Just when you thought we were finally past the time where Chef John Tesar and Dallas Morning News food critic Leslie Brenner were at each other's throats in the media, the story picks up steam from one of the country's most respected journalistic institutions.
Yesterday, the Washington Post's Tim Carman profiled the controversy surrounding Leslie Brenner, and her most vocal critics. John Tesar, Shannon Wynn, and the brains behind Misery Loves Company, Michael Martensen and Sal Jafar II, all offered their input on Brenner, which is really nothing new for those of us who have been following the saga since that infamous first dinner at Proof + Pantry. All parties insist that their criticism is not of Brenner, but of her star rating system that is confusing to diners and provides no real insight into the quality of a restaurant and its service. Except for John Tesar, maybe.
The Post also reported that these chefs and restaurateurs would be publicly organizing against being reviewed by any critic from the Dallas Morning News. Wynn, Martensen, Jafar, and Tesar plan to make a public statement against the paper in a more in-your-face way than ever, by adding "DMN Doesn't Pay Here" stickers to their windows and menus. More than that, they've also each been tasked with recruiting other restaurants to join their cause.
This key component, though, could very well be the the sticking point of this crusade, if only because most chefs and restaurateurs in Dallas have demonstrated that they just aren't interested in fighting with the city's most influential critic. As Carman notes, the Stephan Pyles and Kent Rathbuns of Dallas are keeping mum on the situation altogether. Whatever your feelings about Leslie Brenner, even the chefs who despise her have to acknowledge that she holds serious sway, both with the diners who read her reviews in the Morning News, and with national publications when they turn their eyes toward Dallas.
Carman also notes that attempts to oust critics in other cities quickly lost steam, a fact that Wynne and his comrades should closely consider. "In 2010, the owner of Red Medicine booted Los Angeles Times critic S. Irene Virbila from his modern Vietnamese restaurant, hoping others would follow the lead," writes Carman. "They didn't. About 15 years ago, a Bay Area chef tried to round up some peers to get San Francisco Chronicle critic Michael Bauer fired. It went nowhere."
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Martensen, Tesar, and Wynn certainly have some big names behind their "movement," but whether or not even several of the city's biggest chefs and restaurateurs will be willing to publicly denounce the critic and ban her from their restaurants remains to be seen. In the meantime, though, there's no doubt that each of these restaurateurs is surely appreciating the boost in business that's come from near constant coverage of a feud that may well end up being all for naught if the Dallas Morning News keeps its star rating system intact.