Unless you've been living under a rock (or, you know, having a full and robust life that exists outside the vortex that is the internet) you'll know that last week the New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells reviewed Food Network star Guy Fieri's new Times Square restaurant Guy's American Kitchen, and his takeaway was both harsh and controversial. So harsh, and so controversial in fact, that the reaction to the review has ricocheted way further than the usual chatter on Eater and in the food world. No other restaurant review in memory has reached so far into the cultural landscape, prompting reactions that range from television comedy parody to thoughtful cultural essays.
We thought that a week after the review, it might be fun to look back on the best of those reactions, both silly and smart.
5. David Letterman's Top 10 discontinued Guy Fieri Menu Items:
Honestly this list could have been way funnier if it had taken Fieri's actual menu parlance into consideration. "Teriyaki glazed napkins" isn't that funny when "Ain't no think butta chicken wing" is an actual menu item and you can cook something from his cookbook called "no can beato these taquitos." However, we have to give props to Letterman and his top 10 list if for no other reason than we owe him hugely for the format, which we're basically using right here and now. How meta.
4. Willy Staley's essay about the "quiet classism" of restaurant criticism:
Freelance writer and former waiter Willy Staley uses the review and the discussion of classism that came up as a result as a jumping off point to talk about his own experiences being reviewed by the Times (when Frank Bruni was critic), and makes some interesting points about reviews and service staff:
Fortunately I don't work at restaurants anymore and I don't think that I'll have to any time soon. But as people argue over whether the New York Times is being classist in its scathing review of Guy Fieri's restaurant, I'd like to point out the quieter classism that is inherent to the restaurant review: that very dispensable service employees are outed for minor errors by critics whose audience consists of those who can afford to eat at these places.
3. Charleston City Paper's Robert Moss Essay: Guy Fieri and the perils of middlebrow food:
Moss uses the Times review as a jumping off point for a look at the culture wars, the definition of highbrow, lowbrow and middlebrow, and ultimately comes to a conclusion that the middle ground of American eating is so bad not because it isn't fancy but because of the industrial food system. He even suggests some solutions.
I'm not saying that middlebrow needs to become highbrow. We're not talking a farm-to-table monomania for pristine produce and local line-caught fish, nor high-dollar ingredients like truffles and rare balsamic vinegars. It's as simple as making a margarita with real citrus juice and some type of orange liqueur instead of high-fructose corn syrup, citric acid, and neon-green dye. It's buying whole vegetables and slicing them yourself instead of getting them pre-cut in a bag. It's making pizza sauce from scratch rather than dumping it out of a No. 10 can.
2. Saveur's Helen Rosner's essay: 1048 Words About Pete Wells and Guy Fieri:
A super smart look at the question of whether Fieri's restaurant was a fair target for the Times, and what the real crime against food is revealed in the review. An excerpt:
So what Pete isn't saying in his review is what you might get on a surface read: "Ha ha, Obviously Shitty Restaurant is obviously shitty." What he's saying to Guy (and can we pause for a moment to acknowledge the rare successful deployment of the open-letter format in this review? If nothing else, Pete Wells, you are a champion for that) is hey, dude, no one is expecting Le Bernardin here. No one is even expecting Shake Shack. But Guy Fieri is the champion of the terrible-wonderful, he is the guy who lifted the veneer of shame from the chili-cheese-bacon-slaw-dog and taught us -- not the "us" that is the five thousand of us who read food blogs and debate the relative merits of different types of hipster vermouth, but the "us" that is, like, actually everyone in America--that you can get your fix of soul-satisfying, sort of intimidating, deeply wonderful, calorically-dense, artery-freezing food without having to go to a soul-sucking chain restaurant ...
And then here is Fieri's actual restaurant, the first of his many ventures that actually bears his name over the door, and in its extraordinary culinary ineptitude--its disrespect for both its product and its patrons--undoes every bit of that incredibly powerful, very pro-food, very pro-human-scale action that Guy has engendered with his television show and his public presence.
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1. SNL's Weekend Update interview with Guy Fieri:
Sadly, the interview didn't make it to air over the weekend, but a dress rehearsal video has been posted online allowing us to see Bobby Moynihan's impression, which is part Fieri, part douchy santa. What's not to love?
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