Controversial N.Y. Times critic speaks out

chicken wings

A few weeks ago we, and most of the food world, noted that The New York Times food critic, Pete Wells, had written one of the snarkiest reviews ever about Guy Fieri’s Manhattan restaurant. While everyone granted it was really funny, and no one actually  defended the restaurant (except for Fieri who responded with a media blitz), a consistent criticism leveled at Wells was why the “tony” New York Times would bother to review a lowly restaurant. 

In a recent New York Times interview, Pete Wells, Restaurant Critic, Answers Readers’ Questions,  Wells responds to this criticism and many other questions about being a food critic. It’s worth reading, especially if you read restaurant reviews on a regular basis. We were particularly sympthetic to his comments about how hard it is to find new adjectives to describe food, “I’m sure if I ran a word-frequency program over all my reviews to date I’d be mortified by how many dishes were rich, or fragrant, or aromatic, or delicate, or gentle, or crisp, or crunchy.” And we liked his discourse on his restaurant pet peeves.

But what about why he chose to review Fieri’s restaurant? Here’s some of what he wrote, 

“Why review Guy’s American Kitchen & Bar? I knew from the start that I’d have at least one meal there because of Mr. Fieri’s reputation, the size and sheer razzle-dazzle of the restaurant, and the public interest those things generated. I didn’t know I would write a review, though, until I’d eaten there. The place was confounding on so many levels that I knew I had to write about it.

I respect what Mr. Fieri does in his show “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.” He celebrates clam shacks, barbecue pits, greasy spoons, chili joints and all the other places that make American cuisine so endlessly rich. Nachos and wings are not highbrow, but when they’re great, I can’t stop eating them. The versions at this restaurant were not in that category.

So you’ve got a chef and television host who’s leveraged his connection with down-and-dirty American cuisine to open a splashy and expensive restaurant in Times Square, and yet the place is serving meals that, in my opinion, didn’t do a very good job of representing that cuisine. This seemed like a phenomenon worth examining, and that’s what I did in the review. The decision to address the entire thing as a series of questions to Mr. Fieri was the result of my attempt to square his public persona with the restaurant he opened.”

In short, we agree that  all chefs, and maybe even especially television food chefs, need to be responsible for representing their choice of cuisine well, especially if it’s food that’s not widely lauded over, but truly loved.



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