My reviews are written in a style that is not sellable / media or buzz-friendly. In other words, you will rarely find my reviews advertised on restaurant web sites or promoted in the foodie blogosphere. This is exactly what I want since the purpose of my reviews is to be as indepent as possible from the restaurant industry.
***My food rating system is explained here.
Also my background as a gourmand -> http://tinyurl.com/8774sax
I realized that most people do not take time to learn a bit more about the writer of the food review they are reading. It makes no sense to me. That writer, being human, has naturally its preferences as you, I, or anyone else writing about restaurant and food.
If, as an example, that writer does not like bistro food, I presume you understand that you might need to consider this when you need or read his advices on bistro food.
I personally am more into traditional fares (French, African, Asian, Carribean), therefore I will naturally tend to favor rich savourish dishes over simplistic display of raw ingredients on my plate. Of course, I love contemporary fares too:
I am fond of the modern bistro fares as much as I like their traditional versions. I do appreciate Modern French cuisine a lot, perhaps as much as I like traditional French.
I was born in a fishermen village, which explains my sacred fascination for seafood and why I am particularly demanding/strict when I evaluate seafood dishes. But I am as much picky with meats too: few years ago, curious about the buzz on Japanese seafood and beef, I sacrificed three months in just that -> enjoying what Japan was offering as its best beef and seafood. That was a fascinating experience that I will never forget, and also a reminder of how the best of what others might have enjoyed could be completely different from what you have liked the most. Japan has indeed amazing products and their top quality beef deserve the hype, but the best seafood I enjoyed was in Africa and the Carribean.
The best beef? hard to say. Japan top graded beef are truly one thing you need to experience at least once in your life (it will be way too long for me to explain all the different types of top graded Japanese beef here. We’ll leave that for a later post on top Japanese beef, but their beef, at the upper echelon, is one experience you will not enjoy elsewhere), but I preferred the Australian beef. The top graded Argentinian beef, to my surprise, did not impress me up to now, but I need
to spend more time in Argentina in order to have a more extended experience with their beef. I need to experience the Galician beef, of which I heard rave opinions. Chicken fared better to me in Africa (some chicken I tried there were far better than another chicken that I love so dearly and that is highly praised, for good reasons because it is indeed a great chicken: France’s poulette de Bresse).
The best meat I ever ate: a roasted tailless tenrec over 15 yrs ago, in the Indian Ocean. No meat at a 3* Michelin restaurant, none of the widly praised meats, not one dining venture ever came close to that one.
I am very curious and want to submit my palate to as much tastes as possible, thus I tend to try all sort of food. There are many remote places I’d like to go just to taste their food: I dream of spending years with remote saharian, amazonian tribes and discover their cuisine, their cooking techniques.
Another project I wish I can realize one day would be to fully indulge in Japanese haute cuisine. I know their beef, I know their seafood, but now I want to appreciate the way they transform those ingredients. I am saddened to have not tried yet their top dining ventures like Mizutani in Tokyo, as an example. I think I will miss Mizutani in particular since their Grand Master is more likely to retire way before I get a chance to enjoy his food.
Let’s conclude on a straightforward Q&A’s in order for you to better read/interpret/understand my restaurant evaluations:
-What is the aim of your blog? Are you a food critic? How would you introduce your food blogs to people? Imagine you are on the street and someone just shares his experience over a specific subject with you, hoping you will be a better informed person. His point is to share, nothing more, nothing less. So you take it if you want, you leave it if you don’t. I do not aim at being a food critic, I am not making a living out of this. Therefore, I do not care about what you think of what I am doing or what I think. It is not the point. I am just sharing, point blank. If I had a profit to make out of this, then Yes, I’d naturally bother about what you think of what I am doing, I’d interested to know how to make things better and fitting the mold (focusing on style, etc ). But when it’s sharing for the pleasure of sharing, I can afford being careless and just say things the way I view them. The latter being exactly the motivation behind my blogs: I became very disappointed with people manipulating the web to single out their biased voices (if you knew how many times I went to restaurants only to be told that xxx item I saw on the web could not be served to me because it was a special for the blogger or food critic that pictured it….c’mon, how serious is that???) or style-over-susbtance material and preferred a format that is obviously not commercial/popular but that reflects how I value things: living the normal life of a normal diner and sharing it with you . It might not be perfect, but I could not careless: it is what I wanted. Sounds like a lot of drama for nothing, but if ppl would stick to simple principles such as a normal diner should be a normal diner , then it would would not.
-What to look for, primarily, in my reviews: the NUMBER rating! Two dishes can be well conceived, flawless and the words I’ll write on both cases will naturally reflect the relevant situation. No need to put down one great dish because another one is better. So how will you know that one is still superior to the other? The number will talk for it! 10/10 – Exceptional (level of daring deliciousness that is rarely fullfilled, a benchmark in terms of taste), 9/10 – Excellent (flawless, delicious, daring but not a benchmark), 8/10 (Very good), 7/10 (Good … but at a 2 or 3 star dining level, this is not enough to me and means “not recommendable”). Anything below 7/10 is bad.
-What do I value primarily in the evaluation of a dish? The TASTE! All my life I have focused rigorously on taste enjoyment via my own personal research for richer/more vibrant flavors and with personal routine of dining practices such as (1) never sampling anything that could alter taste perception within the 5 hrs prior to a meal…so no coffee, no tea, nothing acidic..etc (2) closing my eyes and totally freeing my mind from any apprehension on the first bites of sampled dish. There are many other little practical techniques (that I use) in order to try to enjoy the dish with the closest neutral perception possible, but you get the idea.
-Will the gimmicky looking food items automatically suffer from poor ratings since I prefer elaborate, refined and rich classic fares? I do not care about the looks. The food needs to taste great, that is all I am looking for.
-Will the food evaluation suffer from its price? Absolutely not! I am rating the delicousness level of the food (10 is exceptional, 9 is excellent, 8 is very good, 7 is good, anything below is bad), not its value.
-Should we expect French fares to be better rated that others? That would be a mistake. Food is tasty or not, regardless of its origins. The African food item that my palate identifies as the tastier that it ever sampled, deserves a 10 as much as its Japanese, Chinese,Quebecois, French, Thai, Burmese, Haitian, Latin American counterparts.
-Will classic fares benefit from more reviews than the latest experimental cutting edge food? I am big on classical French/African/Oriental/Caribbean fares, classic French bistro, modern haute French, bistro Moderne. But sometimes I
get bored and love trying out molecular / experimental cuisine too. So Yes, this blog will rarely focus on the latest.
-What to avoid as a food critic? Do not try to cheat (for eg, trying friendly critiques, seeking for exchange of favors, etc). That will show up: people eat out a lot nowadays, so they will quickly find out about your little games. For eg, I once trusted a food columnist who raved a lot about a specific Chef. My friends kept telling me that there was a huge gap between what she was raving about Vs reality. I wanted to see for myself. I went eating at the restaurant of that Chef . He was the only one cooking on that day. And I discovered that indeed, that food columnist was just promoting that Chef since the latest was not even capable of cooking very basic fares. Also: if you are allowed privileges that others won’t get … people will quickly realize that they can’t trust you. For all those reasons, I prefer staying anonymous, avoiding close relationship with the restaurant world, so that my experience reflects the reality of the most.
-Common misconceptions? Thinking that someone who rates a dish as excellent, or who raves about a Chef … is suspicious. That’s a big mistake that the most tend to do. Although understandable (I am the first one who find that ‘hard to believe’ sometimes ;p), we must be honest: when a dish is excellent to our standards, it should be said. If 10 dishes out of 10 were flawless, you should say it. Thinking that others might find it ‘fishy’ is right there a manipulation of our own experienced reality.
-Is it easy to write reviews? About anything is easy when it is done without rigor. If writing about restaurant was just a matter of sitting at a table and contenting myself with describing my food, then I’d not do this. What attracted me into writing about dining is all the discipline that is involved: how far can I control my human emotions and judge my food as accurately as possible? How far can I detach mysefl from the surrounding distractions around my meal? How far can I resist to popular perceptions and freely express what’s on my mind (see previous question)? How far do I know myself to provide opinions on a given type of food: for eg, I sometimes see people judging food that they just don’t like in the first place. That is easy to spot: the person, whatever he or she eats, is never capable of appreciating one single dish of that given type of cuisine. That is absolutely normal: I, too, have some types of food that I just can’t appreciate. What is not normal though is to judge a type of food you can’t like since your perception of it is already biased. I only review cuisines that I understand and appreciate because I can then accurately tell you which dish I found good or bad. The cuisines that I do not like, I simply describe them and also wait to be enoughly familiar, knowledgeable about them before providing my readers with opinions on them. I also follow very strict practices that I believe are essential for your judgement about food to be accurate such as never eating anything and drinking only flat water within the 4,5 hours leading to a meal that I want to review. It is a nonsense to review a dinner without any ethic, method.
-What to look for in a food critic? Just one thing: his dining history / experience and pray that(1) he/she is honest about it and (2) she/ he has a good palate! That is like having a lot of money…it does not mean that you will have good taste ;p Any critic should expose her/his pedigree so that her/his readers have an idea of how to interpret her/his views. I’m exposing mine here: extensive experience with French haute fine dining at both classic and modern level in France and abroad (Taillevent, Senderens, Bocuse, Guerrard, Le Gavroche, Gagnaire, Passard’s Arpège, Bernard Loiseau, Michel Bras, French Laundry, Guy Savoy, Lumière, etc), same with Classic and Modern French Bistros throughout France and abroad, African fares (Especially Western fares like those from Togo, Senegal + Central Africa with focus on Congolese food, Indian Ocean, Eastern as in Ethiopian fares, Northern as in Morrocan, Libyan, Egyptian) Oriental fares (Indian, Thai, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese but on the classic level only. So zero experience of Modern Oriental fares unless you count Oriental/French fusioned fares like those at Tetsuya), African classic fares, Caribbean classic fares. Have I covered everything to be the perfect food critic? ABSOLUTELY NOT! NO ONE WILL! I know nothing about the upscale Japanese fine dining (their top 2, 3 star Michelin), I know nothing about most of the Latin American (Chile, Equador, etc), Russian, East European cuisines. So, as you can see no one will ever be knowledgeable enough about food. What this tells you though is that that in French fine dining, French Bistro fares, African food, most of the common Oriental fares, you know what to expect from my opinions. My reviews of seafood dishes are also ones you should play attention to since I have a life time obsessive admiration for great seafood and have educated my palate accordingly. So needless to stress that bad seafood is subject of rough reports, chefs not capable of offering great seafood dishes are perceived as poor skilled cooks. Proof that no one, absolutely no one will ever stand as perfect! At least, you know what to expect and how to read my reports, Rfaol! Also: I tend to prefer skilled artisan Chefs (you know, those who are in their kitchen for real..) over cooks who are in the comfort of their leaving room or parading on TV whilst I am dining at their table….
-What about the preconception that food bloggers do this to get freebies? It’s like with anything in life: there are fake chefs and there are true Chefs as well. There are corrupted renumerated food critics, there are honest ones too. There are lowlife opportunistic food bloggers, and there are those with ethics as well. The reason of my food blog is just that: finding out about who plays the real game that the most have a chance to experience. Furthermore, my situation is ideal : I am relatively not that young, but I look young. I do not look prosperous. This is ideal. That’s where you really get to know if the restaurant’s staff is doing his work properly. On the other hand, let’s not forget that food blogging is a gold mine of free advertisement for restaurateurs. Those who criticize food bloggers are not enoughly at peace with themselves to recognize the latter fact!
-Should restaurateurs be afraid of food critics? A dishonest and not capable restaurateur should because he/she knows deep inside inside of him/herself that there are reasons not to be at peace with her/his work. I came to realize that most chefs who can’t deliver (for eg: not capable of getting the job done because they can’t be present behind their stove) tend to not appreciate food critics. Of course there are unfortunately some stupid critics who are mixing up personal vendettas with the seriousness of accurately reviewing a dinner, but that is easy cheap shot to spot.
-What about restaurants playing the ‘checklist’. Are they penalized in my review? Life is a checklist! Whatever you do, however rebellious or original you feel, you are filling out a checklist! A while back, a trend arose: let’s put an end to the stuffy haute fine dining theme! Guess what: now, that trend is criticized to play the game of the new checklist: trying to be too cool, trying to be too simple at all cost! It ”does not seem natural anymore”", in the eyes of some! Rfaol! Now, we all know what the checklist might look like in the type of restaurants that I am reviewing through the current web site: a spoon of caviar over here, an endless array of nibbles over there, theatricality over here and so on. All of that is nice, but they do not count in the evaluation of my dinner! You will rarely see me writing a lot about that aspect of my dinner, at best couple of words on it because it is always a good thing to know that this table is a bit more generous than another. But with me, you won’t run from the essential: whatever caviar or edible gold leaf you are adding to my dish…it’s the dish that needs to be stellar! It’s the dish that needs to impress me. It’s the technical conception, the level of enjoyment, the sense of worth of that dish that will prevail in my judgement! So, play the checklist, I do not mind…I’ll focus on the essential list, anyway!
-What’s the main problem with dinings nowadays? A problem of identity! When you distance yourself too much from what’s essential, you become fake! You are lost! I see that a lot of that, these days: some are seeking more and more sensations through dining, and you could litteraly sell them whatever bogus new concept, and they will be happy as long as it is sensational: make the beef taste like a scallop, make the pigeon taste like beef, etc.
-Do opinions of others matter in my evaluations? Opinions should be always encouraged. We need to talk, exchange, find ideas in order to step forward. But when you review your own dinner, you have to to say what you think, not what others want you to think…right? Or else, what is the point? You may as well rename your work ‘the opinion of others!”"..Rfaol! Your opinion counts because mine counts, too. This web site is about my opinion: what you have experienced at those restaurants is what you have experienced. What I’ve experienced is what I’ve experienced. There’s nothing I can’t say about yours since it’s not my experience and vice versa. Of course, there are little things we need to know: for eg, I keep reminding to people that two dinners can’t exactly happen the same way because many things can differ: the presence or not of the same chef? his / her state of mind, who’s cooking your food?…etc The restaurant world is a tough affair: as tough for a Chef who gives his 100% but has humanly no control over what may happen as it is for a reviewer. A reviewer has people he/she likes a lot and who trust his/her reviews. Imagine when those people who you truely do not want to disappoint may face a disappointing reality you have no clue it may have happened! Alas, such is the reality of things.
-The best Chefs of all times? Of all times, that …no one knows. But based on pure technical skills and exceptional ability to deliver food for what it should, which means ultimate pleasure, I have my top 5: Jacques Maximin, Gerard Besson, Christian Constant, Joel Robuchon, Frédy Girardet when they were behind the stoves. In 2011, I discovered another exceptional Chef who deserves a seat among my personal all times favourite, and it is Bernard Pacaud of L’Ambroisie (unfortunately, I discovered him when he was close to retirement, but what an exceptional palate this great among the greatest man has!). I really miss Chef Besson and it is true that JF Piège when he was at Les Ambassadeurs, that was something. I will also never forget Chef Alain Passard: he treats his produce with a passion that you could sense miles away! It is almost as if he talks to them, tell them how they should express themselves, and they do listen to him with equal enthusiasm. Sadly, this is the kind of things you can’t transmit to others (a brigade, in this case), so sometimes people go to L’Arpège and ask what all the fuss about Passard is about. Make no mistake: when Passard cooks for you, it can be epic in emotions. On the human aspect, my favourite Chef has to be Guy Savoy. He is the Mahatma Ghandi of the restaurant world, a force tranquille, a universe of positive vibration, a first class human being. Everyone should always have a copy of his interview with Agents d’Entretiens.FR. Perhaps the most brilliant and inspiring interview that a Chef has ever delivered.
-The best food and travel reviewers? In my opinion, most citizens of the UK. They seem to have a genuine sense of very pertinent “freedom thinking” you seldomly see anywhere else. They are not afraid to call a cat a cat, and their humor is amazing.
-Why do you boycott the restaurants of Joel Robuchon, Guy Savoy, Alain Ducasse that are outside of France?
I do not boycott those. I just prefer enjoying things at their source.
-If you had the means, would you visit all existing widly known restaurants around the world?
No. I don’t believe in quantity as a decisive factor. If you do have a good palate, a sense for details, that is all that count. 25 yrs of dining or one second of it won’t make any difference if you are close minded, see no difference between what is good, great or excellent, and have no palate.
-Why do you refuse do dine with other food bloggers, or anyone related to the hobby? Because I want to be alone and make up my own opinion. It’s the purpose of my web site: my opinion of my experience. When I review a restaurant, I dine with people who have no interest in the matter. Because I want my companion to just enjoy his/her meal and me to just focus on what I think of what I am eating. I want to avoid any corruption of my own opinion of my own experience. When people start sharing opinions on the food at a table, it is fine. But most of the times, your own opinion is lost in others.
-The beauty of life? Being able to have different views under the same roof. I ensured that my own kids would not be stucked with what I like. I encouraged them to see elsewhere, not to stick to their dad’s prefs. And it worked: they do not like the music I like, they do not like the food I like. When they were small, I used to take a dish, perfect it as much as I could, and would ask them to find flaws in it. At some point, they had nothing to say anymore apart “but dad, it is as far as one can get in making this well”. And I would reply: “dig deeper! Find something! ” Rfaol! Also, another beauty of life: being surrounded by people which palate you value as exceptional: my wife, my mum. I am not saying this because they are close to me. My kids are close to me and yet what they find stunning does not fit with what I value as stunning. And that is fine. We are not obliged to have the same appreciation of things. And that does not mean they do not have an exceptional palate, they just have a different one from what I value as an exceptional one. A different exceptional one, Lol. But my Mum and wife’s judgement and tastes seem to have always matched with mine. And they do not care whether I am one of theirs: they “spit” the truth in my face when something does not please them.
-When did you realize that cooking was made for you? It is not for me, I am too impatient, too demanding with myself. For example, I will never serve a dish if I am not satisfied with it. I remember a tasting menu I once served at Christmas. My mum, an exceptional cook gifted with an equally exceptionally palate, tasted a specific item and told me that it was top. Ready to serve. I served it only 1 hour later, not satisfied with the results, only because it was not hitting the exact mouthfeel I wanted from it. The guests found me crazy. But that is me: it has to taste exactly the way I want it to taste. Whether you like the result or not, I do not care. But Iknow how I want it to taste, Lol. You can’t open a restaurant or cook with pleasure with such state of mind. But Yes, there once was a defining moment when I realized that I could please others too: it was years ago in France, in a very demanding countryside area. The cook was a friend but he was sick for 1 week. And he was sad that he could not serve his clientele for that long. So, I offered him to cook for that week with only one condition: serving just what I felt like serving. So, for one week there was that sign in front of the restaurant “pour toute la semaine, menu du jour selon l’inspiration du Chef”. Lol. And since I value only classic fares as worthy of the efforts I would put in my cooking, I did classic fares he usually had few time to do: slowly cooked ragouts, mijotés, etc. The kind of food I value as really top because virtually no one with decent cooking skills can miss them, but few can do outstanding ones, even at very high cooking levels. When I left, he phoned me and told me that now he was in big trouble: his customers wanted those fares i was cooking to feature on his menu. Lol. This is not to brag, just to make a point that it was a pleasure to see that all those efforts in trying to do things well paid of, especially in a corner of France that was that demanding.
-What is, to you, the current world’s best restaurant dish?
Subjectively, of course: Chef Eric Briffard’s Pithiviers (Le Cinq, Paris) . I wish I could go there everytime it’s available (they serve it in Oct/Nov? You need to verify with them). It is heaven, for me. But remember: it is not a light dish, naturally.
-Your current world’s top restaurant?
Again, subjectively. It is Eric Briffard’s Le Cinq in Paris
– Your last meal?
It just never happens as we want, Lol. Anyways, it is, in my hopes, any of the following: a stunningly grilled-spiny lobster, a mouthwatering steak. Or if it is at a restaurant table, then I’d go with Eric Briffard’s Pithiviers or a stand out ‘lièvre à la royale’ in Antonin Carême-style. Anyways, only the lord decides over those things. So let him feed me with whatever he deems necessary ;p
– Do you have a style?
I hope not since one of the reasons that led me to write about some of my dining experiences is just that: whenever I needed infos about where to go dining, I kept stumbling upon many reviews spending more time on style rather than pulling off what I needed.. So, my reviews, as imperfect as they stand, are at least what I want them to be: a correction of what I did not like in many other reviews. It is imperfect, but I do not care and I am happy with them since it is exactly what I wanted. But when people write to me, complaining that I have no style, what that tells me is that I have one, whether I like it or not, Lol. Because..sadly for me… that’s the definition of a style: it appears as unidentifiable..because it is like no other…thefore guess what..it is your own style. Regardless, I am not enthused at the idea of having a style and I do not want to have one. I did everything to have no style: I chose to not write in my mother tongue in which I have a literature degree, I’ve opted for a non-sellable / media-friendly format, I deliberately make no effort to embellish anything, so there is no reason to expect style where the purpose is obviously anti-style .
– You are a big fan of Perico Legasse, the food journalist of France’s magazine Marianne. Where do you part ways with him?
The question of food journalism is one piece of my long time aversion to food reviewing in general. Many food journalists think they are the hot stuff, based on sole restaurant write ups or books of recipes or making friends with cooks. The reality is that they are paid to create nothing, write about whatever most non remunerated individuals could have expressed, they are saving no life, and worst: they bring absolutely nothing! Ludicrous. So, when I found that Mr Légasse went beyond the usual ‘self-adulation through heavy penchant for stylish writing and other megalom symptoms ” of some of them, my eyes opened. I was impressed by his way of genuinely defending the notion of ‘terroir’. Many talk about those things such as ‘terroir’, but it’s usually wind. They talk about it a bit, here and there just to capt media attention whenever that serves them. But I have never seen someone so engaged, so tenacious about it. His battle against the EU’s protected designation of origin is epic. He is among the few fighting against the danger of loss of authenticity. He is not just a food journalist, he is a genuine activist and I can’t think of anyone else as involved as him in whatever he defends. Many are afraid of associating themselves with him as you will rarely see him referred on a food blog or other restaurant related web sites. That tells you a lot about the agenda of those people. It is the generic agenda, the agenda of the sameness, the ‘safe mode’s applause’. That said, I do not always agree with Perico, which is normal. For example, he is strongly against molecular cooking style. For me, all styles should co-exist next to each other. I am not a big fan of cooking that heavily relies on spectacular scientific experimentations neither, which does not mean that I can’t appreciate it, but it deserves to exist and be encouraged as cubism, fauvism, mannerism, baroque…all deserve to exist as eclectic forms of arts to be respected in their own ways.