Dear Leslie Brenner,
After seeing the movie “Chef” last night and having recently returned to the restaurant industry I feel like it’s time to write your letter-a-day.
I’m a blogger but not a food blogger. I enjoy a nice meal but I’m not a foodie. I’m a work in a restaurant but hopefully not forever and I’m a Dallas native who’s proud of our dedicated food scene.
When it comes down to it, there are essentially three things to do in Dallas.
We shop like every store at NorthPark is going out of business. We watch and discuss sports like they actually affect our personal lives. And most importantly we eat out at restaurants as if every meal were our last. In so many ways, Dallas has elevated dining beyond a casual habit to something of a sport like hunting exotic game. For those who can afford it’s s an entire lifestyle unto itself.
We don’t have any Michelin Star restaurants like New York City and it’s not a dining destination like New Orleans. Our food scene can be myopic and self congratulatory to a dangerously high degree at times. But despite it all, our passion for dining is undeniable and is to be celebrated. Criticism can be both honest and constructive.
Unlike many, I’m not here to bash your reviewing style or stance on certain restaurants. I’ll even pretty much side with you on this whole John Tesar Twitter fiasco. He must have seen “Chef” also and realized there was an opportunity to get more press for himself. I’ve never been to The Knife myself (I’m but a lowly waiter) but I thought your review was more complementary than not.
Try to be a friend to the industry. When you crush someone’s favorite restaurants, it feels personal because it’s the personal touches that makes a restaurant special for most people. Food and wait staff all add up to an experience that, when done right, makes you feel like part of the family. A great Dallas restaurateur once printed on their menu that, “The love is free”.
Love and be loved Mrs. Brenner.
PS: Of course laziness is inexcusable but if possible, be sympathetic to the waiter who doesn’t know as much about food as you. They don’t get to eat out for a living.
Dear Mr. Bernstein,
Thank you for your thoughtful letter. I am honored that you choose me as today’s recipient.
I understand where you’re coming from, but I cannot be a “friend to the industry” — that is absolutely not a critic’s role (nor any serious journalist’s) role. My work is in service to our readers. I am aware that it may not feel very nice to have a critic say that a dish a reader loves had some technical flaws, and I wish that part were otherwise. But honesty is a key part of a critic’s role, and I’m paid to express my honest opinion. When I express my views of a restaurant, its food, service and ambience, I’m trying to help the reader experience the restaurant vicariously, and helping them understand the restaurant in the context of our dining scene. After that, it’s up to the reader to decide whether he or she wants to spend his or her hard-earned money there.
I do feel sympathy for waiters whose food knowledge is lacking, but it really is up to the management to educate the servers about the menu they’re being asked to sell and serve. That’s why I’m always writing that better training would be in order in so many situations. On the other hand, if training isn’t forthcoming, waiters can always learn what’s need by asking the chef, or reading. Getting information about food and cooking is easier than ever. And waiters don’t have to master a whole world of food knowledge, just what’s on the menu at their restaurant. Meanwhile, “I don’t know off the top of my head, but I’m happy to go in the kitchen and find out” is always a great answer.
Thank you again for taking the time to write. I truly appreciate your sharing your thoughts — and reading The Dallas Morning News.