This Week on IFN: Calling All Food Critics
“What ticked me off about the service though was their hurry to get the food to table despite the restaurant being empty. A nice place to sit. But not a place to go to catch up with a close friend.”
These grammatically questionable sentences form part of a negative review that one of India’s most popular food bloggers gave a restaurant in its early months. This restaurant has since, been featured in every Top 10 list the country has to offer.
Do we really understand how to write one? To quote the guidelines from US-based Association of Food Journalists: Restaurant criticism is not an objective pursuit, yet readers expect a measure of objectivity from critics. The goals of a critic should be:
• To be fair
• To be honest
• To understand and illuminate the cuisine about which he or she is writing.
• To look beyond specific dishes and experiences to capture the whole of a restaurant and its intentions
To be fair, a true food critic will wait for a new restaurant to settle in.
To be honest, she will visit multiple times, try the same dish more than once, to be truly certain of its consistency.
To understand a cuisine enough to write about it, she would have experienced it several times before; in several settings; and ideally in its home country, too. She would understand the history of the food she was eating, the provenance of its ingredients, and what it takes to create something in a restaurant kitchen.
And, to capture the whole of a restaurant and its intentions, the food critic must necessarily show interest in the new restaurant’s food beyond its menu; spend time with the chef to know how his life experiences contributed to creating the menu she was about to judge in a few words; provide context of who the restaurant is catering to, and why.
Are you doing that? Do you even care enough to do that? Or does the impatience to be the “first review” win out each time? Why don’t you move beyond the review? Sure, get there early, but talk about what it took to make the restaurant. Share the vision of the people who spent sleepless months to create something that you just waft into, full of opinions and mind made up. Give it a moment to figure out who it is and what it is doing in your world, before robbing it of a fair chance to succeed.
Yes, I’m having a bit of a rant. And yes, this column today is wholeheartedly one-sided. Given my current job, I am certain a few people expect me to “get there first”, too. And so I do. With little previews and short interviews with the people who created the places that will dot Best Of lists for the rest of the year. What I refuse to do, even if my job depended on it, is to pass judgement on a new born.
We visited Miss T a few minutes after it opened, but won’t review it. Yes its a hot opening by two hot restaurant companies and Midday and Brown Paper Bag have been all over it even before the doors were opened. But, don’t you want to know more than just what's on the menu? Come, meet the people who created Miss T . They are so much fun! Watch here.
I've had a 25-year-old love affair with Cream Centre - the accidental vegetarian Mumbai icon. For the past 25 years, each time I’ve come back from a trip abroad, the first meal to announce my return home is a Cream Centre Chhola Bhatura. Nearly 60 years old and a massive renovation later, Cream Centre reopened its doors on Friday (there will be a bar too soon), and I had to stop by for my very own Bhatura. In a city where few restaurants are iconic and fewer still live as long as this one, I can’t help but doff my hat to them. Here is a quick peek and stay tuned for our chat with the owner Sanjiv Chona releasing next week.
In non-restaurant related news, this weekend is all about naughty Lord Krishna. I am delighted to share that popular food writer, nutrition expert and sattvic cook Anushruti RK will now be writing a regular column for India Food Network. Her first article is about her favourite Janmashtami rituals and foods. As an added bonus she has shared a Peanut Ladoo recipe too. It's so easy, even a restaurant reviewer could make it.