I’m sure by now you’ve all read — or at very least heard about — the scathing review that Pete Wells of the New York Times gave to Guy Fieri’s Times Square restaurant Guy’s American Kitchen.
Feiri, host of Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” and wearer of shirts with flames on them had a pretty rough week. The vicious review garnered more page views than any article on the NYT website that week. It’s considered “the worst review” in the paper’s history.
On the first reading I have to admit I found myself laughing, as most of us did. It was brutal. It was diabolical. It was sarcastic. Then I went back a few hours later and re-read it. Something happened. I did a total 180. I actually found myself siding with Fieri, almost feeling bad for him.
The article was pretty rough and perhaps rightfully so, but was it professional? Was it worthy of a place in the New York Times? That’s debatable and worth discussing.
As someone who has handed out his share of bad reviews. In fact, the lion’s share of my college journalistic endeavors consisted critiques of things I knew would suck. I once went to a matinee screening of “Son of the Mask” whilst hungover just so I could spit out witty observations. My first article for my college newspaper was a comical review of the very serious “The Passion of the Christ” (a review that earned me accolades of my peers and threats from numerous students). You’d think this type of thing would be commonplace for me, but this review even made me squirm. It seemed, in many ways juvenile.
First off, let’s look at the article itself. It’s nothing more than a series of rapid fire questions. 34 in total. Hardly groundbreaking journalism. Who does he think he is…Carrie Bradshaw? Fans of “Sex in the City” will get that last joke. I myself have been guilty of this style of writing, did it a few times in this article. But to base a whole article around the whole thing seems a bit over-the-top. Actually, it was downright gimmicky.
Wells has stated that this was his fourth visit to the restaurant and all four times the experience was sub-par. So maybe Wells is right. Maybe he did deserve the poor review, but was it called for to go about it in such a manner? Slamming Fieri is like shooting fish in a barrel. I mean, let’s be honest, the phrase “Donkey Sauce” doesn’t sound the least bit appetizing. But that’s his shtick. His modus operandi. He’s made a career off it, so i can’t really knock it. His target audience isn’t your average NYT reader. Hell, his target audience isn’t even your average New York City resident. The restaurant is in Times Square for a reason: tourists. Not to say that tourists don’t have refined palates. What was Wells expecting anyways, haute cuisine? He knew what he was getting into before the first time he set foot in the joint.
It’s easy for a Guy like Wells to rip on Fieri. He’s not from NYC, so right away there’s an air of “he’s not from here” prevalent in the review. Fieri is ripe for parody. The bleached blonde hair, the goatee, the sunglasses on the back of the head, the California surfer lingo, the ridiculous wardrobe…it’s almost too easy to make fun of. He’s been lampooned on SNL (hilariousIy I might add) and is often the butt of many jokes by other professional chefs.
After the review Fieri went into damage control appearing on the Today Show to discuss the article. He chalked it up to a critic with an agenda (plausible, but also perhaps reaching a bit) and the fact that the restaurant has only been open for two months. The latter is a bullshit defense and frankly I’m not buying it. That’s an excuse afforded to a Mom & Pop pizza joint on opening night. It’s not as if Fieri is an inexperienced restauranteur. He’s opened up two other restaurants (Johnny Garlic’s and Tex Wasabi’s), so it’s not as if this is his first rodeo. He’s far from being green and to blame it on it being right after the place has opened, regardless of the size, is a poor excuse.
In Wells’ defense, I myself wasn’t too blown away by reading the menu. It was if anything basic chain pub-fare kicked up with silly names and superfluous adjectives. I’m not saying I’m above dining on such a style. I’d prefer a simple steak and a nice glass of scotch.
I would like to get one thing straight, I am not defending Fieri. If the experience Wells had was as poor as he has suggested then by all means, a bad review is certainly warranted. But the style Wells used was better suited for a blog. It reeked of snark and vitriol. I get it, he had an awful meal at the restaurant of a celebrity chef, but how much of the review was to generate page views? How much of this was merely an attempt to create attention to the newspaper? Was Wells merely serving his own inflated ego when he dished out the lambasting series of questions in a mocking manner? Did he feel good about himself when the article went viral? Did it make him feel like he accomplished something? Did it? No really, did it?
See, I can do that too. It’s easy. Almost too easy.