Features of modern restaurant criticism
The life of a restaurateur and a chef is unthinkable without criticism. The plot of the relationship between these three is at the heart of almost every film about restaurants: from the vintage “Wing or Legs” with Louis de Funes and Piksarov’s “Ratatouille” to last year’s “Chef Adam Jones” with Bradley Cooper.
Any institution, whether it’s a gourmet restaurant that strives for the level of the cherished Michelin stars, or a small snack bar with several tables open for family savings, depends on the critic’s review – how else will potential guests find out about them, and what is the desired target audience? It is the audience, its number, that determines the power of the critic and his weight in the overall picture of the restaurant world, because the more readers, the more important that they learn about the restaurant, after which they decide to go there or not.If you recall how it all began, then fifteen years ago, at the dawn of restaurant criticism as a genre, there were Svetlana Kesoyan and Daria Tsivina, authors of the restaurant columns Afisha and Kommersant, respectively. It was a time of expensive restaurants, barolo and sassikaya, as well as anonymous restaurant criticism, when the restaurateur knew the critic in person, but the critic, in turn, sought to maintain incognito.
The restaurant was a secular place, and critics were mostly read by patrons who were not too versed in the intricacies and nuances – we all remember the quote from the movie “What Men Talk About” about the difference between crouton and croutons. Everything changed with the advent of Ragout and Delicatessen, and restaurant criticism began to change in response to the gastronomic revolution. The Village was added to large publications, aimed at a completely different audience and occupied an empty niche of the online publication for young, fashionable and modern. Restaurants ceased to be exclusively secular, with the advent of the accessible segment, the audience naturally expanded, and against the backdrop of the success of the gastro-bistro format, new democratic institutions began to open at a staggering speed: from burger to hummus, street food that we had previously perceived exclusively in the format shawarma by the subway and which had nothing to do with restaurant life. The comparative accessibility of new wave restaurants and the broadened horizons of consumers has generated a whole generation of new critics: with the advent of Instagram, literally everyone can create their own blog and speak about where and what was interesting.
With all the abundance of critics, whether professional journalists or bloggers, it still seems that the rules and evaluation criteria have not been defined. Are the categories relevant tasty / tasteless? How to turn off your own preferences and taste habits from the assessment? How to compare restaurants with each other? Going to a press tasting or going incognito?
Recently, restaurant criticism has for the most part become so politically correct, and reviews have been so supportive that readers have begun to listen to the opinions of bloggers – if these bloggers could give an alternative, not always positive, but justified assessment. The Insider.Moscow project answers the same request – objectivity and graded relativity – which publishes reviews of anonymous experts who go to restaurants at their own expense and often contradict all other critics in their assessments, tearing the restaurant to smithereens. However, the inability of the reader to appreciate the depth of their expertise makes this criticism interesting, perhaps, mainly to market professionals. So what does criticism make a critic? One of the most famous restaurant journalists in the UK, Jay Rainer, who is responsible for restaurants at Observer, as well as the judge of the MasterChef show, says that writing is good and fun, and then how good you are at food plays a key role. On dozens of letters that come to him every day asking how to become a restaurant critic, he gives one universal advice: to learn to write, and not only about restaurants, but about world events, thus developing your horizons, training your mind and developing an interesting skill narrative, which, by and large, does not depend on what you write. Classical restaurant criticism, as we know it today, is primarily journalism, which means the success of the article depends on how interesting it is written for the audience that reads it.