11 March 2009

A food critic's manifesto

Starting another blog among tens of millions led me to ponder why I’m in the food writing game, and scratch out a rough manifesto. Here are some principles and goals that guide my professional and amateur food writing:
  • Do it for the love of it. I started simply as someone who explores every corner of the restaurant scene obsessively because that’s one of my keenest pleasures in life. Chowhound.com gave me a platform to share my obsession and trade tips with a community of like-minded locals. Notoriety on Chowhound led to my current professional gigs. But it’s still an avocation, the pursuit of an amateur: literally, someone who does it for the love of it, not to pay the bills (though it does help with the dining-out bills).
  • Shun influence. I strive to preserve my anonymity so restaurateurs are less likely to see me coming and thereby try to improve my experience over that of the typical diner. I don’t accept free meals and other industry compensation. I read everything I can on the local food scene, but don’t attend press dinners and other promotional events. I maintain a professional distance from the industry, though I correspond with many owners, chefs, cooks, bartenders, and servers.
  • Help consumers first. My primary goal is to help diners find the best places at every price level, and the best ways to enjoy them. Less often, I steer diners away from the mediocre and the overhyped. In both cases, I’m advocating for consumers. While I’m happy if worthy restaurants benefit from my praise, there’s already a large PR, advertising, and marketing industry devoted to promoting the industry’s interests. As the diner’s advocate, the critic must call the good and the bad as he sees them, fairly and truthfully, even when that means taking stands that might adversely affect a restaurant’s business. Good restaurateurs take negative criticism constructively; bad ones simply attack the critic (it’s easier and cheaper than fixing problems). Enduring the latter’s enmity is part of the job.
  • Be entertaining. There is an ever-swelling ocean of opinions out there, so I labor to make mine clear, pungent, occasionally provocative, but always readable. Whether they agree with me or not, I hope readers will want to keep reading my work.