I was listening to Food Talk on WOR radio with Michael Colameco today and he was interviewing the director, Jon Luc, of the Michelin Guides. In case you don't know, the Michelin Guides are the French Guide to restaurants, much like the Zagat guides in the USA, which have launched recently in the United States.
From what I understand a Michelin 3 star rating in Europe will enshrine a restaurant as more than just a restaurant, but as a dining destination worth visiting from anywhere in the world. That was Jon Luc's opinion anyway. And he's hoping that the Michelin rating will become just as important here as it is in Europe.
But what really caught my ear was Michael Colameco repeating his often stated view that bloggers are destroying the "legitimate" restaurant review business by reviewing restaurants too soon after they have opened. Michael and Jon Luc went on to lament about how a restaurant needs time to develop, how difficult it is to open and how it's not fair to a chef to critique his food during the first month a restaurant is open. Jon Luc went as far as stating that a restaurant needs to be running for at least 6 months before it would be fair to review it.
I've heard many of the "legitimate" (meaning paid for their work) reviewers sing this same song. "Restaurants need time to get established." "It's hard to work out the kinks of a new restaurant." "One can't expect a chef to orchestrate as complex an operation as a restaurant properly from day one."
Cry me a river.
All I can say is that is BULLSHIT! Once the door is open the restaurant is fair game. I'm sorry, but I don't have, never had and will never get 6 months to get my act together in my profession. I'm expected to step in and do my job well from the minute I show up. Why is it any different for chefs and restaurants?
A doctor or lawyer is expected to know his craft from the day he puts up his shingle. A musician is expected to know how to play. An orchestra is expected to know the piece of music they are performing. It takes all of them years before they can sell their wares. And the better they get at it, the more they can charge.
It's the same in the restaurant business. If a restaurant has opened its doors for business it better be ready to perform. And it needs to be ready to accept praise and criticism from the great unwashed mass of bloggers out there, not just the reviews by the boys in the club.
Food bloggers have been derided and belittled by the professional reviewers and the restaurant industry. It has been stated that bloggers aren't "legitimate."Even some chefs have joined in the chorus against the bloggers. Marion Batali states, "Many of the anonymous authors who vent on blogs rant their snarky vituperatives from behind the smoky curtain of the web. This allows them a peculiar and nasty vocabulary that seems to be taken as truth by virtue of the fact that it has been printed somewhere. Unfortunately, this also allows untruths, lies and malicious and personally driven dreck to be quoted as fact." Boo Hoo Hoo.
And of course there's the famous incident of The Amateur Gourmet and Le Cirque.
Bloggers work by different rules than the "legitimate" media. This has been hurled as a criticism, but to me its a badge of honor. Most of us are unknown by the restaurateurs. We're not in the club so we don't get the special treatment say a Brunni, an Ozerksy or a Sietsema would get when they sit down at the table. We get the true experience of the restaurant. We report it to the public. I know that I'll take a friend's word about a restaurant long before I'll believe a review in a paper or on the net.
Over the last couple of years I've become known in the NY BBQ world. I know that when I walk into many of the NY area BBQ restaurants they know who I am. Hell, I was recognized by a chef in a restaurant supply store over the weekend. In many of the restaurants I know the pit masters personally and in some cases count them as friends. Do I get the star treatment from them? Many times I do. And when I do, I don't report it back here as a review of the restaurant. It's not fair to you and it's not fair to the restaurant.
I think people like Colameco and Batali have to realize that the playing field has changed. The blogosphere has given the little people the chance to pull back the curtain. If a diner has a bad experience and tells about it, to me that's just as legitimate opinion as a rave review. One thing that these guys seem not to know, is that most food bloggers got into blogging about food because we LOVE food. I believe that the vast majority of us want to see every restaurant thrive.
Sorry fellas, but in most cases the bloggers speak the truth. Get over it.