“The Tribune review was a huge deal,” a gauge to see “how you stack up against the greats and where things line up,” says Flamm, 35, a “Top Chef” champion who is on the cusp of open its first restaurant on April 20. after her grandmothers and more than two years in the making, Rose Mary will present Croatian and Italian dishes at Fulton Market.
“I would have loved to have had a Phil Vettel review under my belt,” says the chef, imagining a touch on the front page of the Restaurant section of the Tribune.
“It’s sad to see Phil and Steve go,” says Sarah Grueneberg, award-winning chef James Beard of Monteverde Restaurant & Pastificio in the West Loop. “They were big champions of our food scene, and people have been following them for decades.”
For Karrie Leung, founder of public relations and marketing agency KLPR, the loss of local opinion has a disproportionate impact: from a national perspective, it “takes Chicago out of this playing field,” she says. “When you lose reviews, people you know and trust, it’s a tough pill to swallow.”
Whoever raves or lashes out about the city’s restaurants may seem like little potatoes in the midst of an ongoing pandemic. Yet, as diners continue to look to restaurants for their convenience and the city opens up, careful consideration is paramount. Vettel, former chairman of the James Beard Foundation’s restaurant awards committee, goes so far as to say that without a strong voice and sufficient resources to grab the attention of its food scene, Chicago risks “becoming a city of flyby.” .
Grueneberg laughs when she says “our hobbies are sports, food, and alcohol,” but a serious case could be made for Chicago as a premier place to eat, drink, and be merry – and why the third most The country’s big city needs passionate food columnists who know what they’re talking about and who have the resources to offer their informed opinion, free from outside influence.
The opposite of that, says Dolinsky, also president of the regional academy for the world’s 50 best restaurants: “the same six or seven recommendations from Instagrammers reviewing well-known restaurant groups” who can afford to offer meals. compiled or other benefits. Dolinsky and Vettel had budgets for dining out and refused gifts.
Count me a Chicago fan. In search of the best food towns in the country in 2015 – a year-long project that examined creativity, community, ingredients, shopping, service, and tradition in each market – I ranked Chicago seventh on 10 destinations. The city offered top notch cuisine for all (my weakness was ‘dragged in the garden’ hot dogs) as well as fine dining on par with the best in the country.
Although it has had a few detractors, the Windy City is second in New York for the recognition it has received from the James Beard Foundation, over 80 culinary awards. With the exception of the break created by the pandemic, Chicago has hosted the foundation’s glitzy annual gala since 2014 and will continue to do so until 2027.
If given a chance to brag, the chefs claim that the region’s open arms add to the attractiveness of the scene. “I have eaten all over the country. Midwestern hospitality is the best there is, ”says Erick Williams, owner of the Southern-accented Virtue in Hyde Park. The chef says he catches visitors praising the city when he meets them in elevators and at airports.
Local praise inevitably leads to national recognition, says Chef Beverly Kim, who co-owns Korean-American Parachute, which is currently under renovation, and Wherewithall, which serves community meals by day and Parachute take-out at night. . Parachute, for example, “depended 70% on national activity: DC, San Francisco, New York”. Kim says, “I stayed in town for a reason. Sure, winters are cold, but there is room for growth in Chicago. “
In an essay for Chicago Eater in favor of critical restaurant coverage, former Chicago Sun-Times and RedEye critic Michael Nagrant wrote about the spillover effect of visitors chasing elite restaurants based on Rave Reviews: Customers ‘eat at other restaurants, influenced when the Chef or General Manager says at a table,’ You have to check out the Isaan sausage at Spoon Thai and the chapli kebab at Khan BBQ! A rising tide lifts all ships, not just luxury yachts in Monaco. “
There are plenty of places for foodie locals to get the inside scoop on area restaurants: Chicago Eater, Chicago Magazine, Infatuation, Resy, and Yelp. (Jeff Ruby, Chicago Magazine’s veteran critic, last columned in March 2020. Titled “The Last Supper,” he looked at RPM Seafood.) The publication’s former real estate editor, as dining room editor.
But for thoughtful and balanced reviews, based on multiple visits, “the Chicago Tribune is the standard of approval,” Kim says. She and her peers are concerned that social media influencers are replacing “trained voices” – writers with the expertise, including historical knowledge, as well as the budget and time to do the job well.
For much of his run, Vettel, who says he “tried to write about the history of a restaurant, why it was important and why now”, dined at work an average of five nights a week. . “I was supposed to tell people the best in Chicago.” This included Ever, the 10-course, $ 285 tasting menu concept from Chef Curtis Duffy and Chef Curtis Duffy’s latest star reviewer. (I’ve had four already.) Did I mention restaurant review can get expensive?
Williams, who says he uses criticism in reviews as “a training tool” in his restaurants, rejects “amateur voices built around sensationalism.” Such a result “does not offer the clearest perspective or level of integrity.”
The chef applies what he calls “the sink analogy” to people who think an appetite and a camera qualify them to review: “I unplugged a sink. I changed a few washers and even routed a sink or two for [restaurant] a service. But that doesn’t qualify me to be a plumber.
Dolinsky, who now markets himself as a content producer and consultant and remains present on YouTube, was known to cover every nook and cranny of town. He says his employer told him to cover Chicago however he wanted, which meant recommending a rainbow of paletas in Razpachos and Polish cuisine in Smakosz.. (His segment, which performed in taxis, “introduced travelers to the riches of the city,” Flamm says.)
“I was budgeted enough for restaurants and didn’t have to make a fuss,” says Dolinsky, also author of “Pizza City, United States: 101 Reasons Chicago is America’s Biggest Pizza Place. “. “If it was on the air, it was highly recommended.”
The restaurants featured on her show were given a photo of Dolinsky and a certificate, the subjects of which are frequently displayed as a seal of approval from a professional restaurant. “It validates a business,” says Eddie Nero, the owner of Big Ed’s BBQ in suburban Waukegan.
A rave can also save a restaurant. The original Big Ed, which opened in 2008 in North Chicago, struggled until it premiered on “Hungry Hound,” Nero says. Immediately after the segment was broadcast, the phone began to ring, and cars appeared. “We weren’t prepared,” says Nero, who ran out of food for hours before closing. “Business tripled overnight.”
ABC 7 did not respond to repeated requests for comment, but Dolinsky, who produced, reported, filmed and edited his own work, said, “I would be very surprised if ABC were to replace me.”
At the Tribune, managers haven’t had to think about who would eat for his readers as chief critic since George HW Bush was president. Vettel’s departure – and a totally changed media and social landscape since he started eating at work – gave the company the opportunity to rethink coverage.
“Restaurant review isn’t going anywhere,” says Amy Carr, director of content / life and culture at the Tribune. But he’s likely to look different. She and Cheung, the new editor-in-chief of Dining, have a talent bank on staff (“it’s important for us to develop personalities,” Carr says), but are open to the possibility of involving the community in them. next revisions. Neighbors sharing stories “would give her a different perspective,” Carr says.
As they strategize, inclusion and diversity are at the top of their wish lists, just as important as a passion for food. Cheung says she is looking for “stories that reflect a comprehensive view of the city.” A good groundwork was laid by colleagues at Vettel and Dining, she says. “I will ensure that this work is amplified.” The publishers hope to finalize their strategy this month.
Vettel’s departure in the news coincided with that of the Tribune’s Pulitzer Prize-winning architecture critic Blair Kamin, whose post has not been filled. “If they replace me, it will probably be from the inside,” says Vettel.
Elsewhere in the country, new eyes have been recruited to reinvent or strengthen restaurant coverage. In 2018, Soleil Ho replaced longtime critic Michael Bauer at the San Francisco Chronicle, and Tejal Rao became the New York Times’ first California restaurant reviewer. That same year, Bill Addison and Patricia Escárcega replaced the late Jonathan Gold as co-critics at the Los Angeles Times. (Escárcega recently left the post following a pay equity dispute.)
In Chicago, the impact of the #MeToo and Black Lives Matter movements is highlighted when restaurant review subjects are asked what they would like to see in future reviewers.
As with industry, says Kim, “let’s bring back the best things and fix the worst.” Grateful as she puts it of Dolinsky and Vettel, “they’re still men.”
Nero is hoping for someone with culinary knowledge and a sense of humor. The chef, who is black, says he would also like to see “someone who looks like me.” It would mean a lot.
Williams is expecting “someone who’s already cut their teeth.” What do you compare that to? Why should we care? The chief says, “I would like to see a woman”, maybe a minority. Either or both would bring “a different sensibility” to the table.
Could more be more? Leung, the publicist, puts forward the idea of co-critics, “not just one person”, but “a panel”.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot recently gave the green light to bars and restaurants by allowing them to increase indoor capacity to 50% and stay open until 1 a.m. Their owners are hungry to get back to some sort of normal restaurant review, including.
Referring to the celebrity chef behind Chicago pioneer Alinea, Vettel asks, “When the next Grant Achatz arrives, who will tell people? … is this going to be Yelp?