What a load of…

- Advertisement -

Virgil Evetts

If anybody asks, I call myself a writer these days. It’s what I do with most of my time, and I get paid for it. But I’m under no delusions: I write about food, gardening and ‘lifestyle’ issues. I’m hardly John Pilger reporting from Myanmar. I’m just a fluff peddler.

That’s not to say a measure of blood, sweat and tears doesn’t go into my work- writing of any kind is hell some days,  but I never lose sight of the fact that the topics I cover, and the views  therein, aren’t very important in the greater scheme of things . I actively encourage my readers to take everything I say with a great hurtling boulder of salt. Disagree with me, prove me wrong,  tell me where to get off.  After all, I’m just some guy. What do I know?

So I’m always a bit embarrassed by food writers who have fallen under the misapprehension that their opinions really count for anything.  Take Gordon Ramsey (please). There is no question that he’s  a great chef, but really, who behaves like that, for the camera or otherwise?  Even Jamie O with his noble – if rather cringe-worthy- politicking has been getting well and truly above his station for some time now.

Whatever power food writing has, it should -I believe- be used for good.  It should make readers happy, broaden their culinary horizons and, at its most contentious, challenge consumer ethics. I suppose Jamie gets a tick in that box, but the names he’s inflicted upon his children (Poppy Honey, Daisy Boo, Petal Blossom Rainbow and Buddy Bear) indicate that ego-madness has well and truly set in.

Even review writing is something of a grey area for me. I’ve only ever had a couple of stabs at it, and I hated it through and through. I was left with that slightly nauseous feeling of having gossiped about a friend.  It’s not that I don’t approve of reviews – I think they serve an important role, at least in theory, and can make for some very entertaining reading. What worries me is the genre’s mostly destructive power. A bad review can fatally wound a restaurant with more certainly than a good one can be its making. I might not have much sympathy for bad restaurants, but I don’t want to facilitate foreclosure either. It’s distasteful.

And just like anyone, I have very individual tastes. I like flavours that plenty of people do not (see my many endorsements of durian and black pudding), and I abhor certain behaviours of the service industry that others might find endearing (i.e. if you’re waiting on my table, please don’t touch me in any way or sit down to ‘talk me through the menu’). Opinions are so subjective and context specific. For my musings to mean anything, you’d really need to know me pretty well.

That said, I don’t think the stereotype of the bitchy restaurant reviewer really exists in New Zealand – not in print anyway. There is no lack of AA Gill wannabes in online communities, but for the most part the more influential of our local reviewers are a balanced and well informed lot. Very few have a background in professional cooking, and I think this is a good thing. Chefs do not view the restaurant experience the way you or I might.

This is perhaps why the likes of Gordon Ramsey are so egregiously unsuited to fairly judge cooking competitions. He views everything with a chef’s technical perfectionism and Waterford crystal ego. Doesn’t help that he’s a right bastard either.

Gordon’s not without precedent though. Fanny Cradock, a sort of template for female impersonators everywhere (despite being an actual woman), who wrote excellent food columns and hosted cooking shows in Britain during the 60s and 70s, was famous for her tantrums and aggressive snobbery- off screen.  But when she slowly poured scorn on the efforts of a contestant on a national TV cook-off, her career come to a shuddering halt. In those pre-Big Brother days the Brits were all about saving face and duplicitous manners. She’d be a sensation today. Click here to see the whole nasty performance.

Those of us who are paid to write about nice things like food, gardening and household linens need to remember that we’re bloody lucky. Very few people get to do what they love for a living. But the fact is, the world doesn’t actually need us. Let’s hope they don’t  figure this out.

My personal mantra, which I draw upon whenever I find my tone becoming too serious or authoritative is this,:  It’s only food (or gardening, or drapes). Get over yourself.


Full marks if you can identify the subject of the picture above.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

21 thoughts on “What a load of…

  1. I just couldn’t depart your website before suggesting that I extremely loved the usual info a person supply in your visitors? Is going to be again incessantly in order to inspect new posts

  2. Simply wish to say your article is as astonishing. The clarity
    on your post is just spectacular and i could think you’re a professional in this subject. Fine with your permission let me to snatch your RSS feed to keep up to date with approaching post. Thank you one million and please carry on the enjoyable work.

  3. Nice set of plums there Virgil!

    I think food blogs are a more reliable source of reviews than ‘official’ restaurant reviewers. You can get a very good picture of what a restaurant is like by reading two or three blog posts about them.