I borrowed the book from the library thinking it would teach me about the ins and outs, the secrets and unspoken rules of a food critic’s job. However, I probably got a little more than I bargained for.
Instead of rules and tips for being a successful “professional glutton”, I found a biographical account of Adam Platt’s life and was introduced to his famous family of diplomats and show biz personalities. I was pleasantly surprised to also read about his growing up years in Asia and the food jaunts he took with his family. I slurped up the bowls full of accounts of Taiwanese, Chinese, and Japanese cuisine brimming with soy sauce and Chinese cooking wine, and I swallowed the book whole as I continued to read and imagine all the scintillating Asian flavors described in his book.
He had me at congee with pork floss.
Needless to say, the book suddenly became even more interesting as I internally screamed, “Yes!” after each vivid description of Peking duck dinners and steamed soup dumplings. All these distant food memories suddenly came into the forefront as I imagined myself transported back to Maxim’s for yam cha in Hong Kong (used to be across from our go-to hotel of Park Lane Hotel in Causeway Bay) and to all the katsudons consumed at little-known eateries when my mom and I went “backpacking” in Japan.
I was also intrigued by the fact that Adam Platt’s father was U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines when Corazon Aquino was president. It was an important moment in Philippine history and one I grew up with. There wasn’t much mention of Philippine food establishments but he did mention ube or purple yam which is found in many Asian baked confections and used in desserts at many Filipino restaurants that are now gaining traction in the mainstream food scene.
In with the new
Food-salivating aside, I was also interested in his take on the dying traditional food critic role where they took pains to hide their identities and did not reveal themselves as the harbinger of glory or doom for the restaurant they are critiquing. When I hear of modern-day Instragrammers/influencers who demand that they get free meals in exchange for a good review, I sort of wished the old critic mold would be returned from their glorious heyday.
But as his final chapter summarizes, that is the “end of days” for the stodgy old “boiled owl-faced” persona of the food critic. It has been replaced by beautiful captures of succulent meat oozing with whatever sauce they’ve been bathed in or riveting 15-second videos of hand-pulling of noodles in the kitchens of small “homey” foodie places for a holistic food experience. I am not criticizing these but you can’t help but wonder how honest the reviews are when foodies, eaters, and influencers have access to the back of the kitchen or free meals on the house simply because the restaurants also get direct marketing to their target audience in the thousands of followers on this random bloke’s Instagram page. Random because we don’t know this fellow’s background. Is it as colorful and diverse as Adam Platt’s, for example, or did they just hit the social media jackpot because they started early before it all became too crowded or did they just happen to take really good digital pictures that make their social media feeds look good? Even Adam Platt in his book muses that he doesn’t really have a lot of technical knowledge in cooking when he first started out. He calls it his “accidental career as a professional eater”.
Does this all matter?
So what qualifies one to be a restaurant critic or, in this day and age, a social media foodie blogger?
In a few places in his book, Platt mentions how at the end of all the ping-pong flurry of restaurant openings and latest food crazes and entertainment and showmanship in many haute cuisine experiences, his family still goes to places where the food is consistent; they are known and familiar to the cooks and waitstaff, and more than anything, it offers a comforting blanket where family memories are interwoven into the dining experience.
“I still dream about that mythical joint filled with familiar faces from the neighborhood….”
My biggest takeaway
“The lordly objectivity that traditional Michelin-style critics did their best to convey in their reviews seemed faintly ridiculous to me in this swirling, changeable, highly subjective world where the experience of your lunch or dinner tended to change dramatically depending on all sorts of factors–where you sat, what time of day you visited, whether or not the chef happened to have a cold-and it would keep changing…long after your review was published.”
As the subjective critic that we ALL are (that dish is too salty; this is too sweet), we are faced with this whole secular madness of to be seen where it’s hip to be seen and to try out the latest crazed boondoggles that social media personalities say we should try. Where do we stand in all this and why put so much import to things of little value if it constantly shifts as the tide ebbs on the shore?
I am not sure but as discerning consumers, there is certainly no harm in trying out something that is recommended (just like we ask friends for accountant recommendations or dentist referrals) as a starting point. But at the end of the day, we form our own opinions based on who we are and our own experiences. We can’t live vicariously through other people’s social media posts and we certainly don’t have to follow them.
Don’t take my word on this. If you think this book is for you, you can purchase it here through my Amazon Affiliate link. And I am obliged to inform you that any purchases made through this link help me earn a small percentage that goes toward the maintenance of this site. Thank you in advance and for reading all the way to the end. 🙂