Monday, April 21, 2008

Retort from New South Wales

Here's a letter that we'll run, at least in part, in GO! on Friday.

It's from the owner of New South Wales, who wasn't happy about Nathaniel Glen's mixed review last week:

I have been the owner and operator of the New South Wales Restaurant for the past 16 years. I have worked in the restaurant industry for the past 30 years, in every aspect of the business.

On April 11, The Gazette published a critique of my restaurant. While I believe that all businesspeople appreciate constructive and objective criticism, I have always felt that The Gazette falls far short of this goal.

In the last 30 years, I have been perplexed by its choice of critics. The word “critic” implies a working knowledge of the subject being criticized. But The Gazette continues to hire people with limited or no knowledge of the restaurant industry. Why is this? I struggle to see the relevance of a communication major in the matter of a restaurant critique.

Surely, the people at The Gazette have a great knowledge of their industry. Why then does their circulation continue to drop despite the popularity of El Paso County growth incline. I could hypothesize on this subject: Maybe their business has dropped due to the 24-hour national news networks, including CNN and Fox. Are you threatened by the Internet?

Surely, this could be the reason! Or possibly their circulation has dropped due to the type of pens and paper. But I have no working knowledge of the newspaper industry and can't really say. Perhaps the lights in The Gazette building ... could this be the problem? I'm sure the only illumination that takes pace at The Gazette if from their fluorescent lights.

But again, I have no knowledge of this subject and I can't really say.

Possibly it would be more fair for The Gazette to post a disclaimer before the article:

"I, Mr. "Iknowlessthan," have no working knowledge of the restaurant industry. I have never worked the front of the house or the kitchen. I have no knowledge of serving, cooking, prepping, food cost, beverage cost, operating cost or any other cost associated with the restaurant industry. I have only aware of how to eat. Please take this into account when perusing my article (critique). Thank you, Mr. "Iknowlessthan."

The businesses being critiqued have little or no recourse to these articles being published by The Gazette. I have always hoped there would be some type of moral aptitude by the editor to do what is right, but I have been disappointed for 30 years.
Gary Flewellen


Let me address Mr. Flewellen's key point.

The Gazette has never hired anybody with knowledge of food or the restaurant industry.

NOT TRUE. Anne Christensen had worked in several restaurants, and I think she worked both in the front and back of the house. I don't know if Ralph Millis worked in restaurants, but he certainly had an excellent knowledge of food from his extensive world travels and time lived abroad. Tom Karpel wasn't as deeply studied, but he was a quick learner and had a great way with food writing. Before we hired Nathaniel Glen, we gave him and the other two top critic candidates a tough quiz about food and cooking knowledge. All three scored well.

But I think at the core of this argument lies the idea that only people who work in restaurants can fairly write about the restaurant business. Critics have heard this one for years, and it's nonsense. Legendary New Yorker critic Pauline Kael encountered the same argument about film critics. Being a smart and honest observer is more important to film criticism than having worked in the industry, she argued. The same is true of sports writers. Having played the sport you're covering is incidental.

Curiously, none of the criticisms addressed any of the specific issues of the review, suggesting that Nathaniel's observations are sound, but he lacks the qualifications to make them.

What do you folks think?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't have any experience as a food critic, but I eat out enough as a consumer that my opinions should count for something. Afterall, the owner of this restaurant is ultimately trying to impress his customers.

I have personally tried this restaurant, and was very unhappy with it. The atmosphere was terrible (this was before the "remodel"), the food was terrible, the selection was very limited and boring.

8:31 PM  
Anonymous James said...

I agree that the Gazette has no credibility in its restaurant reviews. I have long since given up on trying or avoiding a restaurant based upon what someone with a nom de plume at the Gazette suggests.

9:19 AM  
Anonymous jackie said...

I have to admit - I agree with Mr. Flewellen general points, albeit, they were a bit harsh. I don't like Mr. Glen's reviews. His writing lacks fluidity and I think he misses the general point of actually being a critic. It seems like he goes on a power trip within the confines of his little column space instead of addressing the fine art and experience of food and encouraging people to break away from the chains.

Having chefs in this city who are willing to take chances and create art for our palates is truely a privilage, and if Mr. Glen has his way, they'll all be out of business and nothing new and different will be left. We need to encourage people to go out and try exciting food. Not every restaurant can be five-star places, but nor does Mr. Glen have to rip into every detail and explain how miserable his experience was.

Focus on the positives, Mr. Glen, and then maybe you won't wield the power you have as a critic like a blunt club. We want these restaurants to stay in business. I don't want Arby's and McDonald's to be my only dining options.

8:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Although I generally dislike NG as a restaurant critic, I would have to side with him on this issue (if we are taking sides). I felt that NG's criticisms were very fair; he gave praise to the entrees, but was disappointed with the presentations. And his reasoning behind the criticisms (mostly price), was absolutely justified. If you are paying $15-$30 for entrees, you expect a certain amount of presentation and flourish - not a piece of fish on a bed of green leaf lettuce with a lemon wedge on the side. Especially when New South Wales is competing with such places as Palapa's, Blue Star, Nosh - places with comparable prices but with far more creativity coming out of the kitchens.
I do understand the plight of the NSW owner - food prices are going higher and higher - but you have to remain competitive in a market like chain-dominated Colorado Springs.

8:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have no doubt that Nathaniel has excellent knowledge of food but that doesn't always tranlate to an excellent food critic.

He tries to be "too cute" with his writings which pissed off the readers and makes him less creditable as a food critic.

I suggest Mr. Glen should read some of Tom Karpel's reviews and learn from them. Tom sees the "whole picture" in all his reviews. Maybe then, he'll earn some respect as a food critic.

4:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I never take the Gazette's restuarant reviews seriously. My friends and I talk about what a joke it is. If anonymous has personally eaten at NSW and thinks the atmosphere was terrible and the selection limited and boring, mabe he/she would be happier eating at a buffet. Plenty of selection there. NSW's menu is huge and they have added on new items. Give them a chance. Let's hope with all of the downsizing going on, Nathaniel does not lose his job.....because then he will not be eating out at all. Wouldn't that be sad.

6:28 AM  
Anonymous Jean said...

I felt the review of NSW was unfair. We have always had good food & service there over the 16 years. We much prefer them to Red Lobster! Maybe they are not as fancy as Blue Star, etc. but we always liked the variety. You have to admire an independent in this chain market. We go out of our ways to avoid the chains.

10:28 AM  
Anonymous James said...

I'd personally rather have good food on a stark white plate than average fare presented with "flourish."

Readers' comments on this blog tell me much more about a restaurant than the Gazette. Perhaps we need an independent food blog in this town.

7:34 AM  
Blogger Warren Epstein said...

That's a great endorsement of this blog. Thanks. It is, in fact, an independent blog in the sense that all opinions are welcome.

3:02 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home