The Creative Process of Food Journalism
Restaurant critic Frank Bruni recently stepped down as the restaurant critic for New York Times. He explains the science of evaluating, the challenge of avoiding cliché, and the democratization of online food reviews.
Question: When you review a restaurant, what are you looking for?
Frank Bruni: I’m not looking for any prescription or any formula. I’m looking to have a
good time. I mean I think above and beyond all else, a restaurant is, in return for the
money we spend, supposed to show us a good time. It’s a good time that is achieved
through a combination of things beginning with food. You know we’re there to eat, and
that’s why it’s a restaurant and not a movie theater or whatever.
So I mean, first and foremost it has to please us and nourish us -- because obviously
eating has other functions as well with its food. But I’m just basically hoping to have a
good time; to pass a couple of hours in a way that feels entertaining, that feels fulfilling,
and that justifies whatever expenditure of money I as a proxy for other diners is making.
Question: Are certain aspects of restaurants overrated?
Frank Bruni: It’s kind of an impossible question to answer because no two people look
for the same things in a restaurant, you know? I mean, there are people who care not at
all about décor and would want all restaurant reviewers in every restaurant review to
simply talk about food.
On the flip side there are people who will not, no matter how great the food, will not go
into a restaurant that they feel is ugly and it doesn’t kind of please their visual sense.
When friends ask me for recommendations, I would say oddly enough more often the
first question is, “I want to go someplace pretty. Or I want to go someplace with really
good lighting.” And then they want -- that’s their first way of narrowing the universe and
then they want to know where among those options can they get really good food or they
want to know where they can eat light if they ask about food, but I mean people --
everyone has a very particular set of prejudices or likes about restaurants and those even
change from occasion to occasion or night to night.
So there is no one aspect of restaurants that one can say in an objective sense is the most
important and I think different restaurants need to be taken on different terms. If you’re
assessing as a diner or as a critic a restaurant like Buddakan in the meat packing district,
to not spend a lot of thought and energy on what it looks like is to ignore the whole point
of the restaurant. It is meant to be a theatrical stage set. I mean, if it had existed back
when they were filming “Sex and the City”, we would have certainly seen a scene there --
it’s that kind of restaurant.
And if someone were writing a review of that and they began and ended with the food
and never digressed to talk about the scene and the decoration, they would not be serving
that restaurant or the people interested in going there well.
Any personal dislikes or likes that are peculiar to you, you’re trying to tamp down a little
bit because you are there as the eyes, and ears, and most importantly taste buds of the
entire city or country or people really because we have a lot of visitors to New York who
dine out all the time. But obviously objectivity is impossible. There’s no such thing.
Criticism is by its nature subjective.
So hopefully over time what readers do with any one critic -- be that critic a movie critic,
or a book critic, or a restaurant critic is develop some sense of where their opinions
diverge or dovetail with the critics and find a way to kind of use that critic as a
barometer; not necessarily as a perfect predictor for what they’ll think of places, but as a
kind of point of reference if they’ve learned, okay, we know we never agree with him on
French, but we usually agree with him on Italian. We know we don’t agree on pretty
restaurants, but we agree on other things -- that sort of thing.
Question: How do you believe you stack up as a reviewer?
Frank Bruni: I certainly don’t think I achieve the right thing in all or maybe most
reviews because it’s an imperfect science and I’m just doing my best every week. But
it’s my hope with each review that there’s enough description in the course of the review
of a restaurant that beyond the critical elements of a review, people will be able to get
enough of a sense of a place that they may even say, you know, this may be one star, but
it sounds like one star that in my universe would be a very pleasing one star or two stars.
Or this may be three stars to him; but when he tells me why he likes it, there are things
that aren’t important to me.
So I think a review should be descriptive enough within the context of criticism to give
people an opportunity should they come at it that way, to kind of disagree or figure out
some things for themselves.
I also think, unlike movies where hundreds of thousands of people will go to see a movie,
and are reading a movie review or theater review sometimes as well, as a very specific
guide do I want to see this or not -- I think the number of people who cycle through a
given restaurant -- the fraction of readers of a review who are likely to cycle through that
restaurant or even consider it based on where they -- they might live outside New York.
They might not have that sort of budget. They are also looking for just a vicarious eating
And so I think a restaurant review ideally should be a somewhat entertaining reading
experience for those people who are never going to set foot in that restaurant and aren’t
beginning the review for a signal as to whether they should or not.
Question: What do you say to people who think your reviews make or break a
Frank Bruni: I don’t dwell a lot on the making or the breaking because I think that would
paralyze you and you do have a job to do. Your primary obligation -- both in terms of
pointing them to certain places and in terms of just entertaining and illuminating them is
to readers. That said, one of the reasons why it’s always been a tradition for the Times
critic to visit a restaurant so many times before reviewing, to kind of follow certain
procedures in terms of working his or her way through the menu. And that’s all done
with a very heavy awareness that we do have an economic impact on these restaurants.
And I’m aware that there are a lot of restaurants I never write about because they are
small enough restaurants that there aren’t that many people clamoring for information
about them and if I were to write about them it would be in a negative vein and it would
probably have a horrible impact on them and there’s just kind of no reason to visit that
upon a restaurant that nobody is -- that readers aren’t sitting around saying, “But what do
you think of --? But what do you think of --?”
There’s gratuitous negativity or what I would think could be gratuitous negativity that I
absolutely avoid for that reason. But beyond that, at the end of the day people want to
read restaurant reviews. People deserve restaurant reviews and while these reviews cut
hugely in the favor of some establishments, they’re going to cut against some other
establishments and that’s just the nature of the beast. And you try to just be as
responsible as you can in light of that economic impact.
Question: How do you avoid clichés?
Frank Bruni: Well you fall into clichés. You tumble headlong into clichés because it
really is difficult not to if you are -- and that’s not a defense of that, it’s just an admission.
But it’s difficult not to if you are writing about food with the kind of frequency that
newspaper and magazine critics are.
You use the word “succulent” a lot. You use the word “tender” when you’re not using
the word “succulent”, although they’re not exact adjectives. I’m joking, but not really,
which it is true, and it is a liability, and a problem, and a challenge, and an obstacle and
all those things that the vocabulary for taste and flavor is not an enormously broad one.
So to a certain extent you just have to kind of acknowledge that and move on and try not
to reach so far for new ways to describe taste that you just land in the realm of the
ridiculous, which you also end up doing nonetheless. You just do your best. You try to
work with the associations that people have -- the associations that you have. Sometimes
you realize that lengthy descriptions just aren’t going to be able to avoid those sorts of
things and so you shorten them. You do what you can.
Question: What do you think of the democratization of food criticism, especially online?
Frank Bruni: In a lot of ways I think it’s a great thing because I think someone -- I think
a restaurant consumer or a restaurant aficionado trying to get a clear beat on what they
might think of a restaurant has a lot of different things that they can triangulate between
now. They can get their hands on a broader array of opinions; on a kind of longer and
wider stream of information and maybe make decisions that are all that more informed.
I think the thing that is important for the people who read all this stuff to bear in mind is
not everybody is taking a scientific approach to restaurants. Some of what one might
read on a chat room for example is someone reacting to a single visit to a restaurant as
opposed to multiple visits. Some of what you read in some blogs reflects meals that were
not paid for by the critic. None of which invalidates it, but it’s important to know that not
every single voice out there is operating within the same parameters or in the same
The Creative Process of Food Journalism
The quality of Indian journalism has been under question for as long as indian journalism has been around, especially by those wjhop found the news ad views contrary to their own closely held beliefs, assumptions and ideologies.Let business media realise the fact that it is important to ensure that their communications are meaningfullly creative yet completely honest....
Keeping a personal journal helps us change the way we've always lived and create the future we've always wanted. Journaling can be a powerful tool even when it comes to personal finances. Worried about money? Try journaling and discover how to take control of this important aspect of your life....
Your journal is private, thank goodness! But some journals have become very public, through their exposure as movies. For that matter, journals are quite often the basis for film scripts, as evidenced in this article....
Always try to send an email message to the coordinator in charge of recruitment, as well as the editor and director of those places that you have applied with so that they would have knowledge about your flair reporting skills....
For those of us who have been brought up to consider journal-keeping as the preserve of muslin-dressed women with time on their hands, think again. Journalling is not something to be squeezed in between water-colouring and embroidery. It is a powerful way of finding out what you really think....
Weight Training Journals are great tools to keep track of a training regime. They are used to keep the schedule, keep track of sets, reps, weight and measure progress. These journals are often the foundation of a good solid training program....
There was a time when "Journal Writing" was a subject to be taken. In some institutions, journal writing is therapy. In universities, it is part of the English curriculum. In writing classes, it is a special project....
You might have believed that obtaining rid of stomach fat or any surplus fat in your body is as uncomplicated as a single few days training within the fitness center...
Journalism is the profession of reporting, photographing and editing news stories for one of the media...
Many artists have used food as the main materials in their outstanding works which are all very creative and "delicious." The use of food to make artworks have had a long history. This art requires the artist to use food as main materials in the creative process and making their artworks. For the time being, the unique art form has inspired so many people....