Redeeming Fieri

A restaurant review of Guy Fieri’s newest concept in the New York Times has recently gone viral. The platinum blonde, husky host of Diner’s Drive ins and Dives is an easy target; he’s not known for subtlety nor for setting the world of gastronomy on fire. His concepts – much like his TV show “Diners Drive-ins and Dives” – are all about food that he would like to eat himself.

Fieri flingin' flava!

Fieri flingin’ flava!

In that regard, I can understand why a snooty food reviewer would be inclinded to fire off on all cylinders and write a hyperbolic review of a restaurant created to take advantage of Mr. Fieri’s Celebrity, especially when paired with the tourist trap appeal of Times Square. Reading the review, it became apparent that the only difference between this new outlet and other established American dining chains like Ruby Tuesday’s or Chili’s, is the fact that there is a Food Network Celebrity’s name attached to the sign out front.

I doubt he cooks there himself, and I’m fairly certain the recipes were developed by an underling and approved by at a tasting session by a group of Bluetooth-equipped suits. Mr. Fieri is all about marketing the concept. So, with that being the context, one wonders if the restaurant even merited a review in the first place? Certainly the review was a pointed and at times personal attack, and reading between the lines, it seems the men and women on the ground – the people actually preparing the food – were the ones at fault.

Yet the piece became extremely popular; even to merit a response by Guy himself who explained that the staff may require retraining – while at the same time reaffirming faith in the concept. The sensationalist piece spawned another article as to whether or not a negative review actually affects customer’s willingness to try out the restaurant. Interestingly, it did not, and even encouraged some people to try it to see how bad it really was. Sort of like watching a train wreck – we know we shouldn’t gawk, but we can’t look away either. This review probably did Guy Fieri a big favor by putting the spotlight on a new restaurant, and perhaps even opened a few doors for high profile appearances at the location.

In this light, I can’t help but be on Guy’s side: the plucky Food Network Star standing on the event horizon of a New York Times Black hole review. And honestly even if the food was as advertised, was he going to get a 4 star review? I certainly wouldn’t have given 4 stars, no matter how much I enjoyed the food; but I’m prejudiced and I’ll admit it. The New York Times should admit it, too.

Contrast that review with another, decidedly negative review of a Neuro-Gastronomy restaurant in New York. Yes! This is what food writing is all about. There was no hyperbole in the review: just brass tacks. It reads like a cautionary tale of culinary snobbery, pretentiousness and blindness. That’s a review I can take seriously; I would no more go to that restaurant than have dinner at a “lights out” restaurant. But while both reviews document restaurants that are – at their core – gimmicks; one has a gimmick we can appreciate, while the other is made at our expense.

There is a lesson to be learned here. The restaurant industry is not an easy one, and it doesn’t get easier at the top. Restaurateurs and Executive Chefs may not slave away in front of an army of saucepans; but the job trades one set of physical burns for another set of emotional ones. The emotional ones tend to be more expensive to heal.

Percolated, 35 Minutes.