Robert Rowe’s letter to the editor in the March 9 Weekend edition interested me on several levels.
I must admit at the outset that my interest is somewhat personal, since my brother is The Telegram’s restaurant reviewer and the article is not so subtly directed at him.
To give Mr. Rowe his due, his writing technique is quite good and his articles are interesting to read, for their entertainment value, if nothing else.
But, while he suggests that food/restaurant critics will resort to using a meanspirited manner, Mr. Rowe’s language in this same article is nasty and snide.
For example, referring to food critics as “puffy prigs” or “foppish critics” is most unkind, to say the least.
Mr. Rowe speaks of “culinary personalities presented in the media today.”
I presume that he’s including local chefs in his reference, particularly those whose photos and accomplishments have been reported in this paper.
He dismisses their considerable effort, hard work and creativity by stating that “gold medals are handed out with the frequency of juvenile sports events.” The Gold Medal Plates competition, held only in select cities across the country, not only draws attention to the wonderfully talented chefs in those cities, but its major purpose is raising funds to benefit Canada’s national Olympics team.
Food has always been an important part of our culture, and creative, dedicated cooks, including mothers and fathers, were able to make meals more interesting and tastier.
Until advances in science revealed the answers to questions such as “how do our brains derive pleasure from various flavours, textures and colours of food?” and “how can these qualities be enhanced?” there wasn’t much that good cooks or chefs could do creatively to offer a more interesting or appealing product.
From research in psychology, restaurateurs and chefs now know how to choose music, colours, décor, etc., to provide a more pleasant experience for clients. For example, louder music, according to research, affects how quickly a dish is eaten. As a result, individual diners will eat more food, i.e. spend more money. It’s a much more sophisticated business today, with more sophisticated customers and clients.
In a city such as St. John’s, which has grown so much in size and affluence in recent years, it’s to be expected that more restaurants would open and more people with money to spend, including tourists, would demand more variety in a dining-out experience.
Restaurant reviews simply provide information about a particular place to eat, information that people like to know when deciding where to spend their money. Those who are aware know that a review, be it of a book, a movie or a restaurant experience, is an opinion of one person. A well-written column, an enjoyable “read,” as they say, will be read by those who want the information contained in it, as well as those who simply enjoy reading good writing. The Telegram restaurant reviews, in my biased opinion, are a good example of such writing. The reviewer has only as much influence as readers or an audience allows him or her. Customers will spend their money where they choose, based on their own experience.
Finally, I find irony in Mr. Rowe’s choosing the example of cooking on the train or in a ship at sea as representing “real genius.”
Our dad, Karl’s dad, and an important influence on his interest in food and cooking, began his career as a cook at sea.
He went to the seal fishery at the age of 14, with his father, uncles and brothers. He began working as a “cookee” or cook’s helper. He loved talking about his experiences and told stories of having to light the cigarettes of the men whose fingers were greasy with seal blubber, and of having to sleep on the seal pelts.
After a period of time working as a cook in Gander during the war, where he gained experience working with his older brother, Dad took a position as a cook with the Newfoundland Railway.
We have a picture of him standing on the tracks in his cook’s attire behind the caboose, while the train was stopped at the Gaff Topsails, with snowbanks twice as tall as he on either side.
Dad always laughed when telling a story of the senior cook he once worked with on the railway. A dissatisfied customer had returned a steak uneaten because it was too tough. The cook threw it on the floor and stomped on it with the heel of his shoe. Following this “tenderizing technique,” he returned it to the customer. Thank God for science!
Betty Wells writes from Halifax.