Wednesday 6 April 2016

A guest post to celebrate the launch of "Can I Eat That?" Here's author Joshua David Stein on 'how to become a food critic'

We're handing over the keys to the blog to the author of a rather fantastic kid's book about food. Author and restaurant critic Joshua David Stein is here to give you some insider knowledge on how to write about food, and in particular about restaurants! Take it away Joshua!

There’s an insidious demonization, at least in the United States, by the professional class of food critics of sites like Yelp, which open criticism to the unskilled hoi polloi. Fooey on that. The more voices the better as far as I’m concerned.

This knee jerk revulsion gets at the heart of what it means to be a food critic and common misperceptions felt, even by my colleagues.

 Critics have no special knowledge, other than the knowledge borne from thinking about food on a sustained basis, eating it, and researching it.

 This might be difficult for some critics to stomach -- that they are not Divine Critics as Louis TK was the Diving Ruler -- but it is good news for those aspiring to be a food critic.

Author and restaurant critic Joshua David Stein
A restaurant critic -- for that is how I prefer to think of myself since I do not only critique food but the context within which it is served -- is, at the end of the day, a writer. And, as writers since the beginning of the written word and story tellers before them have done, a writer must develop his or her voice. Now being a restaurant critic is slightly different in that we are not writing fiction nor are we writing hard-hitting nonfiction. Criticism is somewhere in between, creative nonfiction.

But this creative nonfiction with actual repercussions (that is, if one is a food writer whose word is valued) and the thing one is critiquing is the sum of many thousands of hours of effort and many thousands of dollars of investment. The restaurant industry is a brutal one where a spate of bad reviews can doom an infant venture. So one must always balance voice with responsibly. There’s a tendency to be flip but it should be avoided.

No critic should have or claim to have a monopoly on opinion. A food critic is just a voice with a particularly powerful microphone. But that also doesn’t mean one must be anodyne or tentative in asserting ones opinion. One needn’t please everyone, certainly not the object of ones criticism. But a critic should be cognizant of tendencies -- such as those I possess -- to be viciously witty (or so I think) at the expense of incisively accurate.

So I suppose my advice to aspiring food critics is that to become one, just start writing. The only thing standing between you and a professional food critic is the writing about food and that can be easily remedied. But once you become a restaurant critic, be a kind, fair and compassionate one. And one hell of a writer.

"Can I Eat that?" is out now from Phaidon.