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critiquing the food critic...

One of the most disappointing aspects of the  food scene in India is the SORE lack of decent food critics.
The job description of a  food critic (even a cartoon one like Anton Ego from the Disney/ Pixar  movie 'Ratatouille') includes having to sample a variety of dishes offered at  the selected restaurant, and explain to the rest of us reading his/her review, about what makes a particular dish special  (positively or negatively), in terms of visual appeal, taste, texture and the combination of flavors. It is not about which socially fashionable joint was paid a visit and the list of what you ordered and whether you liked it or not. Most of our Indian food critics forget that its all about the food & NOT about them.
Listed below are links to two restaurant reviews, published on the same day in two prominent & well respected newspapers.  Independent of which restaurants are being reviewed, I'd like to point out the emphasis of the main subject, viz, the food, in the first review (NY Times, 17th March 2010) & the lack thereof in the second (Times of India 17th March 2010).
The link to the NYtimes review
http://events.nytimes.com/2010/03/17/dining/reviews/17rest.html?ref=dining
The first part of the piece describes the restaurateur, his passion about his establishment, about what 'drives him', and a brief history of  his culinary background. the rest of it is devoted to the reviewed dishes. Read this excerpt below & let me know if it doesn't pique your curiousity about the dish. ( its a sea food dish, & yes i will be the first to tell you that I would never be able to think of this description, because of my dietary preference), but the description itself is adequate to elicit pavlovian reflexes!

And so he has gone in an opposite direction. There are elements of French technique to the cooking here, as well as an appreciable Italian devotion to ingredients. There are Indian flavors, and central European ones; there are nods also at Spain, at the Greenmarket, at North Africa. The result is a menu with an aesthetic that is entirely American. It appropriates all that has come to it, without apology.
Whatever you’re drinking, it’s hard to go wrong with an appetizer of butter-poached oysters, off the regular menu. These are served in a wide bowl with celery root cooked and cut into a perfect rendition of tagliatelle pasta, with a large dab of American caviar for seasoning.
The dish is spooky perfection, crazy-making in its clean simplicity, its slinky richness. Butter traces run into oyster liquor, and the amalgamation swirls forward over the sweetness of a vegetable that acts as a starch, and carries the salty pop of the fish eggs carefully toward the tongue. 
Enough said, I rest my case.

and the review that appeared in the Times of India.

http://epaper.timesofindia.com/Default/Scripting/ArticleWin.asp?From=Archive&Source=Page&Skin=TOINEW&BaseHref=TOIM/2010/03/17&PageLabel=37&EntityId=Ar03700&ViewMode=HTML&GZ=T

The write-up is ostensibly about world food with a particular focus on Spanish food, but the first half of the article is entirely dedicated to the author herself. next comes the name dropping, and a list of what she & her buddies ordered and a binary verdict, Liked it/did not like it... Whats with that?
 Any description about a dish was restricted to one line quoted below:
Tapenade crusted chillean (SIC) seabass with Bouillabaisse cream is a masterful balance of textures and the pancetta wrapped chicken breasts with sauteed chorizo bristle with flavour.
And just when you though she was redeeming herself, pat comes the next statement:
Plenty for veggies too. 
And this in a city where a sizable percentage population is vegetarian. Go figure!
 

 I certainly do not want to give the impression that all food critics in India are cast in the same mold. Anyone who has watched the NDTV/Good times show 'Highway on my plate' can vouch for this. The styling of the program is reminiscent of a mix of Anthony Bourdain's 'No reservation' and Andrew Zimmerns 'Bizzare foods'. Two foodies, one an omnivore (Rocky), the other a herbivore (Mayur) on a seemingly endless road trip, bringing to life, a slice of the culinary paradise that India truly is!

Comments

  1. absolutely true. The TOI food correspondence is going through the motions of being a critic, primarily she is a socialite (page 3 type). A show off, boasting of her foreign visits, of her being in the jury etc. Enjoying all the freebies that comes along with being a food critic.

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  2. It's nice to know that you've taken the trouble to dissect the second review, piece-meal! And so right you are in pointing out to the fact that the writer needs to go do an autobiography on HERself!
    thks for posting the para on food (the first review) - like you predicted, my taste buds tingled nice and proper!!!!! and hey share this with the gang of girls on FB:)

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  3. The less seriously we take TOI as a newspaper the better! It is a tabloid, at best. Reporters are of the same caliber; if you spot something readable in TOI it is probably stolen!

    I love Highway on my Plate - both Rocky and Mayur come across as crazy foodies on a great road trip! Their "Food Quotes" are silly funny! This is the only Indian food program worth your time - all the rest have the anchors so much ill at ease in front of the camera. That they must speak in a rehearsed English adds further to the discomfiture, of the anchor as well as the viewer! In fact, even Vir Sanghvi's and Ritu Dalmia's shows lack that vivaciousness that you expect on a show about food - concentrating as they are on reading from the teleprompter! In all the other food shows the focus seems to be the clothes rahter than the food (The Chef and His Better Half is hilarious, My Dear!).

    But why am I surprised - Seema Chandra, NDTV's food editor nothing less, rarely goes beyond, I like this (it is rare for her to like anything btw, irrespective of whether she is eating in China or Spain). But she is impeccably turned out, never will you find her walking down a street in an ordinary pair of jeans and a tee. It is never about the food!! :-)

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