Top Chefs Review — and Rate — America's Food Critics from Top Chefs Review — and Rate — America's Food Critics

Top Chefs Review — and Rate — America's Food Critics

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Top Chefs Review — and Rate — America's Food Critics
Ravi Bangaroo

Top Chefs Review — and Rate — America's Food Critics

In 2012, we had the idea to devise a way for prominent chefs and restaurateurs to turn the tables on restaurant critics and food writers. Chefs don’t lack venues for self-expression, nor is their profession replete with wallflowers; perhaps more than ever, many chefs feel more empowered these days to speak out and fight back in the face of what they perceive to be uninformed restaurant criticism.

Take for example the 2014 battles between Dallas Morning News’ restaurant critic Leslie Brenner and local chefs. Despite the fact that chefs are talking back, while reviewers use bells, beans, and stars to codify restaurant experiences, there hadn't been a system for rating them. With that in mind, we created a scorecard for chefs, and are publishing here their third annual rating — and were their knives ever sharp.

#28 Craig Laban, Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia)
Plate No String

#28 Craig Laban, Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia)

Chefs weren’t generous with stars or gripes when it came to Philadelphia Inquirer critic Craig Laban, but were charitable with comments, calling the 16-year tenured critic, “An oasis in a sea of no-print journalism.” As for his score, since he aims to equal his predecessor Elaine Tait's 35 year-term, Laban can take a long view.

Twitter: @CraigLaBan
Culinary Knowledge:
1.71 stars, 28th place (2013: 2.57, 13th)
Prose Style:
1.83 stars, 28th (2013: 1.6, 21st)
Integrity:
2 stars, 19th (2013: 2.29, 15th)
Like to Share a Meal? 
1.4 stars, 27th (2013: 2.25, 17th)
OVERALL: 1.74 stars, 28th place (2013: 2.18, 18th)

#27 Stan Sagner, Daily News (New York City)
Twitter/Stan Sagner

#27 Stan Sagner, Daily News (New York City)

Along with critic Michael Kaminer (not reviewed), Stan Sagner has been covering restaurants every other week for the Daily News since it rebooted its restaurant criticism in 2012. (It had let go its full-time critic, “Restaurant Girl” Danyelle Freeman, in 2009.) Sagner has been quiet online since mid-November, but chefs commended his “solid writing style and middle-of-the-road preferences.” Said one, “His negative reviews are non-threatening.”

Twitter: @ssagner
Culinary Knowledge:
1.8 stars, 27th place 
Prose Style:
2.5 stars, 20th 
Integrity:
2 stars, 20th
Like to Share a Meal? 
1.25 stars, 28th
OVERALL:
1.89 stars, 27th place 

 

#26 Leslie Brenner, Dallas Morning News
Twitter/Leslie Brenner

#26 Leslie Brenner, Dallas Morning News

Normally, a critic shedding anonymity would be enough to make a year eventful, but that was just one episode in Dallas Morning News reviewer Leslie Brenner's big 2014.

One restaurant refused her money to try to create an ethical dilemma for her and prevent a review, a group of restaurants tried the same tactic, she skirmished with one of the state’s best-known chefs, and, just after giving up anonymity, she reviewed a restaurant while dressed as a mummy. With one of her final 2014 pieces kicking off, “It hasn’t exactly been a year of tremendous invention and creativity on the Dallas dining scene,” isn’t in the business to make friends in 2015.

Brenner’s score (her first showing) reflected the animosity many Texas chefs felt for her. And their comments weren’t much friendlier. Of her knowledge, one called Brenner a “Self-proclaimed foodie with very little real food knowledge; she is mostly a wine geek." That opinion was echoed in another’s take on her prose: “A mean-spirited, bad writer.” Integrity? “Self-serving and corrupt,” a chef accused. One, on the subject of sharing a meal, put it perhaps most simply: “F$%& her.”

Twitter: @lesbren
Culinary Knowledge:
1.86 stars, 26th place
Prose Style:
2.33 stars, 22nd
Integrity:
1.86 stars, 24th
Like to Share a Meal? 
1.57 stars, 26th
OVERALL:
1.91 stars, 26th place 

#25 Brad A. Johnson, Orange County Register (L.A.)
GSN

#25 Brad A. Johnson, Orange County Register (L.A.)

After years voting him America’s least-celebrated food writer (1.7 stars in 2012, and 1.6 in 2013), chefs seem to feel kinder towards Brad A. Johnson. His scores rose in all categories but one: perceived integrity. In the past, they've at least given his prose a nod (“That’s his better strength”) and called him, “a better travel writer than a food writer," advising, "Needs to learn about food and substance, and then include them in his reviews."

This year, chefs let votes speak for their take on a critic who the local press has criticized for lacking priorities (like focusing on the quality of fries in Mexican restaurants), and for not paying attention to restaurants within the geographic area perceived to be his beat. Part of the reason for that seems to be the one-time self-proclaimed "best food critic in America and worldwide” expanding his purview in the quest to bulk up the Los Angeles Register’s food coverage.

In a wine-glass-half-empty world, one could argue, despite Johnson’s climb up from the bottom, chefs’ lack of commentary reflects his national relevance. One could also point to his 1.62 stars in 2013 as the all-time low for this survey.

Twitter: @bradajohnson
Culinary Knowledge:
2.17 stars, 22nd (2013: 1.71, 21st; 2012: 1.86, 20th)
Prose Style:
3 stars, 4th (2013: 1.6, 21st; 2012: 2, 19th)
Integrity:
1 star, 28th (2013: 1.6 stars, 20th; 2012: 2 stars, 19th)
Like to Share a Meal? 
2 stars, 20th (2013: 1.57, 21st; 2012: 1.42, 19th)
OVERALL:
2.04 stars, 25th place (2013: 1.62, 22nd; 1.74, 20th)

#24 Steve Cuozzo, New York Post
Institute of Culinary Education

#24 Steve Cuozzo, New York Post

In his first year reviewed by chefs, New York Post critic Steve Cuozzo (who doubles as its commercial real estate columnist) was one of the most negatively reviewed and commented-on writers. He fell three places overall, while raising from 1.77 to 2.08 stars. What didn’t change? Chefs have choice comments about him.

Among the most numerous were comments accusing Cuozzo of classism and questions about audience. “I feel like this guy writes for people who don't take the subway,” mused one chef. “Past his prime and doesn’t stay with current trends,” said another, who was echoed by two others, one who said, “Outdated.”

The most interesting thing about chefs’ opinions is that, while they don’t always like him (“Possibly the biggest d!#k in the business”), they’ve been very specific (“Does not like salt in bowls — he needs a shaker”), complimented him (“He has been unfailingly cordial”), and never failed to give him his due. “He understands restaurants,” said one, “I love that he is not afraid to love a traditional restaurant. He looks for great food and value, he looks at the restaurant as a whole — I really like his writing. And I like that he books under his own name and still writes an honest review.”

In the end, many comments reflected a 24th-place finish. “Very New York, straightforward and blunt, with a twisted sense of humor,” said one of his prose (in a way some Gothamites might take as a compliment). “Can be bought,” alleged another. And while he scored in the middle of the pack in terms of whether chefs would like to share a meal with him (13th), comments weren’t favorable: “No interest.”

Twitter: @stevecuozzo
Culinary Knowledge:
2.13 stars, 23rd (2012: 1.86, 20th)
Prose Style:
2 stars, 26th (2013: 1.71, 20th)
Integrity:
1.88, 23rd (2013: 1.94, 18th)
Like to Share a Meal? 
2.3 stars, 13th (2013: 1.56, 22nd)
OVERALL:
2.08 stars, 24th place (2013: 1.77, 21st)

#23 Ryan Sutton, Eater NY
Twitter/Quality Rye

#23 Ryan Sutton, Eater NY

In his first year as Eater’s head restaurant critic and data lead, Ryan Sutton scored 23rd overall (2.09 stars). When it came to culinary knowledge (2.06 stars) the former Bloomberg columnist was barely above Washington Post food writer Tim Carman (2 stars). Prose style? Just below Esquire Restaurant Editor Josh Ozersky, but above the New York Post’s Steve Cuozzo. Pereived integrity? A 2.13 star score (18th place, below Tim Carman but above Craig Laban). And when it came to chefs’ desire to break bread with him, Sutton scored 2 stars (21st place), below Brad Johnson and above Daniel Vaughn.

The good news is that, by his own scorecard, that near average of 2.09 would still put him on par with the number of stars he gave chef Thomas Keller’s signature New York City restaurant Per Se at the end of 2014, when he said it was “showing its age.” 

Chefs on Mr. Sutton’s culinary knowledge:
• "Knows a lot about statistics and the business of restaurants.”
• “I think he’s mostly fair. It can be easy to go against the grain, but sometimes with him it feels like it’s for the sake of going against the grain.”
Chefs’ takes on Mr. Sutton’s prose style:
• “He writes like a business reporter — he’s all about stats and background pieces.”
Chefs’ takes on Mr. Sutton’s integrity:
• “This one writes as if he's always looking for something wrong. It's a struggle to get through his reviews.”

Would chefs like to eat with Mr. Sutton?
• No comment.

Twitter: @qualityrye
Culinary Knowledge:
2.06 stars, 24th
Prose Style:
2.17 stars, 25th
Integrity:
2.13 stars, 18th
Like to Share a Meal? 
2 stars, 21st
OVERALL:
2.09 stars, 23rd place

#22 Alison Cook, Houston Chronicle
Eater Houston

#22 Alison Cook, Houston Chronicle

After a brief blip up last year from 18th (1.92 stars) to 17th (2.35 stars) overall, Houston Chronicle restaurant critic Alison Cook fell five spots to 22nd in this year's ratings (2.15 stars), but comments in general were actually pretty friendly. Of Cook’s culinary knowledge (which actually surged slightly from 2.4 to 2.6 stars) one chef said, “Excellent writer. A real cook and supporter of the chefs of Texas, especially here from hometown Houston. Very knowledgeable.”

Another called her an “excellent writer,” who was very experienced, and said she demonstrated “a great sense of humor and an excellent vocabulary.” And while she didn’t go unscathed when it came to perceived integrity (“Plays favorites and is heavily swayed towards any chef from Houston”), her 24th-place likeability  (1.8 stars tied with fellow Texan Robb Walsh) was caveated at least once: “I would love to eat and debate with Alison Cook.”

Twitter: @alisoncook
Culinary Knowledge:
2.6 stars (2013: 2.4, 15th; 2012: 2.04, 18th)
Prose Style:
2.6 stars, 19th (2013: 2.29, 16th; 2012: 1.8, 20th)
Integrity:
1.6 stars, 26th (2013: 2.57, 12th, 2012: 1.8, 2nd)
Like to Share a Meal? 
1.8 stars, 24th (2013: 2.13, 18th; 2012: 1.84, 17th)
OVERALL:
2.15 stars, 22nd place (2013: 2.35, 17th; 2012: 1.92, 18th)

 

#21 Daniel Vaughn, Texas Monthly (Dallas)
Daniel Vaughn

#21 Daniel Vaughn, Texas Monthly (Dallas)

Being a restaurant critic has cachet, but even within the profession, some jobs are cooler than others. It’s no stretch to say Daniel Vaughn may have the coolest food job in America: Barbecue Editor for Texas Monthly. Most food writers would kill for a few eating tours with the guy, for crying out loud (observe the deserved halo in his Twitter photo).

So while his overall score fell from 2.81 to 2.18 stars, it’s no surprise that comments were universally positive. He was called “A true foodie [one would assume not pejoratively], and an expert on barbecue and meats.” His prose style was emphatically described with “BBQ! BBQ! BBQ! BBQ! An excellent writer. Very fact- and evidence-driven.”

His integrity was celebrated, “A great, honest guy who has no agenda except good food.” And one chef had already “eaten with him many times,” commending Vaughn’s knowledge and noting their “great conversation.”

Twitter: @BBQsnob
Culinary Knowledge:
2.5 stars, 18th (2013: 2.86, 7th)
Prose Style:
2 stars, 27th (2013: 2.71, 8th)
Integrity:
2.4 stars, 15th (2013: 3 stars, 6th)
Like to Share a Meal? 
1.83 stars, 22nd (2013: 2.67, 9th)
OVERALL:
2.18 stars, 21st place (2013: 2.81, 8th)

#20 Robert Sietsema, Eater NY
Robert Sietsema

#20 Robert Sietsema, Eater NY

Robert Sietsema was Village Voice food critic from 1993 to 2013, so purely from a vanishing New York perspective, even chefs hardened to him had to have had their hearts semi-softened when he was let go, then landed at Eater as its Senior Critic. There, freed from poor layout and supplemented (sometimes) by real photography, he can just do his thing of being a New York City culinary scene institution (one who has proven himself capable of calling out fellow writers when necessary).

After a year away from this survey, Robert Sietsema saw a nine-place drop from his 11th-place finish in 2012, but his overall score didn't drop much (to 2.22 stars from 2.38) and comments almost all tipped toques to his passion for New York City’s ethnic food scene: “Great understanding of ethnic and inexpensive restaurants,” “A foodie who knows a lot about ethnic foods,” “Probably the smartest critic when it comes to understanding international cuisines.”

Of his prose style, chefs noted: “I love his work... mostly,” calling him an “excellent writer” who is “very image-driven and tells a nice story,” and is “honest and can be tough.”

Still, noted one chef when asked to comment on Sietsema’s perceived integrity, “He reviewed the new Manhattan Denny's. Enough said.”

Twitter: @robertsietsema 
Culinary Knowledge:
2.61 stars, 15th (2012: 2.45, 14th)
Prose Style:
2.29 stars, 23rd (2012: 2.45, 11th)
Integrity:
1.57 stars, 27th (2012: 2.29, 10th)
Like to Share a Meal? 
2.4 stars, 10th (2012: 2.34, 7th)
OVERALL:
2.22 stars, 20th place (2012: 2.38, 11th)

#19 Robb Walsh, Houstoniamag.com (Fomerly)
Robb Walsh

#19 Robb Walsh, Houstoniamag.com (Formerly)

Is it worse for chefs to weigh in, or to cast stars and move on without a word? Chefs have felt free in this survey to share thoughts about Robb Walsh over the years, whether that meant saying he was "honest," "smart," and "a good, simple writer," or calling him "brusque, with insight and an eye on the prize.” 

Not so much this year. They were mum, leaving the Houstonia Magazine writer's rating of 2.25 stars to speak for itself, a tortilla’s thinness away from falling below Robert Sietsema (2.22) or overtaking Alan Richman (2.26) in 18th place. Could that be because he’s joined the fold as a restaurateur (he owns Houston's El Real Tex-Mex Café with one of that city's most-respected chefs, Bryan Caswell of Reef)? Eh. You’d think they’d feel obliged to hold their own to the same standards. More likely because Walsh's involvement has lessened — in fact, just last month it was reported that he and Houstoniamag.com had parted ways. Unless there are any new developments, this may be Walsh's last turn through the chef gauntlet.

Twitter: @robbwalsh 
Culinary Knowledge:
2.4 stars, 20th (2013: 2.8, 7th; 2012: 2.62, 12th)
Prose Style:
2.8 stars, 14th (2013: 2.43, 14th; 2012: 2.14, 16th)
Integrity:
2 stars, 21st (2013: 2.5, 13th; 2012: 2.14, 16th)
Like to Share a Meal? 
1.8 stars, 25th (2013: 2.63, 11th; 2012:1.89, 15th)
OVERALL:
2.25 stars, 19th place (2013: 2.59, 11th; 2012: 2.21, 14th)

Flickr/Mordy Steinfeld

#18 Alan Richman, GQ (New York City)

Like fellow New York institution Steve Cuozzo, GQ’s 14-time James Beard Award-winner Alan Richman dropped places (three) since last year’s survey (his 2.2 stars tied The Washington Post’s Tim Carman). As with Cuozzo, there were plenty of chef opinions about Richman, though more of a mixed bag. 

On Alan Richman’s culinary knowledge:
• “I don't like that he has been quite negative towards some chefs — not necessary in my book.”
• “One of the originals. He has seen and eaten just about everything and been everywhere. Very knowledgeable.”
• “He has strong knowledge but he can be very spacey. I think he is more interested when faced with something different and cool — like a feature on vegetables or tripe — but not so much about the restaurant itself.”
• “Same as Cuozzo. Simply out of touch.”

On Alan Richman’s prose style:
• “A good storyteller. I usually get more on atmosphere and experience than food details.”
• “An old-school master, but one whose writing is marred with the politics of our business. Still, a great sense of humor.”
On Mr. Richman’s integrity (perceived by chefs):
• “An honest man, but magazines and people can be bought.”
• “Masturbatory self-aggrandizement.”

On Mr. Richman’s likeability:
• “I would love to just hear his stores about the last 35 years of dining out.”
• “Laying down in a pile of fire ants while covered in honey, I imagine would be more pleasurable.”

Culinary Knowledge:
2.3 stars, 21st (2013: 2.45, 14th; 2012: 2.76, 6th
Prose Style:
3 stars, 3rd (2013: 2.29, 16th; 2012: 2, 18th
Integrity:
1.92 stars, 22nd (2013: 2.12 stars, 17th; 2012: 2.78, 6th
Like to Share a Meal? 
2.2 stars, 15th (2013: 2.41, 14th; 2012: 2.59, 4th
OVERALL:
2.26 stars, 18th (2013: 2.39, 16th; 2012: 2.7, 5th)

#17 Tim Carman, The Washington Post
Tim Carman

#17 Tim Carman, The Washington Post

Tim Carman fell five spots from last year’s overall score, but The Washington Post’s $20 Diner kept his chin above his 1.79 stars in 2012. While he barely escaped bottom when it came to culinary knowledge (that doesn't even seem right, chefs), he also scored (as he has in years past) near bottom when it came to writers that chefs said they’d like to share a meal with.

The James Beard Award-winner and self-described Dallas Morning News restaurant critic finalist did rank squarely in the middle of the pack when it came to his integrity as perceived by chefs. He scored three stars for his prose style in a shocking six-way tie for third, just below The New York Times' Pete Wells.

Twitter: @timcarman
Culinary Knowledge:
2 stars, 25th (2013: 2.75, 9th; 2012: 1.95, 19th)
Prose Style:
3 stars, 3rd (2013: 2.29, 16th; 2012: 2, 18th)
Integrity:
2.25 stars, 17th (2013: 2.86, 8th; 2012: 2, 18th)
Like to Share a Meal? 
1.8 stars, 23rd (2013: 2.33, 15th; 2012: 1.4, 20th)
OVERALL:
2.26 stars, 17th (2013: 2.56, 12th; 2012: 1.79, 19th)

#16 John Mariani, Newsletter & HuffPo (New York City)
John Marniani

#16 John Mariani, Newsletter & HuffPo (New York City)

He hasn’t been on Bloomberg since 2013, and he was replaced last year as Esquire’s Restaurant Editor (last online in March) by the peripatetic Josh Ozersky (ranked #15), but John Mariani stayed relevant, raising eyebrows at Bon Appétit’s best restaurant list, taking The New York Times’ Mark Bittman to task (another to be rated next year, no?), questioning New York Magazine critic Adam Platt for calling David Chang and April Bloomfield chefs who changed America, debating The Daily Meal’s editorial director Colman Andrews on the influence of avant-garde cuisine, and writing regularly for The Huffington Post.

Mariani scored higher than 12 other writers with more prominent gigs, and chefs rated and weighed in on him… thoroughly. It was a mixed bag, but it ended with love.

On Mr. Mariani’s culinary knowledge:
• “Love that he wrote the book about The Four Seasons.”
• “He has a lot of knowledge about food and drinks, but sometimes he doesn't actually express himself.”
• “Not afraid to speak his mind. Most accurate critic in my opinion.”
On Mr. Mariani’s prose style:
• “A good writer, somewhat pompous, but at the end of the day, I like him.”
• “An excellent writer. Very poetic. Uses history and a great vocabulary to tell the story.”

On Mr. Mariani’s integrity (as perceived by chefs):
• “Been around since the beginning of time. A great writer and a true gourmand.”
• “Bought and paid for.”
• “Good perspective, but he seems influenced by who's paying the bill.”
• “I know that hotels and restaurants comp him or else he doesn't visit.”
• “Honest to a fault when it comes to his take on food, and he knows good food, but he can be bought.”
• “I know that hotels and restaurants comp him or else he doesn't visit.”

On whether chefs would like to eat with Mr. Mariani:
• “I love John and would love to drink wine and eat Italian food with him.”

Culinary Knowledge:
2.42 stars, 19th (2013: 2.29, 18th; 2012: 2.7, 10th)
Prose Style:
2.67 stars, 15th (2013: 2.06, 19th; 2012: 2.82, 4th)
Integrity:
1.82 stars, 25th (2013: 1.29, 22nd, 2012: 2.82, 4th)
Like to Share a Meal? 
2.36 stars, 12th (2013: 1.89, 20th; 2012: 2.70, 2nd)
OVERALL: 2.32 stars, 16th (2013: 1.88, 20th; 2012: 2.60, 6th)

Flickr/Steelite International

#15 Josh Ozersky, Esquire (New York City)

Known for hating Brooklyn while living there, Josh Ozersky has made his living from "food writing" while his Wikipedia page notes his dislike for the term, and he has given wedding catering tips without disclosing his was catered by New York City’s best chefs until he was called out by then-Village Voice critic Robert Sietsema. Considering this veritable poutine of contradictions, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Josh Ozersky was one of this survey’s most commented-on writers.

When asked about his culinary knowledge, chefs (whose 2.74-star rating of him was his highest score ever) described him as: “A serious foodie who gets to the bottom of a story,” “An expert on meat and libations,” and “An idiot that expects free food and likes to hear himself talk.” Said one, “He has a childlike wonder when it comes to food, but he also gravitates towards childlike food.” Added another, “I can’t believe he can hear anything over himself always being out of breath.”

As for his prose, Mr. Ozersky might be chagrined (given past comments) to learn that his score narrowly beat his lowest in three years (2.27 stars versus 2.24 in 2012). Chefs called him, “In-your-face edgy and sarcastic — very worldly and extremely bright,” and “Broodish, crazy, and opinionated as hell. No filter. Love it!” Their perceptions of his integrity were diverse if conflicted: “Honest to a point, but can often have an agenda, though I trust his word,” “Very subjective. I think sometimes it depends on his mood,” “True to the point that he likes what he likes and all else is suspect.”

As for his desirability as a dining companion, this was Mr. Ozersky’s best year; he garnered 2.29 stars. Chefs' comments were passionate and resounding. “I would eat with this guy anywhere, any time,” enthused one chef. Said another with less interest, “I have eaten with him, and it goes just about how you would expect.”

Twitter: @OzerskyTV
Culinary Knowledge:
2.74 stars, 11th (2013: 2.37, 16th; 2012: 2.59, 13th)
Prose Style:
2.27 stars, 24th (2013: 2.53, 12th; 2012: 2.24, 15th)
Integrity:
2.33, 16th (2013: 1.53, 21st; 2012: 2.24, 15th)
Like to Share a Meal? 
2.29 stars, 14th (2013: 2, 19th; 2012: 1.90, 14th)
OVERALL:
2.41 stars, 15th (2013: 2.11, 19th; 2012: 2.20, 15th)

#14 Adam Platt, New York Magazine
#14 Adam Platt, New York Magazine

#14 Adam Platt, New York Magazine

It was a banner year for New York Magazine’s Adam Platt; after all, he declared the death of desserts and did away with his anonymity. And Platt climbed in chefs’ esteem when it came to culinary knowledge, prose style, and integrity (you have to love the chef who said, “I like how he writes. He doesn't treat me very well, but I like his style”).

Still, comments about this iconic writer weren’t glowing, and he lost ground overall and in likeability. “He writes like he was the editor of your school newspaper — very trendy and predictable,” said one chef of Platt’s prose. Another, commenting on Platt’s integrity, called him, “Sometimes jaded, self-serving, and very opinionated rather than just the facts.” As for wanting to eat with him? “No interest,” said one.

Twitter: @plattypants
Culinary Knowledge:
2.83 stars, 9th (2012: 2.27, 19th; 2012: 2.32, 15th)
Prose Style:
2.42 stars, 21st (2013: 2.21, 18th; 2012: 2.05, 17th)
Integrity:
2.6 stars, 10th (2013: 2.44, 14th; 2012: 2.05, 17th)
Like to Share a Meal? 
2.42 stars, 9th (2013: 2.72, 8th; 2012: 2.08, 13th)
OVERALL:
2.57 stars, 14th (2013: 2.41, 15th; 2012: 2.14, 17th)

 

#13 Phil Vettel, Chicago Tribune
Twitter/Phil Vettel

#13 Phil Vettel, Chicago Tribune

The Chicago Tribune’s Phil Vettel has been the model of consistency when it comes to chefs’ opinions, no surprise for a critic tenured 25 years. Overall, Mr. Vettel maintained a 13th-place finish, keeping his 17th place culinary knowledge score from 2012, falling in prose from 10th to 13th place (despite rising from 2.6 to 2.8 stars), climbing to a personal high of 6th place with 2.75 stars when it came to integrity (as perceived by chefs), and falling ever slightly from 2.33 to 2.17 stars when it came to whether chefs wanted to share a meal with him. As for their opinions, it seems that, at least this year, chefs have said all they have to say on the matter.

Twitter: @philvettel
Culinary Knowledge:
2.6 stars, 17th (2013: 2.33, 17th; 2012: 2.8, 3rd)
Prose Style:
2.8 stars, 13th (2013: 2.6, 10th; 2012: 2.4, 12th)
Integrity:
2.75 stars, 6th (2013: 2.6, 11th; 2012: 2.4, 12th)
Like to Share a Meal? 
2.17 stars, 18th (2013: 2.33, 15th; 2012: 1.74, 18th)
OVERALL:
2.58 stars, 13th (2013: 2.47, 13th; 2012: 2.94, 13th)

 

#12 Bill Addison, Eater Restaurant Editor (National)
Twitter/Bill Addison

#12 Bill Addison, Eater Restaurant Editor (National)

National Eater Restaurant Editor Bill Addison didn’t need the newly Vox cash-influxed site to lend him national recognition, but given the site’s self-publicized push into restaurant criticism in 2014, after years of insisting it would never review restaurants, it would have been virtually impossible not to include him this time. Chefs’ takes? Numerous on the newcomer.

On Mr. Addison’s culinary knowledge: 
• “Intelligent but a bit swayed by the most over-the-top restaurants. An interest in new for new’s sake.”
• “Bill has great versatility and knows a lot about all cuisines, not just fine dining.”
• “Ignorant and uninformed. Close-minded and small.”
• “I’m almost upset he went to Eater and didn’t replace Wells at The Times.”
• “A great sense of culinary history, and well-rounded, thoughtful reviews.”

They were less loquacious when it came to other opinions. Said one chef on Addison’s prose style, “An excellent writer. Very approachable.” On Addison’s integrity, a chef perceived, “Bill has great integrity and I believe always maintains his objectivity.” As for eating with him? Overshadowing the middle-of-the-pack 2.18 stars Mr. Addison received, one chef said, “I would love to eat with this guy.”

Twitter: @BillAddison
Culinary Knowledge:
2.63, 14th (2013: 3.3, 2nd; 2012: 2.26, 16th)
Prose Style:
3 stars, 2nd (2013: 3, 4th; 2012: 2.26, 14th)
Integrity:
2.43 stars, 14th (2013: 3.63, 2nd; 2012: 2.26, 14th)
Like to Share a Meal? 
2.38 stars, 11th (2013: 3.2, 4th; 2012: 2.26, 10th)
OVERALL:
2.61 stars, 10th (2013: 3.28, 3rd; 2012: 2.13, 12th)

#11 Pat Sharpe, Texas Monthly
Texas Monthlyh

#11 Pat Sharpe, Texas Monthly

Pat Sharpe has been with Texas Monthly since 1974, and she’s been focusing on food for decades (she won a James Beard award for magazine food writing in 2006). It’s about time she was included in this annual chef survey. Her overall good first-year scores were matched by equally positive comments. On her culinary knowledge, one chef noted, “The critics’ critic. Very knowledgeable about more than just Texan cuisine, but an expert on food and knows a lot about all types of cooking.”

Scoring seventh in prose style, Sharpe garnered this chef compliment, “An excellent, creative journalist. A great storyteller and always a little sarcastic.” Perceived integrity? “Very honest. Straight-laced and trustworthy.” Chefs even seemed to still want to break bread with Ms. Sharpe, with one noting: “I like Pat and would love to dine with her. She’s a sweet and honest lady.”

Culinary Knowledge:
2.67, 13th
Prose Style:
3 stars, 7th
Integrity:
2.5 stars, 12th
Like to Share a Meal? 
2.17, 17th
OVERALL:
2.59 stars, 11th

 

Flickr/Derek-Bridges

#10 Brett Anderson, The Times-Picayune (New Orleans)

Save the Los Angeles Times’ Jonathan Gold, few food writers or critics are as respected in America as The Times-Picayune’s Brett Anderson. He was a favorite for The New York Times’ restaurant critic position before Pete Wells was appointed, and when he was let go by The Times-Picayune, it wasn’t long before public clamor led the paper to ask him back. Anderson stayed steady with a 12th-place finish overall this year (again), but, unlike last year’s comments (which were spotlessly positive), chefs had a few misgivings this year.

Chefs on Mr. Anderson’s culinary knowledge:
• “I think when a food critic starts hanging out with chefs, it may be time to get a new one. Ten years and counting for this one. He can write, but he has no impartiality, and he has clear favorites.”
• “A great understanding of all types of restaurants and food.”
• “I believe Brett has great culinary knowledge, but he often alludes to his having eaten in so many great restaurants around the country. It almost makes him seem like he’s saying he’s nearly overqualified to comment on the New Orleans food scene, even to the point of boredom.”

Other categories drew fewer compliments and critiques. When it came to his prose, one chef called him flowery, arguing he builds "arguments on ‘building arguments’ and how many foods ‘begged’ to be treated one way or another.” Mr. Anderson’s perceived integrity? “Brett would consider himself incorruptible, but he does betray his own clear expectation levels, which results in an expected bean outcome for well-known restaurateurs. He also loves to think he discovers new gems, which results in an inflated bean outcome.” On sharing a meal, one chef wanted to, “Just to hear a typical discourse.”

Twitter: @BrettEats
Culinary Knowledge:
2.63, 14th (2013: 3.3, 2nd; 2012: 2.26, 16th)
Prose Style:
3 stars, 2nd (2013: 3, 4th; 2012: 2.26, 14th)
Integrity:
2.43 stars, 14th (2013: 3.63, 2nd; 2012: 2.26, 14th)
Like to Share a Meal? 
2.38 stars, 11th (2013: 3.2, 4th; 2012: 2.26, 10th)
OVERALL:
2.61 stars, 10th (2013: 3.28, 3rd; 2012: 2.13, 12th)

Flickr/USDAgov

#9 Corby Kummer, The Atlantic (Boston)

Just when you thought there might be a correlation between chefs’ scores of critics and particular comments by chefs, The Atlantic’s Corby Kummer proved there is no connection with a ninth-place finish and a mixed bag of comments, including a recurring one from years past attesting Mr. Kummer doesn’t eat meat at restaurants (for the record, he says this is not true). This year’s comments were more positive overall with shout-outs to his knowledge, writing style, and integrity.

Chefs on Mr. Kummer’s culinary knowledge: 
• “I have NO respect for this man. Yes, he can write (I guess), but he doesn't goddamn eat!”
• “Love the stories Corby tells, and the details he includes are awesome.”
• “An expert writer. A food scholar who is very knowledgeable on a lot of food topics.”
• “I give Corby four stars for his knowledge, but many times he's too cranky.”
• “Dislikes eating out. Too old-guard for me.”

One chef loved Kummer’s approach to stories and another called him an “excellent writer who is very talented with a classic sense and great prose (a very intellectual approach).” On his integrity, one chef noted Kummer has “great integrity and is both reliable and honest.” As for sharing a meal? Said one chef, “I’d be very interested in eating with this writer, just to know what makes him tick.”

Twitter: @CKummer
Culinary Knowledge:
2.87 stars, 6th (2013: 2.94, 4th; 2012: 2.72, 9th)
Prose Style:
3 stars, 5th (2013: 3.2, 2nd; 2012: 2.8, 5th)
Integrity:
2.5 stars, 11th (2013: 3.14, 5th; 2012: 2.8, 5th)
Like to Share a Meal?
2.08 stars, 19th (2013: 3.2, 4th; 2012: 2.24, 11th)
OVERALL:
2.612 stars, 9th (2013: 3.12, 5th; 2012: 2.54, 7th)

#8 Tom Sietsema, The Washington Post
Tom Siestsema

#8 Tom Sietsema, The Washington Post

There have been plenty of comments in this survey about The Washington Post’s restaurant critic Tom Sietsema over the years, but overall, he has rated high and chefs’ comments have been fairly positive. Last year, no chefs took to D.C.-baiting and, beyond a few comments that "everyone can recognize him" and that he is part of the "D.C. 'club,'" they were overwhelmingly positive.

This year, Mr. Sietsema slipped in the overall standings (from second overall in 2013 to eighth place). In fact, he fell in each of the survey’s four categories, and without any comments as to why. Go figure.

Twitter: @tomsietsema
Culinary Knowledge:
2.78 stars, 10th (2013: 3.13, 3rd; 2012: 2.92, 2nd)
Prose Style:
2.86 stars, 10th (2013: 3.09, 3rd; 2012: 2.70, 7th)
Integrity:
2.5 stars, 13th (2013: 3.6, 3rd; 2012: 2.70, 7th)
Like to Share a Meal? 
2.8 stars, 5th (2013: 3.33, 2nd; 2012: 2.34, 8th)
OVERALL:
2.735 stars, 8th (2013: 3.29, 2nd; 2012: 2.72, 4th)

#7 S. Irene Virbila, Los Angeles Times
Noah Ellis

#7 S. Irene Virbila, Los Angeles Times

The Los Angeles Times’ Irene Virbila has consistently scored well with chefs over the year, rating 9th in 2012 and 10th in 2013, usually with positive comments. That’s especially impressive considering that in the past, chefs have noted that the critic hadn’t exactly been kind to them. This year, chefs gave Virbila higher ratings in integrity, likeability, and culinary knowledge, which was the one category they wanted to weigh in on, albeit succinctly. “Knowledgeable.” You’d have to imagine that any writer would take that.

Twitter: @sirenevirbila
Culinary Knowledge:
2.88 stars, 5th (2013: 2.64, 12th; 2012: 2.72, 8th)
Prose Style:
2.67 stars, 16th (2013: 2.5, 13th; 2012: 2.46, 10th)
Integrity:
2.8 stars, 5th (2013: 2.86, 8th; 2012: 2.46, 10th)
Like to Share a Meal? 
2.6 stars, 8th (2013: 2.44, 13th; 2012: 2.11, 12th)
OVERALL:
2.738 stars, 7th (2013: 2.61, 10th; 2012: 2.49, 9th)

#6 Andrew Knowlton, Bon Appétit (New York City)
Kaufman AROK

#6 Andrew Knowlton, Bon Appétit (New York City)

Bon Appétit's restaurant and drinks editor Andrew Knowlton continued his slow and steady climb up this list that started with a 16th-place finish overall (2.16 stars) in 2012 and a seventh-place finish in 2013 (2.82 stars). Knowlton’s sixth-place overall was matched once again by chefs’ mostly positive comments, marred only by one commenting on his perceived integrity: “That magazine can’t be trusted anymore. It’s all about what they are looking for and who will buy it.” Even so, Knowlton’s integrity score was 8th overall (though down to 2.64 stars from 2.85 last year).

“Fairly knowledgeable, but do politics come into play?” asked one chef. “Well-traveled and knowledgeable,” added another, “Doing the Bon Appétit list every year allows him to be very informed as to what’s new in American restaurants (despite the politics of the list). He does pay a little too much attention to the popular kids.” On his prose style, one chef said, “Knowlton writes from the perspective of the chef. Very hip and in the moment.”

Considering the three to four months of traveling and eating Mr. Knowlton does to keep up with what’s going on in restaurants across the country, it shouldn’t be a surprise that sharing a table with him is something chefs would be interested in. He scored 2.85 stars and a third-place finish. But one chef was more interested in sharing a meal a little closer to home: “I would love to debate the Bon Appétit lists over one of my meals anytime.”

Twitter: @AndrewOKnowlton
Culinary Knowledge:
2.94 stars, 4th (2013: 2.65, 11th; 2012: 2.24, 17th)
Prose Style:
2.86 stars, 9th (2013: 2.69, 9th; 2012: 2.46, 9th)
Integrity:
2.64 stars, 8th (2013: 2.85,10th; 2012: 2.46, 9th)
Like to Share a Meal? 
2.85 stars, 3rd (2013: 3.07, 7th; 2012:1.86, 16th)
OVERALL:
2.82 stars, 6th (2013: 2.82, 7th; 2012: 2.16, 16th)

Flickr/chamagraphy

#5 Jeffrey Steingarten, Vogue (New York City)

While he does pen for Vogue, you’re more likely to encounter The Man Who Ate Everything in his books than pieces like his 2014 essay on marijuana (“A Vogue Editor Cooks with Pot”). When this high-profile writer does weigh in, chefs listen. That goes for whether they like Jeffrey Steingarten or not, and according to some comments, there are a fair number who don’t. Still, a fifth-place bounce back from a ninth-place slip in 2013 indicates that even in the cases where chefs aren’t fans, there is still a healthy respect for him.

Chefs on Mr. Steingarten’s culinary knowledge: 
• “LOVE his writing. Very funny. We need more of that!”
• “Quirky and brilliant. He gets the details right and is so passionate about his topics it's contagious.”
• “An expert at everything (he will tell you). Very knowledgeable but a boor and a snob.”
• “I think he used to be great and because they had no set budget he could eat anywhere he wanted. He would write long, incredible articles. I haven't read his writing in a long time, but for the past I can give him four stars.”

One chef commented on his prose, “An amazing writer. His passion is contagious and you get belly laughs with each article!” Said another, “Excellent form and very intelligent and informed, but snobbish and opinionated” (opinionated writers are bad things?). Another couldn’t go full compliment regarding his perceived integrity, noting he has “Tremendous integrity but [is] self-serving.”    As for sharing a meal, a seventh-place score was juxtaposed with polarized comments. Said one, “This f***ing guy. You ever watch him eat? Don’t, because you won’t be able to. There’s food always falling from his mouth. I just don’t get how he has hung around.” While another settled in for the long haul: “I would love to eat a 13-course tasting menu with Jeffrey and listen to him explain every course.”

Twitter: @jsteingarten
Culinary Knowledge:
3.17 stars, 1st (2013: 2.88, 5th; 2012: 2.8, 4th)
Prose Style:
2.85 stars, 11th (2013: 2.89, 6th; 2012: 3.15, 1st)
Integrity:
2.69 stars, 7th (2013: 2.25, 16th; 2012: 3.15, 1st)
Like to Share a Meal? 
2.64 stars, 7th (2013: 2.47, 12th; 2012: 2.63, 3rd)
OVERALL:
2.84 stars, 5th (2013: 2.62, 9th; 2012: 2.83, 2nd)

#4 Michael Bauer, San Francisco Chronicle
Twitter/Michael Bauer

#4 Michael Bauer, San Francisco Chronicle

“Michael Bauer has been around forever and has defined the San Francisco and wine country food scene for almost three decades,” said one chef of the executive food and wine editor and restaurant critic for the San Francisco Chronicle. The chef is right; Bauer has been reporting on and influencing the San Francisco (and national food scene) since 1986.

And while his star-rating fell from last year (3.16 to 2.84), Mr. Bauer’s long standing is mirrored in a high finish, fourth overall for a second year. “Very precise and well-written, but very little humor,” said one chef. “For the most part, honest and reliable,” another noted about Michael Bauer’s perceived integrity. “I have eaten with him and would love to eat with this guy again,” added another.

Twitter: @michaelbauer1
Culinary Knowledge:
2.85 stars, 7th (2013: 2.94, 4th; 2012: 2.78, 5th)
Prose Style:
2.64 stars, 17th (2013: 2.92, 5th; 2012: 2.4, 13th)
Integrity:
3.13 stars, 4th (2013: 3.64, 1st; 2012: 2.4, 13th)
Like to Share a Meal? 
2.75 stars, 6th (2013: 3.14, 6th; 2012: 2.29, 9th)
OVERALL:
2.84 stars, 4th (2013: 3.16, 4th; 2012: 2.53, 8th)

#3 Ligaya Mishan, The New York Times
Twitter/Ligaya Mishan

#3 Ligaya Mishan, The New York Times

In the brief history of this three-year survey, no newcomer has scored as high as Hungry City columnist Ligaya Mishan did in this third-place debut. But who is she? After all, she kind of does seem to have come from out of nowhere.    According to her alumni magazine, this Princeton grad and Cornell MFA worked in advertising in her native Hawaii before several posts at The New Yorker. The self-described “accidental food writer” said she “definitely stumbled into [the] subject matter," and was offered Hungry City after being tapped to write The New Yorker’s Tables for Two reviews.    Wherever she came from, chefs participating in this year’s survey scored her high in near every category. Her lowest score was culinary knowledge, where she placed eighth (2.83 stars), with one chef exclaiming, “Incredible food descriptions! Reading her reviews makes me hungry.”

Twitter: @ligayamishan
Culinary Knowledge:
2.83 stars, 8th
Prose Style:
3 stars, 6th
Integrity:
3.17 stars, 3rd
Like to Share a Meal? 
2.83 stars, 4th
OVERALL:
2.96 stars, 3rd

#2 Jonathan Gold, Los Angeles Times
Anne Fishbein

#2 Jonathan Gold, Los Angeles Times

For two years, the critic chefs gave the highest stars when it came to culinary knowledge, the writer they most wanted to share a meal with, the one with the highest score overall, was The Los Angeles Times’ Jonathan Gold. “The belly of Los Angeles” also scored in the top two places for prose style, and in the top four for integrity. Impressive. So what’s he doing in second overall this year? You’re slipping, Mr. Gold. You’re slipping.    In all seriousness, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more well-respected food writer. And with his recent self-unveiling (“I have become adept at pretending not to notice that a restaurant staff is pretending not to notice me noticing them noticing me” has to be one of the most epic food writer quotes of recent memory), even more chefs are likely to know him and find the same level of respect for him (as though his face had been a secret).

Chefs on Mr. Gold’s culinary knowledge: 
• “I have the utmost respect for Jonathan. He is simply amazing!”
• “A great understanding of food, restaurants, and atmosphere. He gets it right.”
• “Encyclopedic knowledge.”
• “Well-traveled, well-written, and very experienced but a tad pompous.”

When it came to prose style, Mr. Gold was described as “addictive to read,” and “an excellent writer. Classic form. A true food critic. Very straightforward.” A chef noted him for having “tremendous integrity, just [being] a little self-absorbed at times, but honest.” And one said, “I would love to eat with this writer and talk Los Angeles food scene.”   The Gold standard may not mean first place this year, but critics have a way to go to redefining what it means overall when it comes to The Daily Meal’s annual survey.

Twitter: @thejgold
Culinary Knowledge:
3.06 stars, 3rd (2013: 3.47, 1st; 2012: 3.12, 1st)
Prose Style:
2.91 stars, 8th (2013: 3.5, 1st; 2012: 3.06, 2nd)
Integrity:
3.3 stars, 2nd (2013: 3.36, 4th; 2012: 3.06, 2nd)
Like to Share a Meal? 
3.08 stars, 2nd (2013: 3.43, 1st; 2012: 2.7, 1st)
OVERALL:
3.09 stars, 2nd (2013: 3.44, 1st; 2012: 2.97, 1st)

#1 Pete Wells, The New York Times
Earl Wilson The New York Times

#1 Pete Wells, The New York Times

Pete Wells has flirted with top billing for two years, placing third in 2012 and sixth in 2013, but his finishing with more than three stars in every category led to his highest-ever place, taking top billing from The Los Angeles Times’ Jonathan Gold, whom chefs had named the nation’s best food critic two years running. Here’s what chefs said about The New York Times critic as he goes into his fourth year.

Chefs on Mr. Well culinary knowledge: 
• “Great reviewer. Fair and funny.”
• “Worked for Food & Wine prior to working at The Times. A food snob. Has the most powerful critic job in America.”
• “I don't always understand his reviews and how he grades the restaurants. He seems inconsistent.”
• “He is strict about everything a customer should be strict about.”
• “Eat a bag a d***s, Pete. The worst Times critic in years. It’s sad. He makes me miss Bruni, and Bruni sucked.”
• “Well-written. Well thought-out. Well-educated in food. Fair. I can tell that he is often hoping to say nothing but great things about an establishment. In the event of a negative review, I sense a sigh. Great addition to The New York Times food critic lineup.”

One chef called Mr. Wells “An excellent writer with classic form. Sarcastic and creative,” but another confided, “I don’t think he understands a lot of what he writes about, and he just misses the point a lot.” When it came to perceived integrity, another was philosophical: “The power of this job goes to everyone’s head and The Times has its favorites and each critic makes or breaks their own stars.” On sharing a meal, chefs’ curiosity got better of them, with one saying, “I would love to go out on a New York Times review of a great chef’s restaurant.”

Congratulations, Mr. Wells. 

Twitter: @pete_wells
Culinary Knowledge:
3.1 stars, 2nd (2013: 2.79, 8th; 2012: 2.74, 7th)
Prose Style:
3.13 stars, 1st (2013: 2.84, 7th; 2012: 2.89, 3rd)
Integrity:
3.38 stars, 1st (2013: 3, 6th; 2012: 2.89, 3rd)
Like to Share a Meal? 
3.19 stars, 1st (2013: 3.33, 2nd; 2012: 2.58, 5th)
OVERALL:
3.2 stars, 1st (2013: 2.99, 6th; 2012: 2.77, 3rd)

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Top Chefs Review — and Rate — America's Food Critics

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