Monday, September 19, 2011

Whats goin on? Apologies to Marvin Gaye

I think there is an exciting and significant push from a few restaurateurs and chefs in Australia that bring a very fresh and perhaps even unique aesthetic to the sourcing, cooking and presentation of food. It seems that the conditions have been just right for a new school of cookery to emerge from what has been to date, the conventionally accepted hierarchy and status quo of hatted establishments ruling the roost.
This has had some of our traditionally recognized arbiters of restaurant criticism scrambling to bone-up on the current state of play and many of them are not happy campers, in fact some our downright hostile to this apparent changing of the guard. The fact is, while they were dozing, fretting about next year’s contract and dishing out praise on the anointed, the language of food, ever evolving, has once again morphed into something else entirely.
These days it’s not uncommon to find some of the most exciting cooking and ideas coming from what would have been previously thought of as the most incongruous of places. Adding to this confusion, many exponents are not coming from the established kitchens of the greats, instead many are self-taught, confident and sure footed which confounds the logic of the ‘everyone must do their time and pay their dues’ school of thought. Like music, the classics remain but the pop music of the day reflects the people it is made by and listened to. Where rules were rigidly adhered to and boundaries were set have given way to a breezy embrace of whatever works and tastes good, go onto the plate. Of course some advocates of this route don’t always get it right but those that do are game-changers of sorts and to deride them because they are ahead of a curve is to air one’s ignorant laundry in public.
In an attempt to remain topical and hang onto what remains of their relevance, many critics feel the need to put these young Turks in their place and remind them of the generally accepted state of play by typing some sense into them via an ambivalent review or worse, an unsympathetic one. One could argue that in order to keep a vice-like grip on the King-maker status bestowed upon some reviewers, it might be necessary to slay a few industry icons so as to, you know, keep everyone on their toes. In fact, I believe that this very action occurred this year when several of our most venerable restaurants were given a shellacking all in the name of what? Was it to get them to reclaim their esteemed status? Was it a tap on the shoulder of sorts? I believe it was a mechanism to re-calibrate the perception that the reviewers in question could still influence and determine. All it achieved though, in my opinion, was to expose what we might have suspected all along: the death rattle of the broadsheet reviewer as we know it. These places were easy targets. They’re like some doddering uncle in a threadbare cardigan, blissfully unaware that he’s not a cavalry officer in the last days of the Raj. He’s not hurting anyone, he’s entertaining, people love his stories so leave him be.
Emboldened, fresh from the kill and with a developing appetite as an iconoclast, some set their course to collide with this new push only to find themselves out of touch and as a tragic lone voice of misplaced dissent.
Instead of pointing out what these places are not perhaps a more constructive pursuit might be to highlight what they are, exuberant, optimistic and uncompromising, surely that’s more of a legacy to leave than one of bitterness, resentment and retrospection?


Vineyard Paul said...

Changing of the guard indeed. And now with everyone so connected, everyone sharing, everyone tweeting, and blogging, can everyone become the King's and Queen's of cooking?

matt machine said...

bloody well said.

Roger McShane said...

Great writing Steve. I wish I could write as beautifully about the emergence of the exciting new chefs that are providing Tasmanians with so much pleasure. You are a gem!
I don't post very often but this article has resonated with me!
Roger McShane

steve said...

Hi paul-good point. Firstly I'm not sure. Then again who determines those accolades if at all we need them? Too many places get sucked into the need to always be PR-ing & some lose sight of what it is they actually do. The PR becomes king. Look at the handful of Mel & Syd rests that seem to be the only ones who the media concentrate on-thats PR working.

Hi Matt,-thanks for reading

G'day Roger-Welcome and thanks for reading. There is a shift happening and some of the food that is being made makes our established class leaders look decidedly old hat. Thats not to say that I reckon these places are any less because of this, they're just different and the difference i think should be celebrated rather than stymied

Nick Osborne said...

Negative reviews are a thing of life. A book I was involved in producing and photographing, 'Tasmania's Table,' also received a far from glowing review, taking up small nit picking issues, instead of it's greater purpose to showcase the state of play of food in Tasmania.
We have such talented people and wonderful product in this small island state and are extremely lucky that said talent sees fit to open businesses here in such bleak economic times. These small, youthful and nibble businesses will be game changers for our state, and negative comments will not adversely affect them in the long run. I feel these comments will only serve as a catalyst for greater strength and resilience.

Nick Osborne

steve said...

Hi Nick and welcome- I agree, rough with the smooth and all that. One can't ever hope to please everybody for sure however what prompted my article was the notion that some reviewers are simply not up to the task of reviewing subjects that they dont full appreciate or understand. Its not enough now just to say 'I dont like this or that' without explaining why.
Conversley the old chestnut remains: No one ever complains about a good review ha ha!

Sunnybrae and all who sail in her said...

Steve have the courage of your cinvictions and speak plainly waht are you actually alluding to?

Anonymous said...

Excellent post Steve-as always you seem to hit the nail on the head

stickyfingers said...

Hello! thought I'd toss some thoughts in the ring.

I think we live in times where everyone is a critic. Online, offline and in traditional media vehicles, we see a rushing torrent of varied opinion on food.

The great accessability of dining venues in Australia means that there is a broad scope of those who can now try out the new culinary trends and to express their impressions to a sea of others via social media.

This has resulted in a community of support for those pushing the culinary boundaries that previously did not exist for chefs. The bonus is it's providing opportunities to young chefs that previous generations have not been able to enjoy while in the full flush of their youthful creativity. And perhaps, this is hard for older critics to stomach?

In the marketing sphere it is held that the average person will read at least six reviews, of various forms, before making a purchase. To me that means there is scope for all types of reviewing.

I think the rise in numbers of sycophantic or sponsored amateur food blog reviews may have contributed to some professional food writers deliberately setting themselves on a different course. But their being myopically critical of venues merely adds to the chorus of available opinions.

I once had an Epicure Editor tell me that reviewers don't make restaurants close down, it is the venue itself that has failed to delight the customer. A bad review can however be the final straw for an already limping business.

Sadly, I think it's hard to now find an unbiased, educated, informed and honest review anywhere in Australia's media or blogging landscape.