Layoff. It’s the notorious buzzword right now, from which nobody seems impervious, not even a long tenured New York food critic stricken with an “insatiable” appetite for designer hats and younger men.
Gael Greene’s dismissal from her long inhabited position at New York Magazine, caused a massive gulp heard around the food writers world last week, as critics had to wonder if their last bite of succulent porchetta would be their last bite… at least in terms of being covered by their publication.
A few days later, Between Meals columnist, Michael Bauer, warned aspiring food critics clasping to hopes of grandeur, to heed certain realities before entering the dining room.
For the most part the pay is paltry or nil. With traditional media in free fall, there are fewer paying jobs than a few years ago; I’ve already reported on the shrinking voice of Bay Area food writers. One study showed there were 25 percent fewer journalists working between March 2007 and March 2008, and it has gotten worse since then.
And perhaps this was all going through Steve Couzzo’s mind when he pieced together his rebuttal, addressing chefs and restaurateurs who have recently made a point of publicly outlining their grievances against what they perceived to be nearsighted reviews and biased critics, which he so eloquently entitled, “Shut Up”.
Chefs and owners are fed up with critics criticizing their restaurants. Carrying on like colicky babies, they’re whining in ads, blogs – even in books published years after they had their feelings hurt by a reviewer who was just doing his or her job.
They should heed Mike Tyson’s immortal advice: Take your beating like a man. Getting into the ring was your choice.
The opponent at the end of Cuozzo’s trajectory is Alain Ducasse, the Michelin Star chef at the helm of twenty-four restaurants around the world (from Japan to Lebanon), who has habitually been involved in his share of embittered sagas with New York City critics.
Last week Ducasse interviewed with Restaurant Girl, defending his restaurant Benoit and put the weight of its failures on the critics.
What happened at Benoit?
Perhaps we opened too quickly. We needed time to adjust. It was a slow evolution. There are new dishes on the menu now, like the boudin noir burgers with raw and cooked apples. But I think Americans don’t quite understand French bistro.
Who’s to blame for that?
I think it’s the journalists. It’s their duty to educate New Yorkers about French cooking. Americans don’t know what French bistro really means. Here, nobody serves quenelles de brochet, cassoulet, or tarte tatin.
For Cuozzo the trend of chefs firing back has been too much to endure.
Maybe he took his cue from the swelling numbers of chefs all over town lashing out at the press. In the old days, once in a blue moon, a powerful restaurateur might counter-punch a Mimi Sheraton or Gael Greene with a rebuttal ad in a newspaper or magazine.
Today, anybody can make a stink online.
The undeniable reality is that printed press as a medium is shrinking by the second. The rules of engagement between the restaurant critic and the restaurateur have evolved.
It’s true that anybody can “make a stink online”, whether you’re the chef, an investor, a tenured food journalist, a blogger or a dissatisfied amateur food critic, but the value of opinion is up to the discerning reader.
Perhaps the most worthwhile advice Bauer offered last week was not for those aspiring to write, but for those already in the game.
The best advice I can give is for people to follow their passion and write, whether on a blog or on established web sites. The unique, interesting and trusted voices will rise to the top.