Critiquing The Critics – Anoothi Vishal

Anoothi Vishal

Estimated read time: < 10 minutes 

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that since everyone eats and drinks, they believe they can be food (and wine) critics too. We are just not talking about the Zomato “critiques” but about event organisers, food group members, those with socialite aspirations, bloggers (though some credible ones exist) or in fact any one wanting to show off on social media. It does not matter whether they have any understanding of cuisines and their cultural context. It also barely matters whether they can string together one straight sentence in the language of their choice. But they all have an opinion, which these wannabe critics feel the need to publicly share.

While social media has truly democratised our freedom of speech and expression and everyone can have their fifteen minutes of fame, the menace of wannabe critics is that it extends far beyond just annoying, inexplicable or plain ridiculous posts. That many routinely arm-twist establishments for freebies by threatening to defame their hard-earned reputations or conversely use paid media to prop up restaurants, chefs, and restaurateurs to create a buzz around these are cause for concern. If there is neither competence nor honesty while reviewing restaurants, the entire ecosystem suffers. Restaurants think it is okay to play to the lowest common denominator — the buzz generated by such dubious media feeds vanity and business bottomline, however kitchen creativity lies forgotten. The public, meanwhile, knows not who to trust. Everything is a distorted social media projection.

This phenomenon of a lack of credibility in the critiquing space that we are seeing in India is completely at odds with highly regarded independent media in the UK and the US. The opinion of a few newspaper critics is valued because the audience is perhaps discerning enough to prize scholarship and sense over internet garbage. Interestingly, the foodscape across the UK and the US is much more evolved. Will India ever have such a scenario where we can be truly proud of restaurants and chefs pushing the envelope, being invested in quality rather than social media pats paid for in cash or kind PR and marketing? I am not so sure. That can only happen when credible and knowledgeable voices stop buying PR spiel and when the larger public itself values informed opinion over “this was the tastiest pizza of my life” kind of reviews. Conversely, restaurants need to stop giving their power away by encouraging or pandering to dubious “critiques”. Stop calling them for free meals and parties, and stop placing value on the picture of a pretty face uncorking a wine bottle on Instagram. That may generate hundreds of likes, but really, are any of those getting converted to business? When restaurants start examining their ROIs properly and professionally, much of the wheat will be sifted from the chaff.

If there is neither competence nor honesty while reviewing restaurants, the entire ecosystem suffers. Click To Tweet

In the meantime, for all wannabe critics, here’s how to really do it:

Explain why you like or dislike something

Your review can’t just be “this was the tastiest parantha” or “yummiest pasta”. What made the food good or bad? Was the spicing judicious … the ingredients apt? Was there inventiveness? Was the cooking perfect…? Those are parameters on which you need to judge dishes.

 Stop swallowing PR spiel

Many years ago, we were made to meet the ‘king of kakori’ at a restaurant and given the story about his family having invented the kakori kebab. Now, even basic research will tell you that there is no ‘king of kakori’. If you are invited to a Shahjahanabad food festival with dishes going back to the Mughals, at least stop to question how did the hotel come by these recipes?

 Stop being taken in by the dazzle of celebrity

A celebrity TV chef descends on the Indian metros, and all wannabe critics want to pose with him. If you are serious about your craft, stop being that fan boy or girl. You need to examine their work dispassionately and you can hardly do that if you are in awe of them.

 Have the right intent

Why are you in the business of reviewing? Freebies? Social prestige? To get business from brands whose next event you can curate? All the wrong reasons to turn to critiquing.

Start looking at food in a larger cultural context

And stop being an entitled brat— Just because you have travelled around the world on dad’s money and eaten at expensive restaurants does not make you the best judge of everything. It’s not an automatic guarantee of either a fine palate or good sense.

Stop indulging in games of upmanship

Food slobs and snobs are equally intolerable. Go experience food with an open mind and then learn some more about it.

Image Credit: ReviewTrackers

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