A New York Times review may not have the same effect that it used to, but it's still a powerful call to attention for a restaurant, whether it warns people away, or builds up their excitement for dining there. So it's interesting when possible, to get the reaction of a chef immediately after their restaurant has been reviewed. Was the review fair? Was it useful? Did the reviewer point out anything the chef hadn't previously noticed? Are there any dishes the chef would change, or ideas noted that will be implemented post-review? In this brief interview with Chef Amanda Cohen of the special East Village vegetarian restaurant Dirt Candy, a sliver of a spot on East Ninth Street between First Avenue and Avenue A, the chef reacts to Pete Wells' recent two-star review of her restaurant, spills on her tactics for identifying food critics at work, and shares some thoughts on the questions above.
Do you think the review of Dirt Candy was fair?
I got two stars. I’m not complaining!
Is there anything you would take issue with?
No, I mean, this is what I want in a review. Someone who comes more than once and tries to see what I want to accomplish with the restaurant and then evaluates how I’m doing at accomplishing it.
What tactics have you used to identify critics, if any?
I take a blood sample from all my customers and subject it to rigorous lab analysis while they eat. Little known fact: the blood of critics reacts strongly to acids, so it’s an easy test to apply.
Getting reviewed can obviously be a boon or a boondoggle — what's the most difficult thing about getting a review from The New York Times?
The hardest thing about this review was knowing it was coming. The first time you hear that you’re getting a review from The New York Times is when the art department calls and schedules a photo shoot. I’ve been swamped this fall doing publicity for the cookbook and trying to train a new line cook and replace a server, so I panicked when I got that call. I felt like I just hadn’t had my head in the game as much as I should have in September and early October because so much was going on (but it’s a tribute to my staff that my schedule didn’t have a negative impact on the restaurant).
The photographer comes and I can’t sleep for five days knowing the review is going to drop and Wednesday comes and…it’s a review for M. Wells Dinette. I was living with so much stress I thought my head was going to explode. Our review came out the following week but it was a tough wait. I know chefs are supposed to be all cool and not care about things like this, but I’ve put my heart and soul into Dirt Candy for so many years and The New York Times review is huge.