When our Denver cousin Cafe Society ran an interview with chef Scott Parker of Table 6, they talked about all sorts of interesting things: kohlrabi, deep-fried organic rosebuds, alleged salt allergies. But all anyone cares about are Parker's comments pertaining to a certain website that rhymes with kelp.
When asked what he'd like to see less of in Denver from a culinary standpoint, the 37-year-old former heavy metal musician from Arkansas opened a can of verbal whup-ass on the online reviewing juggernaut:
Amateur instant online restaurant critics — specifically those who write reviews for a website that rhymes with “kelp.” Think about it: They review a McDonald's and then turn around and review Mizuna. I just imagine bored, jobless layabouts with not many friends who are convinced that they're going to have a bad time before they even step through the door of a joint. The kicker is, you can't respond to these inbreds and try to educate, or at least explain, why some things happen the way they happen. Have a little fun, for chrissakes. Loosen up when you go out, and let me be the stress ball in the kitchen busting my ass for twelve-plus hours trying to make you the best food I can. Fuck you!
Even off the cuff, his comments were impolitic and showed bad judgment (not to mention a lack of marketing savvy), but Parker only said what virtually EVERY CHEF I HAVE EVER MET has said privately about Yelp. (Ok, maybe not the inbred, jobless loser stereotype, but definitely the frustration with amateur reviewers.) Yes, chefs really do hate Yelp. I don't blame them. I've seen Yelp reviews that start off with “I didn't actually try the food…”
At the same time, the pre-internet era wasn't necessarily kinder to restaurants. There was a day when a local newspaper's restaurant critic could, with a single review, make or break a new restaurant. (If you're too young to remember those days, imagine Anton Ego from Ratatouille.) Is that landscape really preferable to the one we live in now? Even if you think it is, you're out of luck. No one — except for maybe a military dictatorship — is going to be able to stuff the crowdsourcing genie back into the bottle, and if they did, the cloud would probably find some way to break him out.
These days, the cultural conversation around food — and music and books and every other form of consumable culture — isn't about newspaper reviewers issuing edicts from on-high. It's a dialogue between professional writers, bloggers, amateur reviewers and everyone else.
The more I see people resisting that, the more I imagine a man, standing alone on the beach, clutching a fistful of sand. The harder he squeezes, the quicker it slips through his fingers.