The food fight continues …

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In the past eight months I have been soundly pelted by an editor and columnist at the Telegram.

The first occasion was last summer by food critic Karl Wells who, in an unsolicited review of a restaurant I operate in Bay Roberts, wrote the most mean-spirited criticism I have ever read (“The invisible patrons,” Aug. 4, 2012). The pictures, caption and dialogue describing this relatively new restaurant were so damming that some of the young staff we were training at the time were almost brought to tears.

While I wrote to Mr. Wells privately to express my outrage, I did not do so publicly. I now regret that decision and hereby correct my sin of omission by responding to both Wells and his surrogate, Peter Jackson.

It’s hard to know where to begin with Jackson’s equally long screed (“If you don’t like fancy food, don’t eat it,” March 20) in response to my letter to the editor on chefs and food critics (“Food and food critics,” March 9).

My reference to railway cooks of yesteryear was just a fond memory used as a segue to my main subject matter, nothing more, no sinister motives. But Jackson somehow takes this to mean those cooks were better than today’s chefs. I did not make any such suggestion.

Jackson’s considerable effort over what is, for most readers, a trivial matter was astonishing in its breath of condemnation of a simple letter to the editor. He says: “... I can’t help wondering what state of mind spurred this reader to attack a harmless phenomenon he has every right to ignore.”

Firstly, I would argue that food critics are not always harmless and, secondly, couldn’t as much be said about Jackson’s article on the very same subject?

Then further he says: “Most of the backlash critics get is from proprietors who feel no duty to provide a quality product or good customer service. Worse it comes from people like Rowe, who seem bent on tearing a strip off anything that dares to venture beyond good old-fashioned mediocrity.”

Now where exactly does this leave those of us who wish to challenge food critics or anyone else for that matter? We are either a cranky “non-caring” proprietor or worse, as in my case, mired in mediocrity. So is the food critic beyond criticism? Is that Jackson’s message?

Now I don't know much about mediocrity, Mr. Jackson, but at this point it seems to me that your screed is going a little off the rails. That’s a judgment you’re not in a position to make about me, and the comment doesn’t become you.

Perhaps you should have a look at what we have done in Bay Roberts — there’s nothing quite like it in this province. As for mud-

slinging, might I add you seem to be quite capable of making a few patties of your own.

The Wells and Jackson duo have done their best to knock me around a little, but there’s not enough food critics in the entire Transcontinental Media system to convince me that Mr. Wells wasn’t dead wrong in the manner of his written assault on our small restaurant, even if his seating was delayed or his lettuce wasn’t blowtorched to his taste.

And that’s what it was, an over-the-top, uncharitable and unhelpful written assault.

You don’t teach by berating people, there is no honour in beating up the defenseless, there is no integrity in causing harm to new beginnings. But Wells managed to do this in one petulant and careless column. Likewise, Jackson was equally careless with his mud patties.

I stand by my position on the growing pretentious nature of chefism and food critics, you can see it everywhere, and I don’t think I’m alone in this view. It's not a crucial matter in my life, no more than anyone else’s. Just an opinion, no more, developed over time and independent of any criticisms I have of Wells and Jackson.

I thank you for the privilege of reply — now I’m done with these two.

Robert Rowe writes from St. John’s.

Organizations: Transcontinental Media

Geographic location: Bay Roberts

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Recent comments

  • Judi
    March 28, 2013 - 08:40

    I am so glad that Robert Rowe took the time to respond to Karl Well's critique of his business. I remember reading that article and being appalled at the harshness of it. I wonder if Mr. Well's has ever owned or operated a restaurant of his own and gone through the tremendous amount of work it takes to start up and keep running. It's very easy to be an armchair critic! The objective of being in business is to give customers a good experience; after all, they are our bread and butter (pardon the pun). But, sometimes things go awry and hopefully the owner takes corrective action. As the other person who commented stated, no one looks at the Telegram to get Mr. Well's opinion on an eating establishment. I have a real problem with the Telegram in that most of the establishments Wells critiques are in St. John's with the exception of when he travels outside the province. Most of us have little or no interest in where Wells travels to. I think it is high time this page was filled with something other than the stale ramblings of Wells !

  • Frank
    March 28, 2013 - 08:16

    I give food critics the same merit as I do music critics! None!

  • Don Fogwill
    March 27, 2013 - 20:14

    I have been reading the various letters on food and food critics with interest and I was delighted to see Mr. Rowe take a strip off Karl Wells. I was a faithful reader of Karl Wells column ever since it started. That stopped last year. And now I am ready to give Peter Jackson's column the flick as well. For the last couple of years my wife and I have always stopped at Mr Rowe's restauarnt/hotel in Bay Roberts, as time permitted, for either lunch or dinner. and we always enjoyed both the service and food as well as the decor and the waterside location. When I read Karl's mean spirited column on the restaurant, to put it mildly, I was shocked and wondered what in the heck put the bee in his bonnett. However all was not lost for the restaurant because I understand that some very well known people showed up to dine there to show support for Mr.Rowe. Then there were other occasions when we went to a restaurant because of the good review by Karl only to be disapointed. I remember one in particular. It was on Water St. and the only good things we remember was the basins in the washrooms and the waitresses outfits. I have had better meals at an Irving restaurant, and a heck of a lot cheaper too. As far as the decor was concerned, I was somewhat concerned about all of those wires hanging from the ceiling lights. It didn't look safe to me but I guess it must have been ok or at least as ok as the food. I think that Mr. Wells might check on the meaning "pretentious"

  • Danny
    March 27, 2013 - 16:32

    Mr. Wells should stick to what he knows best.His cameo in the Stoner Movie, shows where his talents are best served.

  • who cares
    March 27, 2013 - 09:07

    You know, I don't know anyone that reads these restaurant reviews. When people are looking for suggestions on a restaurant they don't grab a copy of the paper to see what Karl says. No one does. We ask people we know. I didn't even know that Wells had a column until this tit-for-tat started. Columnists and Editors may believe that their opinions are the result of some great wisdom that only they possess but in reality opinions are like a******s, everyone has one. Of course, that's just my opinion.