a bitch about it, but I doubt you will. This is who you are. Maybe this style is the only reason you have your job.
There are plenty of people in every industry who enrich humanity and make a positive impact on society as a whole. You, Leslie, are not in this category. Your job itself has a purpose. Journalism is not an evil industry. There is validity in the idea of reviewing a restaurant or chef and telling the public what you think. It’s the style of how you do it that makes you a bad person. You revel in the belittlement of others and find some kind of sport or joy in tearing down hard-working laborers who contribute daily to the lives of other people in a good and decent way. In your snobby, uppity tone with no regard for others, you prove week in and week out that your actual life must be shallow. You are the bully from the playground who laughs and mocks when others fall and get hurt. You give nothing, build nothing, create nothing and enrich nothing. Your shtick is just to laugh, feign superiority and pretend that your life is so superior in meaning that anyone who cooks for a living owes you something personally for honoring them with your presence. I’ve seen how you act in restaurants and how you treat servers. It’s appalling.
I will go about my life of creating as many positive experiences for others as I can. I am in the business of serving others. My job requires that I work much harder than you and that my family and personal relationships will likely suffer from it, but I give people something good in their lives. I create something that enriches the greater good. I have done more for charity than you have ever considered, but that isn’t the kind of thing a shock-jock mud-slinging critic cares much about. Do you ever give to charity, or do you simply attend the social engagements to rub elbows with the right people? I cook nicer food than I can usually afford to eat. I am a giver. I am a chef. You are a food reviewer for a print publication. You are a dying breed riding a sinking ship. No one will ever look back on that one column that you wrote and recall just how much it spoke to them and inspired them in any way.
With all sincerity,
Go to Hell.