Top Chefs Review — and Rate — America's Food Critics (2013)

Revenge is a dish best served… by chefs
Top Chefs Review — and Rate — America's Food Critics (2013)
Jane Bruce

How many stars would critics get if chefs and restaurateurs could rate them. Any?

Brett Anderson, Andrew Knowlton, and Tim Carman made the biggest gains (9 places), and Carman jumping 7. The biggest drops? Jeffrey Steingarten (down seven spots), Gael Greene (down four), Alan Richman (down 11), Josh Ozersky (down four), and John Mariani (down 14). Steingarten’s, Richman’s, and Mariani’s falls, and Tim Carman’s climb were among the most surprising moves based solely on where they placed in 2012. And Pete Wells (who in 2012, was rated third in a survey given before Wells' review of Guy Fieri's restaurant) fell out of the top five. Click for Full-Screen Overall Critic Score Graphic

An exemplary mud-to-opera understanding of varied culinary traditions and the nation's and the reviewer's city's culinary history, and prescience when it comes to trends.

America's smartest food critic? Still Jonathan Gold (3.47 stars). “Definitely keeps current with dining trends,” noted one chef. The dullest? Still Brad Johnson (1.71 stars). Still, there was some movement in between. After Gold, the top writers and critics for food knowledge were Brett Anderson (3.3 stars) and Tom Sietsema (3.13 stars). At the bottom, just above Johnson, were Steve Cuozzo (1.86) and Adam Platt (2.27). The biggest moves belonged to Brett Anderson (up 14 spots), Phil Vettel (down 15), Tim Carman (plus 9), and Alan Richman (minus 9). Click for Full-Screen Culinary Knowledge Graphic


A grabby lead that doesn't try too hard to show how smart or hip the writer is; interest enough in food to actually talk about it before the 300-word mark; a balance of pithy, memorable, and zingy quips and wonderfully cadenced sentences that give insight into food; and the ability when appropriate to deliver a killer kicker.

Considering this category centers around the, er, bread and butter of America’s bestknown critics and writers, you might think most chefs would at the least give them a gimme on this category. Tell that to Adam Platt (2.21 stars, described as a "has- been"), John Mariani (2.06 stars, "Is he always accurate? No. But then who is?"), Steve Cuozzo (1.71 stars, "Poor!"), and first-timer Craig LaBan of The Philadelphia Inquirer, who at 1.6 stars was tied with Brad Johnson for last place (the latter called out for being "obsessed with tearing apart everyone's french fries"). That duo took over from the Houston Chronicle’s Alison Cook, whose 2.29 stars were an improvement over the 1.8 stars she scored last year. Only two of the writers who scored highest last year remained in the top five — Jonathan Gold and The Atlantic’s Corby Kummer — and they took the top spots. They were joined by Tom Sietsema, Brett Anderson, and the San Francisco Chronicle’s Michael Bauer, who leapfrogged Jeffrey Steingarten, Pete Wells, and John Mariani, the last of whom plummeted 15 spots ("Always up for a free meal," noted one chef, who managed to add, "but he’s generally objective and does write a lot of positive pieces"). Click for Full-Screen Prose Style Graphic


Doesn't accept free meals (or even free bottles of wine) while "anonymously" reviewing, doesn't pressure chefs or restaurateurs into catering private events for free, never wields power to secure reservations for non-work-related dining experiences, and in general measures up when facing the will-I-do-the-right-thing-when-I'm-faced-with-that-right-or-wrong dilemma.

Which critics and food writers do chefs trust the most? Not Steve Cuozzo (1.94 stars), Gael Greene (1.88), or Brad Johnson (1.6 stars — though one chef described him as "overall a writer of integrity"). This year, chefs put their faith in Michael "Hates Payola" Bauer (3.64 stars), Brett "High Integrity" Anderson (3.63), Tom "OldSchool Gentleman" Sietsema (3.6), Jonathan "Uncompromising" Gold (3.36), and Corby "Trust!" Kummer (3.14). Newcomer Daniel Vaughn of Texas Monthly made an impressive debut in sixth place, tied with Pete Wells with three stars, and Tim Carman catapulted up 10 spots from the 18th place he held last year. Click for Full-Screen Perceived Integrity Graphic

Cares deeply about food and beverage and the people preparing them and can talk about them with a distinct  point of view; and has the charm, lack of ego, and recognition of what they don't know to make them interesting enough to actually share a pizza or drink a beer with.

When it came to breaking bread or sharing a brew with critics, our panelists were kinder in 2013 than in 2012. They gave almost a full star more to this year’s most likeable critic, Jonathan Gold, who reprised the role ("That would be so fun!" said one chef). They even demonstrated more willingness to invite their least favorite writers to the table — Brad Johnson (1.57 stars, "I invited Brad to share a cup of coffee with me, but he declined") and Steve Cuozzo (1.56) were virtually tied. Not far behind were TIME’s Josh Ozersky (2 stars, who one chef said he’d never eat with because "I’d like to keep my food down") and John Mariani (who with 1.89 stars fell dramatically from second place). For the record, one chef came to Mariani’s defense noting, "Just had a meal with John and would do it again." The least-likeable writer from 2012, Tim Carman, climbed five spots, a virtual invitation to the chef’s table. Click for Full-Screen Likeablity Graphic

But enough with the excerpts, right? If you want the whole story, you have to read the full reviews. So click through the slideshow to see what some of America's top chefs said about the nation's most well-known critics. 

#22 Brad A. Johnson, The Orange County Register, 1.62 Stars
#21 Steve Cuozzo, New York Post, 1.77 Stars
#20 John Mariani, Esquire and Bloomberg, 1.88 Stars
#19 Josh Ozersky, TIME, 2.11 Stars
#18 Craig Laban, The Philadelphia Inquirer, 2.18 Stars
#17 Alison Cook, Houston Chronicle, 2.35 Stars
#16 Alan Richman, GQ, 2.39 Stars
#15 Adam Platt, New York Magazine, 2.41 Stars
#14 Gael Greene,, 2.413 Stars
#13 Phil Vettel, Chicago Tribune, 2.47 Stars
#12 Tim Carman, Washington Post, 2.56 Stars
#11 Robb Walsh, Houstonia Magazine, 2.59 Stars
#10 S. Irene Virbila, Los Angeles Times, 2.61 Stars
#9 Jeffrey Steingarten, Vogue, 2.62 Stars
#8 Daniel Vaughn, Texas Monthly, 2.81 Stars
#7 Andrew Knowlton, Bon Appétit, 2.82 Stars
#6 Pete Wells, The New York Times, 2.99 Stars
#5 Corby Kummer, The Atlantic, 3.12 Stars
#4 Michael Bauer, San Francisco Chronicle, 3.16 Stars
#3 Brett Anderson, The Times-Picayune, 3.2825 Stars
#2 Tom Sietsema, Washington Post, 3.2875 Stars
#1 Jonathan Gold, Los Angeles Times, 3.44 Stars


Arthur Bovino is The Daily Meal's executive editor. Follow Arthur on Twitter.