What’s the big deal with the Mpls.St.Paul Mag Restaurant Rater?
It’s not the Rosetta Stone. It’s not an expository critique of a subjective experience. It’s a widget.
Do ratings matter?
Yes, for about five minutes and then you get to go back and un-FUBAR the walk in, vendor accounts, and brunoise a 20 lb. bag of carrots, thankfully. Everything I needed to know about ratings, I learned from the owner of Joe’s Garage. I had received some positive buzz in the papers and was content that our passion was connecting to the diners. Closing the kitchen that night, I walked up to the bar to see if they needed to place an order. He swiveled in his stool introducing himself. I was surprised; a guy like this wouldn’t even interview me before and now he knew my name. With a warm hand shake and wide smile he said, “I guess you’re the new hot chef, enjoy it while it lasts because it won’t and don’t believe your own press.” I was still holding his hand when he swiveled back and felt his smile dampen out. He was right, but I hadn’t wanted any of those things, and if that’s what good ratings get you, you can keep ‘em if it makes people ugly.
What every chef knows about certain restaurant critics:
- The Liars: I have had reviews where approximately 30 percent of food described was factually wrong to the point where ingredients, whole dishes, and wines listed were never on the menu.
- The Frame Up: They whittle you down to fit a predetermined slant, hijacking the identity of the chef or concept to fit their own narrative, what they need it to be.
- The No-Show: When the critics don’t even go to the restaurant but call friends in the field to get their opinion and rehash it as their own.
- The Avatars: When the critic so staunchly aligns with a restaurant or chef it defies common sense.
Is the ranking of restaurants with an alphabetical, numerical, or symbolical system a valid tool? Is the local Bell Curve fair?
Ask any woman at PricewaterhouseCoopers Dublin office and she’ll tell you, no. On a total package scale, I’m about a solid 6. I’m too short, nose too big, and I’ve gone swishy on the backside. However, when I lived in Anchorage, I was definitely an 8.5 because I can break down an elk into primal cuts and change the oil in my 1977 CJ-5 Jeep. Then again, in Paris, I was lowly 2; I have the opposite of model-esque savoir faire. Strangely, I have found a majority of men believe they’re an 8, regardless of how unattractive or dirtballish the reality is. Just check out Lord Fletchers on any Saturday night. So no, ratings are not fair or even valid; the only authority they have is propelling the majority of the collective conscious in one specific location. Categorizing and ranking is human, grading anything subjectively is unnatural. There is no culinary Absolute Standard, that's the best thing about the business. You know how chefs grade each other?
**** That Guy/Girl’s A BadAss
*** That Guy/Girl’s Cool
** Don’t Touch My Mise
No chef judges another against Escoffier all the time. We're much kinder in our use of a sliding scale: We still judge on a bell curve, but with great caution. That cook you want to call a hack today might just teach you something tomorrow.
Add the brandy, the sauce is percolating . . . tip, burst of flame, cook off alcohol, plate, start another . . . shit, I ran out of sauté pans. I bark, making my way down the line with a hot pan, "Behind! Chaud! Chaud!" announcing my way to the dish area. Hours later, in dry storage ferreting out a jar of brined peppercorns, I hear cooks chattering and laughing. They can’t see me for the u-shaped alcove, but I can hear them clearly, “Can you believe she says 'Show' every time she walks down the line. Show us what, what a bitch she is? What the hell is PPX? I’m not saying it.” I popped out, gave them the stink eye, and went back to my station. I ranted with perfect retorts in my head. Personne. Particulierement. Extraordinaire. The language of the kitchen is French, I wasn’t saying “show” I was saying “hot” in French because that's how I was trained. And for that matter, VIP is tacky, VIP is for nightclubs and travel perks, not fine dining.
The worst part was that they didn’t say it to my face; I had never had that happen before in a kitchen. I was used to people directly telling me what they thought, for everyone else to hear and chime in. A ritual hazing (semi-joking, semi-serious) but it’s how I knew I was in the tribe. I had no tribe here Minnesota. I was outside looking in on a culture chasm that was too far to bridge. It was war, I was right, and they could all kiss my Heinz 57 hiney. White, passive aggressive, corny farm boys that came in two flavors: German or Nordic. I was too loud, too weird, too opinionated, too crazy, too everything. I was in upside down world, surely they could see how Minnesota ranked on the global culinary map and this frozen glacier deserved a little ribbing. They did not find my ways endearing and over the past decade Minnesota and I have come to a better understanding and we have both changed enough to make it work.
Was the Heartland review serious?
I like the man’s food, enjoy his blog, but don’t always agree with him, that’s why I read it. I really thought his review was legit. He states it was a sardonic device, a catalyst for honest conversation. I didn’t get the joke, but then again some sub-licenses are wasted on me. Moreover, I do appreciate the brass tacks it takes to tell your own truth, out loud, and attaching your name to it.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly . . . Who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.” -- Theodore Roosevelt