This week, John Mariani and Joe Bastianich set off the sort of war of words that makes covering the food world's every breath ultimately worthwhile: Bastianich called the critic a "condescending prick" in his new book, Restaurant Man, and Mariani hit back in the New York Post by calling Joe "vile," insisting he lacks "balls," which Joe claims Mariani once "cut off" (at least they agree on one thing). But this dance is nothing novel, as chefs and critics have rubbed each other the wrong way plenty of times in the past in a flurry of public threats, full-page ads, identity exposures, and ousters that are almost as ugly as the chef-on-critic violence in the film Bitter Feast. Here we have a look back on fifteen of the most notable, drama-filled squabbles that have gone down between chefs and their critics in years past. Enjoy.
Critics Forced to Cook Benefit Dinner
To give British critics a taste of their own medicine, an annual benefit called Too Many Critics was staged again last month that put Jay Rayner, Charles Champion, and Tracey MacLeod, among other critics, in the kitchen to cook a three-course meal for 120 guests, while the crowd got to watch the proceedings from a live stream. Surprisingly, the critics didn't exactly fail.
Jay Rayner Ridicules G9 Chefs' Dream of Saving the World
Having a hardy chuckle at a coalition of chefs banding together to "dream of a future in which the chef is socially engaged, conscious of and responsible for his or her contribution to a just a sustainable society" at the G9 summit last fall, British critic Jay Rayner wrote a scathing piece on their pretension, advising that "when [chefs] begin to believe the hype, even the best of them need to be taken round the back of the bike sheds for a serious talking to" and calling the group "three really huge names and a bunch of other guys who were thrilled to be in the same company." Ouch.
Santa Ana Chef Rips Yelper a New One
Fuming over a misinformed, personal Yelp attack on his Orange County restaurant, The Playground, chef Jason Quinn erupted on the restaurant review site, telling the armchair critic, "I wish I would have paid for your beers and kicked you the fuck out of my restaurant," before advising the guy to "burn in Hell." Awesome.
Bastianich Insults Steve Cuozzo's Intelligence
One good Bastianich slam deserves another, as the Italian restaurant mogul had plenty more venom to go around in his new book. Angry over NY Post critic Steve Cuozzo's headline describing adjacent Del Posto and Morimoto as "Dumb and Dumber," Bastianich calls Cuozzo a "jack of all tirades" and questions if he's "fucking stupid" in Restaurant Man, to which Cuozzo recently retorted, "Did Mama Lidia beat him with a zabaglione whisk for the mess he made of Del Posto’s launch?"
Denver Yelpers Mobilize Against Outspoken Chef
In a 2010 interview with Denver Westword, Table 6 chef Scott Parker called Yelpers a bunch of "bored, jobless layabouts" and "inbreds." In response, local Yelpers banded together in a post ripping the place and principals apart, offering the chef "pee cocktails," calling for a boycott, and labeling him a "Neanderthal."
Rick Bayless Gets Real, If Not Authentic, With Jonathan Gold
In the summer of 2010, Jonathan Gold took a stab at Rick Bayless for comments in which the chef may have suggested introducing L.A. to "authentic" Mexican food at his high-priced West Hollywood restaurant Red O, which even had a doorman upon opening. Bayless shot back at the heavily lauded L.A. Weekly critic, asking Gold on Twitter, "Thought a Pulitzer meant you checked your facts … I am offended." Later, the two patched it up privately, but it was good while it lasted.
Burger Chef Flips Over A Hamburger Today Messin' With Texas
When A Hamburger Today was dissatisfied with the "bland" offerings at Houston's Hubcap Grill last month, chef Ricky Craig called writer Ewan McDonald a "bitch" and invited him via Twitter to come to the restaurant "so I can kick your sorry ass all up n down 19th." Now that's objective criticism!
Roy Choi Threatens to "Beat Down" Walter Manzke
When humble Church & State chef Walter Manzke dared to challenge the swelling street-food scene as a "trend" he wasn't really feeling to Squid Ink in 2009, Roy Choi went ballistic in the comments, threatening to "park my ride right in front of Church and State and say whassup!" then threatening his peer with a "beat-down." After cooler heads rushed to the chef's defense, Choi came back a little calmer, clarifying, "There is no beatdown … There is no hood or gangsta facade, my response was just an impulse from my upbringing here in L.A., if you bite me I bite back."
Chodorow Blows Up Beef with Bruni
Miffed at Frank Bruni's take on his schmancy Kobe Club, Jeffrey Chodorow took out a costly full-page ad in the New York Times, decrying the critic's "personal attacks." He also promised to turn the tables on Bruni and Adam Platt, which brought a sharp response from the latter in our own pages.
Keith McNally Goes Ad Hominem on Our Very Own Adam Platt
After giving McNally's scene-y Pulino a one-star review in New York Magazine and accusing the owner of wearing a cardigan, the restaurateur went on the defensive, calling the anonymous critic "bald and over-weight" in a letter addressed to the writer and various blogs. Platt humbly responded, "I, as a bald, middle aged and, alas (slightly) overweight professional restaurant critic, am entitled to [my opinion]."
Viviani Versus Virbila
After digesting the no-star review at his Café Firenze that called his cooking "Italian Food for Dummies," Top Chef lothario Fabio Viviani ripped into L.A. Times critic S. Irene Virbila in 2010, alleging that the scribe had unfairly assailed the restaurant based on personal feelings. The chef thinks the slam comes down to the fact that, "I don't buy wine from her husband, and I don't hang out with my ex-business partner as she does."
Forgione Makes Lieber "Get Out of My Kitchen!"
In 2010, New York Times food writer Ron Lieber claims he was distressed to hear chef Marc Forgione berating an employee over dinner. The critic took the situation into his own hands and confronted the chef in his kitchen. Forgione, unaware of the critic's identity, went to the customer's table and expressed his anger at the transgression into his "sacred space," asking Lieber to leave and making tongues wag online.
Novelli Tosses Out Two AA Guide Inspectors
French chef Jean-Christophe Novelli was understandably upset when his Auberge du Lac was downgraded in the country's AA Guide. In retaliation, he banned the organization, which had once praised him as its "Chef du Chef," from entering his restaurant. After uncovering the identity of two undercover inspectors for the guide in 2003, he forced the pair to leave, forbidding them from taking the garden path by pushing them out through a side exit. "Out the back, like the dog," he claims.
Gordon Ramsay Gives the Boot to A.A. Gill
The controversial British chef and controversial British critic famously locked horns at Ramsay's eponymous Chelsea restaurant in 1998. Gill, who'd recently compared Ramsay to a failed sportsman acting like an 11-year-old, was thrown out of the restaurant with his companion, Joan Collins, with Ramsay explaining that personal attacks go beyond a food critic's duty. Gill pounced back on Ramsay, calling him "a wonderful chef, just a really second-rate human being."
Red Medicine Gives S. Irene Virbila Some Face Time
Days before Christmas in 2010, Beverly Hills restaurant Red Medicine gifted the media with a present few will forget: a photograph of long anonymous L.A. Times critic Sherry Irene Virbila. Claiming vengeance for a negative review she'd given chef Jordan Kahn's pastry work at XIV, partner Noah Ellis made the critic wait endlessly for a table before snapping a sudden flash off in the stunned critic's face, then telling her party to bounce. Adding injury to insult, he promptly sent the shot out to the media the next morning to both cheers and scorn.
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