The Best Lines from NYCWFF’s Then & Now Food Writing Panel

The Best Lines from NYCWFF’s Then & Now Food Writing Panel
Karen Lo

"Anonymity conferred upon us a sort of papal infallibility," says Steve Cuozzo of food criticism in the past. "Now, of course, that's utterly laughable."

How has the relationship between the food industry and the food media industry changed as journalism has become increasingly digital and the speed of sharing information has grown exponentially? “Then” and “Now” journalists offer their thoughts.

The panelists featured were: Mimi Sheraton, former New York Times restaurant critic and journalist; Steve Cuozzo, New York Post restaurant critic, commercial real estate and op-ed columnist, Kate Krader, Food & Wine Magazine’s restaurant editor; Kate Krader, food writer, and Arthur Bovino, The Daily Meal’s executive editor. Jennifer Baum of Bullfrog & Baum served as the panel's moderator. 

On the influence of data speed and information processing on food writing:

Kate Krader: I was at a dinner many years ago and sitting across from Mimi. She was talking about how when she was a critic, restaurant reviews came out on a Friday because people just went out to eat on the weekends, and that’s how far we’ve come. It was a big deal when The Times moved their reviews to Wednesday because it spoke to how much more people were going out. It was a really big step in how much restaurant and food coverage began to consume people; it became part of our everyday life and that was a real cornerstone in what’s happened to food criticism and just writing about food all around.

On relinquishing the veil of secrecy:

Steve Cuozzo: In the late ‘90s we were still, in terms the way restaurants we covered, we were still in the old world [of] anonymous critics. This sort of anonymity conferred upon us a sort of papal infallibility, especially for whoever was the critic at The Times. Now of course, that’s utterly laughable. Adam Platt recently came out on the cover of New York Magazine. There’s probably not a mofongo place in Brooklyn that wouldn’t know Adam if he came in.

On the transition from print to digital:

Steve Cuozzo: I write columns now for The Post that don’t appear in print at all. A recent one I did on Tavern on the Green and the chef leaving… the fact that it didn’t appear in print doesn’t trouble me in the least.

Jennifer Baum: There are people who will always get their information from print and magazines. Print is not going anywhere anytime soon—

Arthur Bovino: But at the same time, if you’re not in digital in some way, you’re not in the game, I think.

On the growth of relationships between food writers and critics, and the chefs, and restaurants they cover:

Mimi Sheraton: Anonymity is one thing, socially friendly is another. If there was a party where I knew a chef would be there, I wouldn’t go. I wanted to be able to wipe the floor with them the next day, and not feel bad about it.

On crowdsourcing:

Jordana Rothman: People might read a review from Pete Wells, and then 30 reviews on Yelp to make a decision. I do not use Yelp at all. I get angry when I have to look up addresses on Yelp, I feel like I’m destroying my own empire, but the idea is that it all sort of shakes out, and that ultimately people are responding to the same places that critics are.

On missing the best of media “then”:

Rothman: I’m jealous of the word count, I’m jealous of the price per word, and I’m jealous of the latitude given in the writing.

Mimi Sheraton: I don’t know if that’s true, about latitude. You couldn’t write a restaurant review with the word f*** in it.

On restaurant rankings, like San Pellegrino’s World’s Best:

Kate Krader: Though they can be specialized and self-serving, these lists do also help shine a light on all these restaurants that people may not know about otherwise. A small restaurant in Copenhagen, Noma, went from a few tables every night to 10,000 calls for reservations the day after the list came out. 

Arthur Bovino: It means a great deal to the chefs, and that means something.

Mimi Sheraton: Even for the chefs who say they don’t care, it’s a matter of, if there’s a prize, you might as well win it.

On the special treatment bestowed upon restaurant critics, which is as much a double-edged sword as ever:

Mimi Sheraton: I was told once, ‘we can even quiet a table around you if they are too noisy.’ I always wondered how they would do that.

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Karen Lo is an associate editor at The Daily Meal. Follow her on Twitter @appleplexy.