Even if you don't follow food writing that closely, you're still probably aware of The New York Times's new restaurant critic, Pete Wells. Everyone read that thing he wrote flogging Guy Fieri — and then some. But that doesn't mean he's the best in the country, especially if you ask the chefs he covers. The best reviewed critic works across the country, all the way in L.A.
If you don't know him, meet Jonathan Gold of the L.A. Times. In a new survey, The Daily Meal has asked some of America's top chefs to give some pointed criticism of the people paid to criticize them, and Gold came out on top. Chefs love him like fat kids love, well, all the food. (Why limit it to cake, really?)
Chefs were asked to grade 20 reviewers on their culinary knowledge, prose, integrity, and likability, and then those categories were averaged out to give the reviewers a four star review, just like in their silly papers. The results, please:
You'll notice Wells cracked the top three, but came in behind Gold, who's been with the L.A. Times for less than a year, and Vogue's Jeffrey Steingarten. Gold's score was anchored by his extremely high culinary knowledge score — no other reviewer scored anywhere close to him in that category — and his taking the highest "integrity" score. Being the first restaurant reviewer to win a Pulitzer will do that. Steingarten is the best pure writer in the restaurant reviewing industry. He scored the highest prose rating. Wells received his highest marks for prose and and integrity, but ultimately was 'pretty good' across the board. Other reviewers scored higher than him in every category. His second place integrity score makes sense, though. He writes for The Paper of Record, and the last two guys to hold his job were the universally beloved Sam Sifton, and Frank Bruni. (A challenge: find someone on the Internet willing to say something bad about Sifton. You can't.)
So, what makes Gold so great? From the mouths of the (anonymous) chefs polled, he's...
- “very, very knowledgeable”
- “perhaps the best of them all – art, food, politics, and music in one smooth stream.”
- “The ‘Gold Standard’ (no pun intended), although he clearly has a passion for food under $25.”
There you have it, New York Post-worthy pun headline and all. Though, one chef who maybe shouldn't have been asked to review reviewers offered this hilarious critique: "He’s very partial and opinionated about his liking and disliking. I don’t think he’s a good fit with the Los Angeles Times, but he’s a great writer." A loose translation: "This critic should stop criticizing and just write about my ingredients like a reporter, or something. Who cares if it tastes good? I used fennel, damnit."
But Gold could take a cue from Wells to score even higher next time. "He writes about his neighborhood finds, but forgets who the main players are that he’s supposed to be paying attention to," one critical chef said. He needs to take on a Food Network star and have the whole thing go viral, basically. We hear Gold is now preparing his fillet of Bobby Flay as we speak.