A Question of Taste: the Ethics and Craft of Restaurant Reviewing
Professional reviewers who write for legacy media like newspapers and magazines have long been considered the gold standard — experienced, objective, with genuine expertise about food. But do professional restaurant critics inhabit an elitist world of "foodies" who can’t relate to the ordinary diner and would never dream of panning a chef who is also a close buddy? Even if they strive to keep their identity secret, don’t traditional critics still receive preferential service that ordinary customers will never see? Will a reviewer who draws a paycheck from a mainstream media organization ever write negative reviews about its advertisers?
Or does it even matter? The traditional critic no longer holds a monopoly on restaurant reviews. Thousands of amateurs post their critiques online on blogs, social networks and web sites like Yelp and Urbanspoon, adding new perspectives to the mix. But are these reviewers the ordinary "real people" they claim to be, or do they have an agenda to promote or an ax to grind? Is someone paying them to praise or condemn a restaurant? Do they recognize fundamental media ethics principles like avoiding conflicts of interest, refusing special treatment, or correcting mistakes?
Those questions and more were the topic of the 2012 Silha Lecture. The discussion was led by Lynne Rossetto Kasper, author, co-creator and host of American Public Media’s national radio show, "The Splendid Table." She was joined by Michael Stern, known for the Roadfood.com website. Michael, together with Jane Stern, pioneered internet food reporting and photography and has written more than 40 books. The Sterns are also contributing editors of Saveur magazine and write regularly for the Sunday supplement Parade. They were joined by "Mystery Guest," a Twin Cities-based reviewer since 1998 who is also a James Beard Foundation winner — and who hopes to maintain anonymity!
For more about this event, click on any of the following links:
Video of the 2012 Silha Lecture with Lynne Rosetto Kasper, Michael Stern, and mystery guest.