How to Be a Critic of the Culinary Arts

Being a critic of the culinary arts is many people's dream job. The benefits are obvious: you get paid to eat good food and publish your opinion about it, not to mention that your meals are usually paid for by the publication. Food writers are nearly celebrities: people follow their columns week to week or month to month, visiting or avoiding restaurants on their advice, and quoting their articles to others. However, being a food critic isn't necessarily easy.

A good food critic needs to have good writing skills, unwavering ethics, and a solid understanding of the culinary arts. As a critic of the culinary arts, good writing skills are a must. When giving a restaurant a negative review, a food critic must be able to write the review diplomatically, so that it will state his or her opinion without being unnecessarily offensive. Likewise, a reviewer of the culinary arts must be able to write a positive review with enough eloquence and detail that the reader knows why the reviewed restaurant's food is good. Ethics are also a major consideration when writing about the culinary arts.

It is important for the food critic to remain anonymous when he or she visits a restaurant, despite the appeal of a free meal: after all, the writer's goal is to critique the cuisine, and not the staff's ability to provide special treatment. Furthermore, many restaurants view a positive review as a fair exchange for a free meal, putting the reviewer in an awkward position, especially if he or she did not like the meal. For this reason, the best policy when reviewing is to remain anonymous, as it avoids the subject of a free meal and allows the reviewer to write honestly and fairly about his or her meal. There are other ethical considerations that a critic must keep in mind when writing about the culinary arts. For instance, a negative review must be handled carefully.

This is an issue that has as much to do with the reviewer's ethics as his or her writing skill. Also, to give a perfectly fair review, the reviewer needs to have sampled a variety of different dishes; in order to attain this broader sense of the restaurant's cuisine, one might consider bringing a couple of friends along, or returning to the restaurant for a second or third visit. In particular, it is important to order any meal a second time before giving it a very good or very bad review, as consistency will show the chef's skill, or lack thereof. Most importantly, however, a good food critic must have a solid understanding of the culinary arts.

In other words, if the food critic were not an expert in the culinary arts, no one would be able to believe his or her reviews. Knowledge of the subject matter gives the writer credibility, whereas writing about a subject he or she is not familiar with is likely to make the reviewer appear foolish or ignorant. For the aspiring food critic, there are a number of ways to gain insight. There are a number of books, magazines, and other publications focusing on the culinary arts, from which the aspiring food critic can learn. Additionally, classes at a school that teaches culinary arts will teach the aspiring food critic a great deal about how food is made and how a commercial kitchen operates. Concepts that are an integral part of critiquing the meal a restaurant places in front of you.

Most culinary schools will have recreational classes as well as associate's and bachelor's degree programs, allowing the aspiring food critic to decide how much of an expert they want, or need to be. There are a number of jobs for writers that focus on the culinary arts. For example, newspapers and culinary magazines frequently employ staff writers, restaurant reviewers, columnists, or editors to write about and edit material on the culinary arts. Many publications also accept the work of freelance writers, allowing the food writer to maintain a certain degree of autonomy in his or her work.

Other publications, such as regional guidebooks and Internet websites also have opportunities for food writers. A food critic who is an expert in this field is a valuable asset to the publications they write for.

Andy West is a freelance writer for The Culinary Institute of Virginia College. Culinard offers two outstanding culinary arts programs. For more information please visit http://www.culinard.com .

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