FAQ + Learn to know your food reviewer

Posted: December 26, 2010 in Uncategorized
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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 his/her  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.

 

Let’s conclude on a straightforward Q&A’s in order for you to better read/interpret/understand my restaurant evaluations:

Why anonymous? Because guess what…a normal diner has always been anonymous, not a fame-seeker, not a celebrity. I am interested by the dining experience that any normal diner has a chance to partake in, not one where the normal cooking and experience is adjusted because you are recognized….good for those taking advantage of such situations, but it is irrelevant for someone like me who wants to know how things are happening in normal conditions.

In a world where most would not shy away from a moment of fame and freebies, why are you taking the opposite route? Indeed, most would prefer fame and freebies and I wish I was like that as it would make my life certainly easier in the relevant aspects (less money to spend, better food as I’d essentially attend PR related meals with all the bells and whistles that come along, etc).  But then, that would not be me. Things like those do boil down to who you are as a person, how you view life, how you were brought up. I take no pleasure in benefitting from privileges and attention, I am a giver, not a taker so right there it’s easy to understand how freebies and fame are useless notions for me. At best, I can appreciate that they are useful to others.

Marco Pierre White once decried the fact that he was assessed by people who knew less than him
Marco could afford saying that kind of stupid thing because he was a true great Chef. I say stupid because it is always stupid to try to shutdown the voice of others when you are living in a democracy full of grown men and women … NOT  in a banana republic. I say stupid because how can he know that those who are assessing his food are not better than him. It is not because you think you are right, that others are not! I say stupid because there is obviously a difference between doing the work of a critic and doing the work he is talking. When Marco reads the critic of a movie, does he expect the critic to be as good as the actors in the movie? I know people try all sorts of tactics to discourage views that are not favorable to themselves, but that logic of criticizing the assessment of a critic is infantile at best. That said 90% of the restaurants of this globe do have kitchen brigades that cooks average food that is inferior to what most can cook at home.

 

Any problem with those seeking fame? Nope. It is their rights. If you want to use food blogging to make a name in the food industry and build your career, or make friends, or standing as the cool kid of the block, why not? It is your right. But obviously, I am not going to get the ‘right time’ with  what you are communicating .

In regards to your blog, what achievement are you the most proud of? Many, not all, but most …have hard time distancing themselves from emotional aspects. For eg, if the restaurant is very famous, they look forward to put it down at the first opportunity. If it’s pricey, same thing. If they have been to a fancy modern restaurant that have impressed them, the next classic restaurant they will visit will pass as subpar, not because it is subpar but because they are mixing up emotions with rationality. One of the very first reasons that brought me into food blogging was to keep that  in check, to control it. So, I work hard in focusing on what is on my plate regardless of trends, buzz, opinions,etc. This is the kind of thing that will never be apparent to the most, but what matters is that I am proud to have achieved the impossible: when a meal is bad, it is bad and I will say it but I know deep inside of me that it is bad because I found it bad, not because of superfluous reasons. When it is great, same thing.

What’s the thinking behind this blog? All my personal initiatives (meaning initiatives on which I have full control) follow this attern -> I look at what already exist, observe what I (subjectively) perceive as missing  and start building upon such observation. It’s not meant to purposely play the role of the “outsider” for the pleasure of it, that is not the intent. The intent is to broaden my horizon  with varied perspectives. If most foodies are writing diairies or simply posting pics of their meals, I respect that, but I find interesting, for me at least, to bring more. So I rate my meal, I try my best to either be  concise or, to the contrary, to enrich my opinion with more than what is usually found. I see most people making friends and I say “oh, let’s see how things will fare, in the restaurant world, without…“. I go to some restaurants where there are restrictions to normal diners, but that is not mentioned anywhere else, so I mention them because I want normal diners to know what awaits. I see people writing about what’s basically a private restaurant and I think “this does not cater to the normal diner that I am, so NO, I won’t write about such place”. I see people writing in their mother tongue and I say “omg, good for them, I respect that, but that is too comfort zone for me”.   It might not be perfect as it’s the nature of virtually everything, but it’s the way I view things.

-Your blog is designed to remain an “underground” foodie souce. Aren’t you afraid that it remains “anonymous”?

It will be popular, at some point. I do not not know when, but it will be. Because people are “never  satisfied” by nature. They like what is popular, indeed, but at some point they get used to that and want the opposite of … just that, lol! And a real Chef with a head on his shoulders, do you really think he is naive enough to believe that he can thrive on the back of opinions about how great things are?? Lol.  It would be naive to think that it is the case. He won’t reveal it to the world, for sure, but he will, secretely, look for opinions like the ones you find on “underground” blogs like mine.

There is an educational dimension to your blog? Why is that?
I think it is important. I see many people going to restaurants with unrealistic expectations and that is because of the lack of information on what to expect when dining out. Even myself, I sometimes forget that restaurants are manned by human beings. The other day, a friend had to remind me that it was naive from my part to expect some restaurateurs to maintain a high level of cooking performance if there is no incentive. So true. What biped would be motivated to cook well on a consistently basis with no incentive?
I know, the incentive is supposed to be the money you are paying for your meal, but the average biped does not “walk” that way. You paying for your meal…that, they take it for granted.

-How difficult was that, for you, to decide sharing about your foodie adventures?  For someone who comes from very humble backgrounds like me, the hardest part was to learn to respect the other foodies out there. When you were born in a fishermen village and have spent your childhood extracting the most out of a simple piece of fresh fish, you tend to lack respect to ppl who seem to run without having learned to walk. In the beginning, reading things like ‘the squid was excellent because it was tender’ or the ‘abalone was the finest because it was melt in your mouth tender’…and that ‘this squid or that abalone was bad because I’ve eaten more tender versions of it’ ..reading that kind of crap was really frustrating for me. I kept saying to myself “how come they pretend they like something and they do not even bother  finding out, at the source, about how a fresh piece of abalone or squid looks/smells/feels   in its ””just-snatched from floor of the-sea” condition.  And those folks kept feeding my sarcasm: some having half of the vegetables and meats featuring among ” things they do not like”, others rushing to restaurants with no clue of how the restaurant operates (you know, the famous ”the portions are too small”….at a gourmet restaurant..c’mon!!!!!!!!!!), some expecting bistrot ambience at gourmet restaurants, others comparing low level cooking skills to top level ones only because they have no clue of the efforts and true technical depth that sets apart the great from the just ok, ..in a nutshell, a collection  of complete mess.   With time I learned to respect those ppl, understanding that they are still  entitled to their opinion with or without proper knowledge of what they are talking about.

What do you think about cooks who suggest that they could not care about critics and opinions? That they work only for their customers? I doubt those cooks would like the opposite scenario of no one talking/caring about their work. And what’s a critic? Guess what..he’s a customer. He is just sharing his opinion about what he has enjoyed. Exactly as any other customer would do, unless those cooks consider ‘customers’ as those who are not entitled to an opinion.  Spitting on a ‘sea of free advertisement’ (that’s basically what we, food bloggers, are; that is basically what food journalism is, too) provided by  people paying with their hard earned money, that is everything you want except brilliance.  Clearly,  suggesting that you could not care about critics is a plain stupid declaration.

Is that true that the restaurant world manipulates the food blogging scene? Life is a manipulation. Virtually everything is a manipulation.  Take my own  blog:  I believe in what I do, which means assessing my food from the perspective of a normal diner paying for his food and rejecting  ‘ fame through food blogging’ as any normal diner should, but at the end of the count it is still manipulation as in the concerned situation, I am manipulated by my belief that this is the right thing to do.  So, I do not care about manipulation. All I am asking the restaurant world is to remember that normal diners (which count  for the majority of their clientele)  are paying to enjoy  good food, and they (the restaurateurs) are paid to deliver it.

-What do you say to people who finds reviews of food to be exxagerated? By nature, an opinion is an exxageration because it is a perception. You are basically saying what you think of what you’ve  perceived as facts. An opinion about someone else’s opinion is a double exxageration because you are not even talking about your perception of facts, you are talking about what others have perceived.

Why do you rarely state that  this or that restaurant deserves this or that X award/rating, etc? There’s a huge difference between people who have cooked for a long time (like me) Vs those who are judging the restaurant world with no experience in a kitchen. A huge one, and that is not a reproach, that is not to elect one opinion as better as another, not at all, that is  just an observation. People who have cooked since a long time tend to be very careful about comparisons. They wait and wait and wait until they gather lots of evidence / material before risking comparisons, because they know that what most are basically doing is judging tastes/opinions of others but that beyond that, there are so many factors that only them have experienced with (mood of the cook, produce that is one day great, another day impossible to get, etc). Those who are not sensibilized to those realities judge hastily as you and I would judge anything we are not that knowledgeable about. At the end of the day, everybody is entitled to an opinion and it’s up to their respective audience to do the rest.

The problem with most diners, nowadays? They should consider dining  out only upon ensuring that  they are  really familiar with the type of cooking offered at the restaurant where they are heading, as well as the true purpose of that restaurant.  You hurt both your wallet and your intelligence when you dine out with ignorance at the core of your actions/judgements and you can’t hide that:  if you go to a bistrot expecting fine dining, if you are eating a properly well executed classic dish but you were expecting, without knowing it, sparks of modern cooking, you really sound as stupid as those who go to the sea and can’t stand water. Ask  aunts, uncles,  grandmas/grandpas, people familiar with textures and tastes of past generations cooking  to cook /show you/educate your palate  about the classic dishes you are interested to try at the restaurant, then your opinions will have better substance. But do not go to a restaurant simply because it is highly regarded by others. Before expecting something to be great, you should first know what you like, if what you like is really something you are familiar with/have understood/appreciated to greater extent.  I love food, have familiarized my palate with food from all around the globe, from various generations, and yet there are food of which I give no opinion (for eg Russian, Romania cuisines), food that I do not assess because they have either flavors that are acquired taste for my palate or simply because I am not fully familiar with all its nuances. I can’t judge that because I have no real reference, no real experience, no real knowledge with that sort of food.   Once you know, you’ll really know what is bad and what is really good, or else you are making a fool of your ownself.

Did you experience with restaurants that you suspect of offering fake dining experiences? Fortunately, they do not abound but YES, I know of some restaurants that can’t be serious at what they do. I always give them 2 to 3 tries, just to make sure that it’s not my mind playing tricks, but you feel that kind of things right from the 1st visit…you feel it  when a restaurant has nothing to do with what you’ve read in the  reviews…they tend to  keep  having nothing to do with what is reported online even after a 2nd, even a 3rd visit…you know right away that is a fake restaurant, dispatching its better cooking staff when a food journalist is dining in the house but not capable to deliver consistently.

Is it true that they segregate diners at most restaurants, for eg the better looking ppl are provided with the best seats, etc – Many restaurants do that. But that does not bother me at all as it’s the food that matters to me.  If your food is bad and you segregate diners on top of that, then you  are a dump!

Do you care about criticisms over food bloggers? No, I can’t care about that.  I”ll politely listen, of course as I have always believed in freedom of thought. My own kid, my relatives, they are actually my harshest critics. Kids have ‘no filter’, they say the truth and my kid’s criticism would make a grown man cry, lol. But here’s the thing: for me, there are times for caring about criticisms. Again, if you want to be a celebrity food blogger, if you want to find a window of  opportunity in this industry, of course you need to care about what people think. But not every people are  interested to approach the foodie world as an opportunity to make a buck and I am genuinely one of those. Listen, when I first decided to launch my food blog, a foodie friend urged me to first read  couple of  very popular food blogs. Indeed, they had all it takes to be very popular: all well written as their  authors are writing in their mother tongue, using a very ‘magazine-like” writing style,  so clearly operating in their comfort zone and caring about the image/packaging of their craft.  Most showing no restraint in the use of the usual  bells and whistles: stunning pics, amazing web page layout, etc. But three observations jumped to my attention:  (1)I found that many of those had a ‘static palate” or take their palates ‘for granted’.  Exempli gratia, they do not like something in X period of time, and would still not like it 3,5 years later.  I can understand that there can be 1 or two flavors that are acquired tastes and if you do not like it, well you don’t and it’s correct that it reflects on your assessment   BUT it’s a   problem when no effort is made to better understand food we did not like in the first place. When I do not like something, I am still curious: I go back to the people who know that taste  and I try to understand what it is about. What appeals to them? I have no clue if that will make the food better next time I’ll try it, but as someone who pretends to like food, I do at least try to understand what does not seem to be to my liking. I suspect most do not do that…which is nonsensical  if you say you like food. (2) most had authors who have many ingredients they did not like. It’s Ok not to like couple of ingredients, but when your list of undesirable  ingredients covers almost 30% of what nature is delivering, well…I am sorry but you can’t call yourself ‘someone who loves food’.  (3)They seemed to find certain sort of cuisine superior to others. For eg, they were capable of identifying the lows and the benchmark in X type of cuisine, but just lows and just the good, never the benchmarks, in others. That I cannot  understand: how on earth, do you pretend to like food and yet you show some restraint in your assessment of certain types of food. How on earth do you pretend loving food, are able to identify a benchmark dish in French cooking, to take an example,  but you can’t do the same in African or Haitian or Thai cuisine? How? This is actually a classic problem: many people can’t judge food in its context. They have to judge it in relation to irrelevant aspects: for eg, they judge Thai food on the basis of  the realities of french cooking. They do even worst than that: they judge a Pizza in X place in relation to a Pizza in Y place, obviously ignoring plenty of important elements: water is not the same, flour not the same, the clientele (so the palate of the people eating the pizzas) not the same at all at  both locations.  That’s beyond comprehension, for me. Of course this whole thing is subjective, but you should still be able to identify what’s a benchmark, in your own subjective opinion,  if you are confident about identifying the lows. I went back to my foodie friend who was in shock that I’d decide to not write in my mother tongue (French), ditch the popular stuff and just stick to what I deemed necessary to focus on:  appreciating food as a normal diner, without the need to perceive it as a trend, and with as much effort I can deploy in assessing it the most accurate way possible within its glorious subjectiveness. Again, it’s imperfect as anything operated by human beings, certainly utterly boring to some, obviously not the cool/right way if you want to make friends in the foodie world, but it has at least the merit to be what it is, whick means sticking to its own identity/purpose  rather than ‘morphing’ into  what others want it to be.

What are the funniest things you heard about food blogging?
Many things, but one that is laughable is when ppl tell you that you are copying someone else’s writing style. Give me a break: writing and talking is not the private property of anyone in particular. You can tell me that I am copying X, and trust me that if I focus on the matter, it won’t take be long to prove you that X is copying Y, Lol. And we can go and on, endlessly, at  that game.    I mean, there are more than 6 billions of bipeds on this planet, and planet earth was not discovered few days ago, Lol…so I am not naïve enough to start believing that there are ppl out there who are inventing anything new in this time and age? Bottom line, I write the way I want and if some are not happy with it, that is their problem.

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.

How do you react when something you found great is perceived as not that great by someone else? There’s no reaction to have. Just means you have different tastes.

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.

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. That should not be an excuse for restaurateurs to refuse to live in peace with the notion of freedom of speech.

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!

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 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.

-A good Chef? One who has a good palate and who won’t serve you a dish he would not pay for.

-A bad Chef? The opposite of my definition of a good Chef ;p

-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.

Montreal is the city which restaurants you know the most. To you, how does Montreal fare on the International restaurant  scene? Montreal is an amazing city, full of great things such as a cultural and artisitic scene of world class standard.  BUT the food at its restaurants, though  generally not bad, remains  a world away from  this globe’s finest food cities. There are, currently in Montreal, only 5 to 6 Chefs of whom I can safely say that they have the proper skills and discipline to really shine in any of this globe’s best dining cities. But that’s over 6000 cooks and more! So, for now, Montreal is clearly an overrated dining city.  Montreal restaurant scene will never compete with the finest food scenes abroad as long as they overlook true skills, which is essentially what  has been the problem up to now:  the rare times I stumbled upon a world class Chef, in Montreal, he/she either had to leave the city or lower his/her standards. There have been some few of those exceptional  Chefs who did insist on maintaining  their standards high, but their dining room is oftently empty. So most inevitably opt for the easy way around, cooking what sells most (simple bistrot fares, etc) and they are not to be blamed. They have mouths to feed as anyone else.

-Your biggest disappointment about the Montreal restaurant scene? The usual problem  you see everywhere else: some  brilliant Chefs  who lost the passion of the craft, lacked discipline, got the big head, fooled themselves into believing that they are stars,  and are now performing the role of restaurateurs who can’t seriously deliver. That is the problem when you can’t bother learning to walk and are already busy running. Those folks   think they are Alain Ducasse / Joel Robuchon / Gordon Ramsey, but they are nowhere near. Ducasse, Robuchon and Ramsey are nowadays restaurateurs, it is a fact, but they went through long years of rigorous learning, and mastery of what they wanted to offer to their customers, they know exactly what they are doing. Consequently, People working for Ducasse, Robuchon and Ramsey are very serious, very talented, highly reliable. Which is rarely the case of most of those ex-brilliant Montreal Chefs who were lured into turning hastily into restaurateurs (most  have poorly skilled cooks / brigades working for them ). The other major problem of the Montreal restaurant scene are the prices (in relation to what’s offered):  in Montreal, a starter of  pan sear foie gras will cost you, in general, in between $15 to $25 (which means in between eur 10 to eur 17). In comparison, a piece of foie gras of that same size would cost you less that 5 euros in San Sebastian. In that 5 euros, do not be surprise if a free glass of wine (Txakoli) is included. In Montreal, your glass of wine may vary in between $10 to $15 on average.To make matters worst, during my stay of 2 weeks in San Sebastian, I have eaten foie gras at least a dozen of time and 99% of what I was eating was always perfectly cooked and featured dazzling livery flavour. In comparison, if I take the 15 years of dining in Montreal, I’d be generous if I’d tell you that 50% of all foie gras dishes I had in town matched what I had in San Sebastian. We are talking about something as very basic as pan sear foie gras here. I know some people are busy selling Montreal as a great food city on par with this world’s best food cities, but I think that is a huge mistake as this simple comparison between Montreal and a true food city like San Sebastian demonstrates . Again, the food is generally not bad at all, in Montreal, and there are indeed couple of world class Chefs and restaurants, but we need to be rational:  the reality is that we are a world away from this globe’s finest food cities where world class Chefs can’t just be counted on the fingers on one hand (the case of Montreal’s current food scene).

-When you know the restaurant scene of a city, Montreal in your case, is is tempting to mock those who are lured to believe that they’ve tried the best of your city while you know well that they are delusional? No, that would be a mistake. When you do not know a place, you tend to follow what’s best sold to you. Since  what’s best sold does not always mean that it’s what’s best done, most people will somewhat be inaccurate in their assessment. We all are victims of that situation. Even when you use caution: for eg, when I visit a new city, I pick 2 tables recommended by the usual  advertisements for tourists, 2 tables from the network of local foodies that I’d approach, then 2 based on online reviews I believe to be trustworthy. And yet, it is not a perfect process at all. The only thing that I avoid is to listen to celebrities: they seem to uniformly appreciate everything. Which is fine, and I wish things were like that, I too would love to believe that everything is positive, but that is unfortunately far from being realistic. Mind you, it is rare that a restaurant would treat a normal diner the same way they would treat a celebrity, so right there it’s useless for me to know what a celebrity thinks about a restaurant.

Your blog’s name refer to your meals at Michelin star restaurants and yet you also have posts not related to your Michelin star’s experiences. Also, the blog name does  not sound ‘trendy’ at all.
It is my way of saying that when I have control over something, then my modus operandi is to  say ”enough of trends’!  Enough  with the preformatted / linear thinking! If the title of a blog bothers you, then all you care about is the shape and looks of the container, nothing more.

Talking about trends, do you understand the voices of those who argue that haute dining is generally intimidating, too stuffy to be enjoyable. It depends on what you expect from a restaurant. The only expectation that I have over haute dining is a certain level of cooking brilliance, meaning a touch/ a depth of flavor/technique/craftmanship that is not ordinary. Therefore, when I go to a haute dining venture and the cooking has no depth, that it stands as  ordinary as everyone else would have cooked at lesser restaurant levels, then I am frustrated and I will perceive the  relevant haute dining experience as worthless. Sadly,that happens a lot at plenty of haute dining ventures because many restaurants are busy selling concepts rather than delivering great food: for example, it is sometimes trendy to try to impress the diners with concepts like ‘cuisine à quatre mains’ (four-handed cooking). For someone, like me, for whom the finest cooking should be about a highly skilled Chef expressing his personal touch, four-handed cooking is a laughable concept. But many people buy into that, so you get the sort of ‘impersonal’ cooking (meaning food that 100 of other cooks could have delivered) that is generally found at most fine dining restaurants. Unless there is a personal touch on display (for eg, the Santini family at Dal Pescatore, Bernard Pacaud when he was still active behind his stoves at L’Ambroisie), haute dining remains,  for me,  generally worthless. Affordable  food that tastes great and that is enjoyed in lively  environments will always be a safer bet (compared to haute dining).

The reaction of the readers of a blog can surprise, sometimes. Some examples in your case? True, there’s no way, oftently,  to take people’s reactions for granted. The reaction to my review on Montreal steaks and steakhouses have surprised me. It’s a post that I did not expect to be that popular. There’s nothing special about that post and reviewing steak is like reviewing colors. There’s rarely a bad steak. There are just  ones we prefer. And there’s nothing special, neither, about making a steak.  My reviews are meant primarily for friends, relatives (one reason I want to enjoy the experience as any normal diner), and in the process, I am just sharing them with the rest. So, when I saw the popularity of that post, I was lost. I did my best to remind th ereaders of that post  that this is subjective as they should know better, that it’s virtually  not about  bad or good steaks, but steaks that get close or distance themselves from what we perceive as our favourite steaks.  On the other hand, there are stellar Chefs giving their 100% and that I enthusiastically wrote about but most readers  did not bother.  Such is life, lol.

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 to 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.

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: I am a huge fan of French classic cooking, so I’ll go with  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 and relatively to what I like the most, French cooking:  It is Eric Briffard’s  Le Cinq in Paris.

Your last meal?
It just never happens the way  we want it, 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.

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