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What does a food critic do?

5 min read

What does a food critic do?
Food critics do more than just jot critiques on notepads - find out what it takes to become one and what goes on during work hours
A food critic is a professional who evaluates and critiques food, dining establishments and culinary experiences. Their primary role is to provide insightful and objective reviews that help consumers make informed decisions about where to dine. Food critics assess various elements of the dining experience, including the quality of the food, presentation, service, ambiance and overall value for money.

 The critiquing process

  • Anonymous dining: Many food critics maintain anonymity to ensure that their experience is genuine and reflective of what an average diner might encounter. They often visit restaurants without revealing their identity, allowing them to experience the establishment as any other customer would.
  • Thorough evaluation: Food critics meticulously evaluate each aspect of the dining experience. They taste a variety of dishes, considering the flavours, textures and overall creativity of the menu. The ambiance, service quality and attention to detail in presentation are also scrutinised.
  • Culinary expertise: Food critics typically possess a high level of culinary expertise. They often have a background in the food industry, culinary arts or journalism specialised in gastronomy. This expertise allows them to discern subtleties in flavours and provide informed assessments.
  • Regular visits: Critics often visit a restaurant multiple times before forming a conclusive opinion to ensure that their review is based on a comprehensive understanding of the establishment's consistency in delivering a quality dining experience.
  • Writing reviews: The essence of a food critic's work lies in crafting reviews that are both descriptive and analytical. They use their writing skills to vividly portray the dining experience, providing readers with a sense of the atmosphere, dishes and overall impression of the restaurant.
Person eating food

Who do food critics report to?

Food critics typically report to the publications or platforms for which they write. They may work for newspapers, magazines, online publications or even independently through blogs or social media. In some cases, food critics may also be employed by television networks to provide visual critiques in the form of televised reviews.
In essence, food critics act as a bridge between the dining experience and the public, offering insights that go beyond personal preferences to inform and guide readers in their culinary explorations.

Who qualifies as a food critic?

Qualifying as a food critic involves a combination of culinary expertise, writing skills and a deep appreciation for the nuances of the dining experience. While there are no strict guidelines or specific educational requirements, individuals who aspire to become food critics often possess certain qualifications and characteristics:
  • Culinary knowledge: A strong understanding of culinary arts, including cooking techniques, ingredients, various cuisines and trends.
  • Writing skills: Proficient writing skills to effectively convey experiences, opinions and critiques in a compelling and engaging manner, especially in articulating sensory experiences and flavours to create vivid narratives.
  • Journalistic background: A background in journalism, communications or a related field is often beneficial. This provides a foundation in ethical reporting, research and storytelling.
  • Critical thinking: Analytical and critical thinking skills to evaluate a dining experience objectively, considering various elements such as food quality, presentation, service and ambiance.
  • Professionalism: Professional demeanour and the ability to maintain integrity and fairness in the face of potential conflicts of interest.
  • Broad culinary palette: A willingness to explore diverse culinary offerings, including various cuisines, dining styles and settings.
  • Experience in the food industry: Practical experience in the food industry, such as working in kitchens, managing restaurants or culinary education, can provide valuable insights into the intricacies of the field.
It's important to note that the path to becoming a food critic can vary. Some critics may have formal culinary training, while others may have gained expertise through practical experience, self-education or a combination of both. Ultimately, the most influential and respected food critics are those who bring a unique perspective, a deep appreciation for food, and the ability to communicate their experiences effectively to their audience.

Famous food critics

1. Ruth Reichl

Ruth Reichl
Ruth Reichl, the former editor-in-chief of Gourmet magazine, stands as a prominent figure in the culinary world. Beyond her editorial role, Reichl is celebrated as a best-selling author with food-related memoirs that include Tender at the Bone and Garlic and Sapphires. Her writing skilfully blends personal anecdotes with professional critiques, creating a narrative that engages readers and offers a unique perspective on the culinary landscape.

2. Jonathan Gold

Jonathan Gold - getty images
Jonathan Gold, a Pulitzer Prize-winning food critic for the Los Angeles Times, left an indelible mark on the industry. His distinctive approach involved exploring diverse and lesser-known culinary establishments, particularly in Los Angeles. Gold's writing went beyond traditional reviews, delving into the cultural and social aspects of dining. Through his work, he not only guided diners to hidden culinary gems but also contributed to a deeper understanding of the communities and cultures behind the dishes.

3. AA Gill (Adrian Anthony Gill)

Adrian Anthony Gill
Adrian Anthony Gill, widely known as AA Gill, was a British writer and critic renowned for his restaurant reviews in The Sunday Times. His contributions extended beyond traditional critiques, and he was a prolific contributor to various publications. Gill's books, including Table Talk and The Angry Island, showcase his wit and eloquence, which made him a respected voice in the realm of food journalism.

4. Nigella Lawson

Nigella Lawson
While primarily recognised as a food writer and television personality, Nigella Lawson has also left her mark on food criticism. Her approachable and sensual writing style, coupled with expertise in home cooking, has made her a beloved figure. Lawson's contributions to food literature and her ability to connect with audiences through both the written word and the screen have solidified her as a significant influence in the culinary world.

5. Frank Bruni

Frank Bruni
Frank Bruni, the former restaurant critic for The New York Times, is not only a seasoned journalist but also an accomplished author. In addition to his critical role, Bruni penned the memoir Born Round: The Secret History of a Full-time Eater, offering a personal exploration of his relationship with food. Through his writing, Bruni brought a unique perspective to the New York dining scene, contributing to the ongoing dialogue surrounding food culture.
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