There's a writer behind every critic

There's a writer behind every critic

Probably near the top of the list of jobs everyone thinks is easy and that any dope could do is that of restaurant or food critic. And it does look easy: eating truffle oil this and puff pastry that every day and getting paid for it? Sign me up, right?

No thanks, really. Even starting up a food blog has zero appeal, mostly because there are so many of them out there and most are long-winded and as dull as dishwater, filling up space with pictures of cats.

Still, I was curious about those who actually do write for legitimate publications about the meals they’re fortunate enough to eat. How do they land in such a career? What education do they have?

I guessed, erroneously, that most restaurant critics come from the restaurant business. I figured they must have educated their palette in Paris kitchens, spent years learning how to make a perfect genoise, how to plate a perfectly cooked magret of duck and how to make all those flowers out of vegetables.

They’d then do their time cooking in restaurants in the largest cities, drawing praise for their skill and talent. Having all this knowledge stored up in their brains and hands, they would naturally turn their attention toward critiquing the work of others who aspired to the greatest heights of culinary artistry.

All of those assumptions are wrong. From reading the thoughts, reflections and advice of those who are successful restaurant critics, it’s quite the reverse.

The chief ability required isn’t found in the kitchen; it’s found at the keyboard. Critics are primarily writers, journalists and authors who use what they know about telling a story to give readable insight into restaurants.

They usually bring a high level of curiosity with them, a willingness to eat a lot of garbage meals and gain significant weight, and a desire to share what they discover. And a giant ego.

There are very, very few critics worldwide who actually make a living at what they do. Even when it’s a full-time gig, it’s a sideline for most of them out of necessity.

They report having the title food critic pretty much kills the restaurant experience for them personally. Eating in restaurants every night as a job gets tiresome fast, and I’m sure one reaches a point when the thought of one more drop of truffle oil makes them want to go get a Big Mac.

One critic said he can’t even have dinner with friends or relatives anymore: They keep asking what rating he’d give their cooking.

When a special occasion rolls around, like an anniversary or birthday, the last thing a restaurant critic wants to do is go out for dinner, I’m sure.

Critics usually get to take their friends with them, because even a cheapskate publication doesn’t expect them to eat every night alone. And those friends never quite understand the critic is there to do research and that they needn’t research what the restaurant’s Budweiser tastes like.

I find it inexpressibly interesting to write about foodie stuff, and I’m very lucky to get to do it, even if you think it’s not a real job. I learn new things every day in doing research, digging through piles of cookbooks and memoirs, and trying to cook things.

Finding out how restaurant critics got their jobs was a bit of an eye opener and confirmed what I already thought: It isn’t as glamorous or easy or cushy as it looks to most people.

Things that look easy never are.

If you want to be a restaurant critic when you grow up, learn to be a good writer first.

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