Thoughts About a Red-Letter Day

Written by Bryan Lavery

Eatdrink magazine is celebrating its fifth anniversary this summer, and not a week goes by that we don’t hear praise for our efforts to provide an enjoyable, readable and informative culinary magazine. New readers are constantly emptying our distribution boxes, more are wondering where they can find the current issue, and businesses are inquiring more than ever about advertising opportunities. Of course this is due to a wonderfully talented publisher, managing editor, copy editor, and some pretty fine writers and top-notch photographers.

On this occasion, I feel it incumbent upon me to thank my long-suffering dining companions who make great epicurean research assistants, especially the redoubtable Kathy McLaughlin from Downtown London, who has worked very hard to keep me from becoming a total malcontent and has done much to advance the local and regional culinary culture in her own right. Of course, I also want to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to our loyal readers, our advertisers, and the culinary community, all of whom continue to support eatdrink’s many initiatives.
For those of you who are reading eatdrink for the first time, the objective has been to offer an insider’s perspective and to contribute to the enthusiasm and discussion about the local and regional culinary culture in particular and about the restaurant community and farmers` and artisans` markets at large.
There are plenty of restaurants whose simple virtues deserve to be recognized without too much bravado or angst. Hopefully we will get to all of them in time. However, we are not in league with the restaurant business to hype underserving chefs and their establishments. As patronising as it must sound, my personal mission has been to encourage people to dine out and to support culinary tourism and the farmers and culinary artisans by helping to reinforce community initiatives in the regional food and agricultural sectors.
To set the record straight, my columns are not platforms for taking pot shots at restaurants or over-inflated personalities. There are several slanderous (there are other adjectives I could use, but the eatdrink style book doesn’t allow them) individuals who feel this is their job. Of course, who among us couldn’t benefit from a figurative kick in the pants every once in a while? However, this writer attempts to provide a fair and unbiased reporting on the local food scene, while keeping his penchant for sarcasm mostly in check.
As I have said in the past, the food media are very necessary members of the culinary community. Like any thoughtful patron, I hope that I continually bring appreciation and sensibility to the table. But the food media’s mission goes beyond that. We must pass our unbiased impressions on to the readers, while alerting the dining public to the diversity of choice on the culinary scene. Good reporting furnishes you with enough information and insight to enable you to make informed decisions, while helping to arbitrate the standards of dining out. If you don’t have a good, strong food media — whether you love them or despise them — you don’t have the same degree of interest, enthusiasm and accountability. One of the greatest satisfactions about writing a column on the culinary scene is unearthing the diamond in the rough. In my opinion, among the disappointments are discovering restaurants that don’t live up to their reputations, or the complaining owner who has lost interest in the business and the writing is on the wall. Almost as bad is the culinary equivalent of grey: dull at worst, inoffensive at best. Or the one-trick pony — the great restaurant whose menu never changes, and quickly the food becomes stagnant. Even more obnoxious are those louche servers who ride on the chef’s laurels and the restaurant’s former accolades, thinking the chef’s/restaurant’s reputation gives them carte blanche to dispense rude, apathetic or poor service to their customers. For instance, there was the time when a manager/waiter, despite our request to sit at the bar, seated me and a colleague beside the door leading to the basement and then proceeded to ignore us. He seemed to be feeling particularly officious, his eyelids flickering with impatience. But you know, who cares, right? He sure as heck didn’t.

Despite the changing definition of restaurant professionalism, poor customer service and unfriendly reservation policies disappoint us, and good service fosters loyalty, which in turn inspires repeat business and great word-of-mouth. Every time I return to certain restaurants, it hits me just how much uninterested service irks me and how profoundly irritated its patrons must feel, even when the food is the cream of the crop. Writing about restaurants brings unique challenges. Often I am offered invitations with the underlying implication that in return the invitee will receive an exaggerated endorsement by me. This is just grasping at straws; fabricated enthusiasm and lazy hyperbole do restaurateurs and the reader no favours. A glowing article about a restaurant can set expectations so high that they may be difficult for the restaurant to maintain on a daily basis. Sometimes the food may be tremendous, with the perfect calibration of flavours, but the service wanting. Other times the service is top-notch but the food anemic and undistinguished, and the experience feels like something that needs to be endured.
Reading someone else’s assessment of a restaurant is not necessarily enough for every reader to evaluate a restaurant. The real way to do a restaurant justice is to eat there. In closing, I think that someone should give our publisher at eatdrink, Chris McDonell, a culinary award. His intelligence, charm and discretion have done much to foster the local and regional food community. We are all much more than just culinary gadflys; we are savvier and more gastronomically astute than we were when we started. Five years ago, when I agreed to write for eatdrink, it was truly a red-letter day for me. I look forward to continued affiliation of many more years. Bryan Lavery is a well-known chef, culinary activist and writer. Mr. Lavery has spent many years in teaching, consulting, and advisory roles with various culinary initiatives.

About the author

Bryan Lavery

Eatdrink Food Editor and Writer at Large Bryan Lavery brings years of experience in the restaurant and hospitality industry, as a chef, restaurant owner and consultant. Always on the lookout for the stories that Eatdrink should be telling, he helps shape the magazine both under his byline and behind the scenes.