Why This Restaurant Critic is Not Afraid of Losing His Job to Yelpers

In the age of social media platforms and user-created content, is there still a place for the restaurant food critic as we used to know it?

On this episode of Chef AF, our host Chef Jim Berman, sits down with Jason Sheehan, a former professional chef turned food writer— a venture that lead him to win a James Beard Award and later author several books.

Sheehan, who’s now a restaurant critic for Philadelphia magazine, likes “the idea of someone going to a restaurant, having something good or having something awful and then telling people about it.”

“There is a part of me that likes Yelp and other platforms like it. I like the notion of the democratization of restaurant criticism…I have no problem with that whatsoever,” says Sheehan. “What kills me is the weight that it’s given…”

Listen in to this entertaining episode as these two chefs/writers debate the role of media and restaurants in the modern age and why Jason Sheehan is not worried about losing his job to Yelpers!

Hosted by:

Jim Berman

JIM BERMAN

Expert Columnist / Show Host


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James Beard Foundation Announces 2018 Restaurant and Chef Award Semifinalists

 James Beard Foundation Announces 2018 Restaurant and Chef Award Semifinalists

The James Beard Foundation has just announced its list of Restaurant and Chef Award semifinalists for the 28th annual James Beard Foundation Awards. After receiving more than 20,000 entries, semifinalists were chosen for each of the  21 categories like best new restaurants, outstanding bar programs, and rising star chefs under 30.  

The foundation will announce the final nominees for each award category on March 14th during a press conference held at Stephen Starr’s restaurant, Parc.

About the James Beard Foundation’s awards

After receiving entries, the Restaurant and Chef Committee reviews them to determine eligibility and regional representation. Based on the results and eligibility requirements for each award, the committee then produces a nominating ballot that lists the semifinalists in each of the 21 Restaurant and Chef Award categories. The list is then voted on by 600 regional restaurant critics, food and wine editors, culinary educators, and past James Beard Foundation Restaurant and Chef Award winners to determine the final five nominees in each category. The same judges then vote on these five nominees to select the winners.

The James Beard Foundation Awards Gala will be held at the Lyric Opera of Chicago on Monday, May 7, 2018. During the event, which is open to the public, awards for the Restaurant and Chef and Restaurant Design categories will be handed out, along with special achievement awards Humanitarian of the Year, Lifetime Achievement, Design Icon, Who’s Who of Food and Beverage in America, and America’s Classics. A gala reception, featuring acclaimed chefs and beverage professionals from across the country, will immediately follow.

Winners of the 2018 James Beard Media Awards will be announced at an exclusive event honoring the nation's top cookbook authors, culinary broadcast producers and hosts, and food journalists at Pier Sixty at Chelsea Piers in New York City April 27th.

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Recent “Restaurant of the Year” Debate Sheds Light on a More Important Issue

Recent “Restaurant of the Year” Debate Sheds Light on a More Important Issue

By Kaitlin Ohlinger, Foodable Contributor

On June 17th, 2015, a collective “WHUT!” was heard in Portland when The Oregonian declared Renata its “2015 Restaurant of the Year.” Having only been open six weeks at the time of the announcement (although even this is contested in some circles), grumbling commenced. 

The Oregonian’s Michael Russell’s credibility was “at an all-time low,” according to some commenters. Others insisted he needed to resign. Chatter continued to swirl, saying this was “the beginning of the end” for The Oregonian, that Renata “bullied” its way to the top, and that this accolade was a direct insult to other Portland restaurants that had quietly been churning out a similar style of cuisine for a decade. 

To his credit, Michael Russell adequately and firmly defended his decision in a professional manner. He reminded us that the “Restaurant of the Year” pool is actually a lot smaller than people might think. He rebuffed any insinuation that he was paid to name Renata “Restaurant of the Year” (a somewhat juvenile accusation at best). 

We were also reminded that “Restaurant of the Year” is more a declaration of newness, or influence on the Portland food scene. With location, design and style alone, many might agree that Renata is a bold, if acceptable choice. Perhaps Portland needed this atom bomb of an announcement, if not just to keep it on its toes. Is that what Russell was going for? 

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The Great Restaurant Critics Debate

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Thanks to Eater, our lunch conversation today at the Foodable office took an interesting turn. It all started with a well-written piece by restaurant critic Robert Sietsema about how the landscape of restaurant critics for publications has changed so much over the years. Between budget cuts of print media (and, in turn, employee cuts), and the waves of free social media insight from consumers themselves (and review sites, to boot), "conventional restaurant criticism was profoundly changed, and maybe not for the better," Sietsema wrote. He also goes into the fact that most critics now visit a restaurant one to two months into its opening (usually only once), rather than the original three to six months, in which critics - when the budget was there - would visit a few times to check on consistency, try other menu items, and really give the establishment a chance to grow into itself given all the moving parts.

Stemming from this insight came a rebuttal from Luke O'Neil of Slate, with a subtitle that reads, "Reviewers should write about restaurants as soon as they open, instead of giving them time to find their legs." As Eater reports, the article, titled 'Critics Need to Stop Coddling Restaurants,' leads us into what we'd like to call The Great Restaurant Critics Debate.

O'Neil's piece stresses the point that if (and when) proper restaurant critics wait even a month to review a new restaurant - to give it time to grow into itself, work out the kinks, what have you - they're doing a disservice to the reader.

In our opinion, the only disservice you can give a customer with reporting is inaccuracy, not in how quickly you report on it. Huge news broadcasts make this mistake all too often. Not only is a publication or network's credibility at stake by doing so, but inaccurate reporting is misleading to the audience - in this case, consumers. Therefore, we're taking Eater's side on this one.

A restaurant is made of many moving parts. You can't walk into a freshly opened establishment and have the same experience you might have a few months into its growth.

We'd love to hear your thoughts about this debate. Which sources do you rely on most for restaurant reviews? Do you think critics are, as O'Neil puts it, "coddling" restaurants, or do you think it's fair to review an establishment a few months in? Let us know in the comments below!

What Defines an Overrated Restaurant in Chicago?

The restaurant space is a slew of criticism in mass proportions. With so many moving parts, consistency, quality, and value are constantly being piqued. And with social media, everyone is a critic.

Photo Credit: chicagofoodies.com

Photo Credit: chicagofoodies.com

Social media has also blown up the overrated/underrated discussion that's been dished from restaurant critic to restaurant critic (those of the once professional variety, since nearly all budgets have been squashed).

The team over at Chicago Foodies decided to air out their picks for most overrated and underrated establishments in the city - you can see their list here. Which do you agree or disagree with? Are there any others you'd add to one of the lists? Let us know in the comments below.