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.