As part of the eternal debate that rages between restaurateurs and critics, Ruth Reichl, current editor of Gourmet and former chief restaurant critic for the New York Times, and Drew Nieporent, the one and only, sat down this weekend at the Gourmet Institute to discuss such matters as Mimi Sheraton, Zagat and a gentleman named "Benson." For the critic's part, she reiterated, "the ultimate responsibility is to the readers. Our goal is to get readers, not to get customers for your restaurant." As for Drew, he was predictably quotable.
Drew: "Ruth's husband is a huge pain in the ass. He's always whispering in her ear: Don't you think this is rather salty, Ruth?:" [Ruth: "My husband knows nothing about food."]
Drew, regarding the power of the Times: "Even if you know the critic is coming, there's only so much you can pre-ordain. The food is going to be what it is. Of course, you do everything you can. I don't want to wake up one day and read mine own obituary."
Drew: "Zagat is hugely powerful. But talk about a shill."
Drew, quoting Mimi Sheraton, on where to draw the line when reviewing: "It's okay to slap someone in the face, just don't cut him with your ring in the process."
The discussion also yielded two additional choice bits. First, the story of Drew's days as a captain at La Grenouille and Bryan Miller, then the Times critic, being made in his restaurant under the name "Benson." When the time came a short while later for Drew's first restaurant, Montrachet, to get reviewed, by Miller, he again made a resy under the name Benson—and the restaurant was waiting. Seated at table 2, Drew's mom; table 3, Benson; table four, enthusiastic friends of the house. The restaurant would get a whopping three stars. No bad for a 29 year old first time restaurateur.
Second, there exists a 12-page dossier on Reichl's days as a critic, listing her likes and dislikes, quirks, even the complete statistics on her review distribution. While these documents, long, in-depth strategy reports on how to beat the critics, generally are under lock and key in Jennifer Baum's top desk drawer, this one seems a small bit more available. We're working the back channels on getting a copy out to you.
· The Gourmet Institute [official site]