Restaurants: The story of a five-star mauling
What did Guy Fieri do to earn the ire of America's top food critics? Just about everything, explains John Walsh
Prolific writer and commentator John Walsh contributes columns to the paper as well as writing features, interviews and restaurant reviews. He has been editor of The Independent Magazine, literary editor of the Sunday Times and features editor of the London Evening Standard.
Friday 16 November 2012
The US restaurateur Guy Fieri must be starting to feel a little paranoid. Since he opened his new place, Guy's American Kitchen & Bar, in Times Square, New York in September, it's been all carp carp, bitch bitch, criticise criticise. One or two of the reviews have bordered on the hostile. One or two have teetered on the edge of personal loathing. No, let's not prevaricate. The review by Pete Wells in The New York Times on Tuesday was probably the most comprehensive hatchet job on a restaurant ever published.
Delivered in a tone of incredulous hatred, it took the form of 34 questions addressed to the bleach-haired, multi-tattooed, bowling-shirted "chef-dude" and TV celebrity: "Were you struck by how very far from awesome the Awesome Pretzel Chicken Tenders are?… Hey, did you try that blue drink, the one that glows like nuclear waste? The watermelon margarita? Any idea why it tastes like some combination of radiator fluid and formaldehyde?… At your five Johnny Garlic's restaurants in California, if servers arrive with main courses and find that the appetisers haven't been cleared yet, do they try to find space for the new plates next to the dirty ones? Or does that just happen in Times Square, where people are used to crowding?… Why did the toasted marshmallow taste like fish?"
The scorn goes on and on, sounding less like the food critic of a quality newspaper and more like a conspiracy theorist convinced he's discovered the person responsible for all America's ills. And his outburst followed a similarly crushing assault on Mr Fieri in the New York Observer by Joshua David Stein, who looks beyond the chef's new establishment, his food and appearance, to discern something more pernicious – about Fieri's birth, Stein wrote: "Though America would not realise it for years to come, she had welcomed into her heartland perhaps her greatest home-grown besmircher, the seed of her undoing."
Stein seems to suggest that Fieri's commitment to the super-calorific Cajun Chicken Alfredo, the Sashimi Tacos, Vegas Fries ("extra-crispy, natural-cut fries tossed in house-made Buffalo sauce, served with bleu-sabi dipping sauce") and similar delights, is single-handedly forcing up obesity levels in America while Fieri loudly commends, on his reality-television shows, his charitable foundation to combat childhood obesity. He is, Stein says, "the culinary equivalent of the gun lobby".
Fieri flew to Manhattan to denounce the NYT review and claim Wells had an agenda, to make his name by bashing a television chef. American commentators sprang to his defence. A fellow TV chef, Alton Brown, tweeted: "I am planning on visiting Guy Fieri's NYC eatery this weekend because it can't be as bad as all those snooty New Yorkers say." Another opined: "Guy Fieri is a pox on professional chefs. I think the Donkey Sauce [roast-garlic mayonnaise] may be seasoned with the tears of Gordon Ramsay and Anthony Bourdain."
So a new people's hero is born out of a grass-roots dislike of people who cook and appreciate good food, and a rapturous embrace of unhealthy slop and fries tossed in Buffalo sauce. And it proves that what everybody really, really loves to read is a cataclysmically knocking restaurant review.
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