Scanning Leslie Brenner's introduction last week, I wondered first if such a manifesto (outlining the new Dallas Morning News critic's rules of engagement) was truly necessary.
Then again, food writers at the daily take some rather unfair jabs on occasion from those compelled to flail away without, to paraphrase a Biblical character, first removing the log from their own eye. Every source of restaurant information--personal blogs, daily papers, magazines and even alternative weeklies--has flaws...although the real weaknesses are not always the ones noted by our detractors.
While I was still working in Europe, for example, I had an exchange with a blogger from Spain who assumed that pseudonymous web postings were more reliable than the words of professional critics--until, that is, he discovered that most critics operate according to ethical guidelines without regard to advertising and that some bloggers in his country had been discovered accepting freebies in exchange for positive "reviews."
As Brenner explained in her opening salvo (and let's hope her work builds into a barrage), critics visit anonymously. Although the advertising people would like us to play nice with their clients, we keep a distance from that side of the office. The paper reimburses us for restaurant visits, too--eliminating any value in a free meal.
Besides, most of us are curmudgeons who would happily blast our best friend's cookout, if it fell short.
The things troubling me lately have nothing to do with tried and true methods. Nothing to do with budget cutbacks, either. Four years ago I could slip in three visits to each restaurant without troubling our spending limits too much. Now that third trip is a tight (and sometimes unmanageable) squeeze.
Economic woes have caused me to ponder the value of ordering some of the same dishes on return visits--something easily accomplished when times were good. But that's an aside.
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My work becomes a production, with at least two other editors privileged to lists of upcoming restaurant visits: one responsible for ushering the correct column through production and the other for assigning and selecting photographs.
This is, normally, a smooth process. When I complete my final restaurant visit I forward to the photo a go-ahead. The photographer then calls whichever restaurant and makes arrangements. At least that's how it is supposed to happen. A few weeks ago, however, one of our photographers broke these rules, contacting a chef before I finished my work. Can't really tell you just how angry...hell, I don't even tell friends which place I'm reviewing next...
Anyway, Thursday's paper was to feature a review of The Grape. Instead, I ripped off three impromptu visits to Agave Azul, scratched the rest of the list and put in place a new system that ensures (hopefully) such a muck up never happens again.
Sorry--The Grape was pretty damn good.