USD Magazine, Fall 2003
IN YOUR OWN WORDS
The Woman Behind the Menu
The worst part of my job is writing negative reviews, because I know how damaging the power of the pen can be to a restaurant's reputa– tion. I have a public platform in which to condone and condemn, answer back. And even though my job is to be honest, I'm always aware of the conse– quences that honesty can bring to the table. bur, by and large, restaurateurs can't
Lori SLuss-Midson '89 is the restaurant critic and dining editor at Colo rado AvidGolfe r Magazine, the Colorado-based editor ofthe Rocky Mountain Zagar Restauran t Survey and a frequent contributor to Sunset Magazine and C irysearch . She previously wrote restaurant reviews, features and a dining out column for Denver's 5280 Magazine. Here she reveals what Life as a restau– rant critic is really Like. I had held the covered ride of "restaurant critic" for less than two months when the lawyers called. Ir was 1999, and my first dining feature had just been published in Denver's city magazine. Like any restaurant critic worth her salt and pepper, I'd penned an honest assessment of Denver's restaurant climate - the good, the bad, and the ugly. There were euphoric high fives in some toque circles and contempt and disdain in others. Nor everyone was happy, least of all a chef whose restaurant I had panned - and she made sure the restaurant community knew of her displeasure via a two-page letter, which wasn't published in the maga– zine, bur was circulated to just about anyone who could read. Bur the icing on the cake came when the restaurant's lawyers phoned rhe
The question I get most often about my job is, "How did you become a resturant critic in the first place?"
Negatives aside, I can't imagine having any other career. My two passions - food and writing - are my job. Ir's what I love. I've mer a slew of celebrity chefs, including Julia Child, Bobby Flay, Jacques Pepin, and Mario Barali. When I find char undiscovered, off-rhe– earen path hole-in-the-wall that just happens to dish out cult status Thai ears, I'm giddy. The greatest satisfaction comes when my readers take the rime to let me know they've read my review, eaten at the restaurant, and were subsequently flown to the moon and back. Of course, there are plenty of people who disagree with what I write, and that's fine, too, because it gets people talking. The question I get most often about my job is, "How did you become a restaurant critic in the first place?" Everyone, I suppose, takes a different path, but for me, it was luck, good timing, and a knowledgeable and seasoned palate gleaned from living and noshing my w2y through Europe, eating out every chance I could get, thumb– ing through cookbooks and reading food essays, working at restau– rants, cooking in my own kitchen, and growing up with a mother who made squid tentacles required eating for a 3-year-old, a practice that my own 4-year-old steadfastly refuses to adopt. That confession aside, I'm happy he prefers Thai curries over McDonald's French fries. For the record, I am nor a professional chef. As of yet, there is no college that teaches courses in advanced restaurant criticism, although I have a bachelor's degree in English and a master's degree in journal– ism, both of which have served me well. And I've always known I wanted to write about food. In between Barr Thurber's English classes at USD and getting into trouble for various antics around campus, I voraciously scouted out those San Diego neighborhoods littered with bear-up Thai joints, dilapidated Indian curry houses, and Mid-East storefronts. Food was my drug of choice. It still is. Speaking of choices, rhe lawyers chose nor to sue. Still, I was banned from the restaurant, which recently closed, and you can be assured I'm not shedding any tears. I save those for the critic's body this job has awarded me. Five years of reviewing restaurants, and d1e dreaded "freshman 15" takes on a whole new meaning. Ear out 250 times a year, and you'll see what I mean. Then again, you should never trust a skinny restaurant critic.
publisher of the magazine. Litigious restaura– teurs were nor something I had expected. And you thought being a restaurant critic was glamorous. Ir's an interesting job, reviewing resrau- - rants, but not nearly as glitzy as you might expect. I don't get paid to ear at restaurants, and I don't ear out for free. I am nor a restaurant cheerleader: I'm an advocate for the consumer, the person spending money and hoping that it's money well spent. I get paid to write about my dining experiences and to voice my personal and professional opinion - a subjective, qualitative, and individualistic assessment of the food, atmosphere, service, and myriad other details of a restaurant. Sound easy? Chew on this: Unlike the average diner, my job is to visit a restaurant as many rimes as necessary in order to write
Lori Midson has to remain anonymous in her quest for the best dishes.
a balanced and fair review, which sometimes entails eating at a restau– rant I hate, not once or twice, but three or more times. I've had food poisoning more times then I can count, and endured thinly veiled threats from disgruntled restaurateurs. So far, however, my jaw is still intact. I have to maintain my anonymity, which isn't easy, and there are only so many adjectives to replace "crunchy," "crispy," and "grilled to perfection."
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