Superstar chef Marc Vetri is back in the Huffington Post today with a blistering op-ed on the state of food journalism. At the heart of the current crisis, as he sees it, is an obsession with rankings, novelty, and snap judgments:
Food journalism in today's world is all about a "best" list, a "what's hot and what's not" or a restaurant ranking system. It's about what we need more of, less of and what we better start doing right away. [...] Is there any other form of journalism that continually rates things, judges them and then packages them up in a neat list? What is this insane business about ratings and lists?
The chef, who has previously used his HuffPo space to decry gluten-sensitivity fakers and to dole out advice to new chefs, continues on a tear that blames social media, pandering to "younger readers," and writers' penchant for superlatives. Even Vetri's buddy and former employee Mike Solomonov doesn't escape entirely unscathed, as reviews of runaway hit Dizengoff are made an example of:
Major critics have abandoned their sense of discretion. They no longer believe in standards for restaurants. One that invests heavily in a wine or cocktail program is no better than one that only serves food. A full-service restaurant is the same as a sandwich shop, pizzeria or even a hummus stand. Nice hummus at a counter? Give the joint three stars.
Of course, Vetri means to take issue with the ranking system, not fellow chefs — though he could have just as well used himself as an example here. As noted on their own site, casual Pizzeria Vetri is a member of the three-bell club, too.
Ultimately, Vetri's greatest contention appears to be with professional critics themselves for lowering standards. Between their own failings and all the noise of the internet, he argues, the critic's stature has been so diminished that it's been at least eight years since the Vetri family experienced a review that even "moved the needle" as far as business driven to the restaurant.
One glimmer of hope: what could bring us all back together is a seemingly universal distaste for both John Mariani and Yelp.
Some of what we talk about has gotten better. The John Marianis of the world, the writers who lived in an ethical netherworld, are fading away. They are practically nonexistent. So too are the extremely questionable, maybe even litigable, tactics of Yelp. At least they operate out in the open, and everyone reads the reviews posted there with extreme skepticism.
Finally, Vetri wonders what will be the critics' next step "in their continuing campaign to make the lives of chefs more miserable," and posits that the answer may lie in the dreaded revisit. Here, he apparently alludes to LaBan's swift downgrade of Osteria Jersey from three bells to two, following a surprisingly early revisit. (We touched on this and a somewhat similar downgrade for Barbuzzo in this forum discussion — feel free to head over there and weigh in.)
Read Vetri's full screed here — like all of his op-eds, it's more packed with laughs than any recap could ever do justice to. (He even touches on critics' self-indulgent "unmaskings" and the myth of anonymity.)
In related news, this is not the only low-simmering tension Vetri is currently involved in, nor the only one that has to do with conferring judgments on other restaurants. A recent blog post from Brigantessa co-owner Francis Cratil Cretarola seems to call the chef out (not by name, but by directly quoting this Philly Mag piece) for disrespecting the East Passyunk restaurant community.
In the long and intensely personal post, Cretarola questions Vetri's critiques of his restaurants or any other that, he says, the well-known chef had apparently never visited before his words were printed. "Just have the courtesy to visit and experience something before you weigh in. They even usually do that on Yelp," came Cretarola's quietly stinging conclusion.