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Aug 17, 2009 02:00 PM

Leslie Brenner: Overrated?

The honeymoon period for Miss Brenner did not last all that long, and a source at the News claims she was hired to stir controversy (suprise), thus gain readers. The old 'no such thing as bad publicity' wafts through the kitchens at the Dallas Morning News.

With this in mind, agree or disagree, do we need a peach belinni swilling, twittering food critic such as the likes of Leslie Brenner In Dallas? More to the point, has this critic assisted you or swayed your culinary views. Does the reputation of lambasting, and public executions of chefs and staff excite you, or turn you off?

I will admit I rarely read the News, and glance only when pointed in that direction. I am often sceptical of critics in general as most have an agenda. I feel a restaurant is an experience of dining proportions to met with its culinary viability and not to be marinated in political upheaval or for garner and profits of writers and publications.

Thoughts or comments?

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  1. The point about CH is that we don't need food critics because 1. people can decide for themselves rather than rely on so-called "authorities", and 2. the collaborative environment of sharing our experience on CH allows us to obtain way more data in real time than any single critic.

    The personality/style of the critic is quite irrelevant; it's a bit like discussing the breed of the horses that pull a carriage when you want to go down the freeway in the 21st century.

    5 Replies
    1. re: limster

      The person in question is a food critic and writer for the Dallas Morning News, thus the perfectly legitimate question.

      1. re: DallasDude

        And a perfectly legitimate and most salient answer is that, for most CHs, her position is obsolete, just like the rest of the food critics. It's a direct answer to the question that you posed "has this critic assisted you or swayed your culinary views."

        1. re: limster

          Now, I'm not sure I buy the idea that the "point" of CH is that food critics are unnecessary. I feel as though CH adds so much to the conversation, but critics do as well - in fact, they sometimes even start the conversation. Plus, usefulness aside, some people just plain enjoy reading food writing.

          Of course, I'm a food writer myself, so maybe I'm just grasping at please-keep-me-employed-for-the-love-of-pasta-no-more-layoffs straws.

      2. re: limster

        Of course, chowhound consensus is easier to rig than a Florida election, and as hard as it is to believe, not everybody on earth has the time or inclination to sort through dozens, occasionally thousands, of totally contrary opinions; then figure out who does and does not know what he or she is talking about; then decide who or who does not share their general opinion about things - when all they want is an idea about the place they're planning to eat lunch.

        By the time you've figured all that out, and discovered a particular poster or three to follow on a particular subject in a particular area, you might as well be following a newspaper critic - and you'd have your lunch hour back. Anarchy is always so tempting in theory...

        1. re: condiment

          There is no such thing as chowhound consensus. The point is that if you want useful information, you've got to put in the effort to do the research. No one said that being and independent and critical eater was easier -- it's up to the individual to choose going with customised high-quality data or non-customised low-quality data. For many chowhounds, the delicious outcomes often justify the effort. And if one hangs around a given board long enough, picking the relevant posters is unavoidable. Chowhounds who know me even pass me tips that they think I would like.

          But it goes way beyond that. For chowhounds, it's not just about eating delicious food -- it's about FINDING delicious food, to be ahead of the curve, so that one hits a place before it's swamped by everyone who blindly follow what the mass media recommends. And of course there's the thrill of treasure huting.

          That requires people to actively searching for delicious stuff, creating information where there is none, rather than passively waiting for information to be posted on this website or written up in the newspaper. That implies trying places on which no or little information exists. That turns out to be easier than what most people thought.

          And if one is already searching on one's own, there's no need to follow a critic's (or anyone's) recommendation. It does become useful however, to look on a board like CH to see what places or dishes haven't been tried, and then try those if one's instincts tell one to -- i.e. to look for knowledge gaps and then fill them.

      3. I think a modification of the old adage “those who can’t do…..critique” applies to almost all critics: food, art or otherwise. But truthfully I have mostly liked what Leslie has had to say so far (not that I’m not going to use other sources like CH and find out for myself). It’s good to shake things up once in awhile, especially in a very clique-ish scene like the Dallas (proper) food scene. It’s always hard to hear outsiders talk about your family.

        It’s a tough beat: Texas. She may not have heard that we could secede from the union at any time, so it doesn’t surprise me that a few feathers might get ruffled when she applies her costal tastes to our fly-over burg. But, we don’t need to be LA, or NYC, or SFO or Chi-town. However, she has a point that there is some universality to a world class culinary scene. Me? I like where we’re going, but I’d be happiest if we just had good BBQ in Dallas….

        I do question her take on service. Not that we don’t, but how in 6 months can you decide that our town lacks haute service? I’ve had service in this town that rivals any Michelin rated restaurants on the coasts (see Aurora, Fearings). I’ve also had bad (read: condescending) service at famous spots charging hundreds per person. If you’re not one of the beautiful people you may have to apply a little charm in certain spots in this town; unfair for sure, but not unique to us.

        From a journalistic point of view, I’m not sure her approach will make one bit of difference, if that was its intent. Calling out the local chefs trying to keep their heads above water in this economy…. I think Southwest just opened a new route to Boston, peanuts?

        1. I did like the former guy but he went on to greener pastures. I like Ms. Brenner's style and two of her beefs with the local scene-service levels and the desire to see moderately priced "good" wines on local wines lists are music to my ears. I was hungry for someone to actually bash joints that need it. Do critics wear out their welcome over time? Sure, but she has a long way to go before that happens. I never "rated" her before but I am happy with her work so far.

          1. I like her, she's my hero......her opinions have been right on, IMO. Do you recall any of the previous critics coming out and saying that the restaurant industry in general is screwing wine drinkers in Dallas ? Yet it's been that way for at least the last ten years. I don't recall the previous critics being nearly as up front as she is. I really appreciate her style.

            3 Replies
            1. re: pinotho

              And it takes a critic to tell you when wine prices are too high? I smell fanboy.

              Many places have trained me to take water with my meals based on wine prices. I enjoy a good bottle of wine, but it doesn't take a critic to tell me the price is a gouge. And as far as listening to recs in CH, I prefer listening to great 'friends' that have similar tastes tell me about their new experiences. And these 'friends' do not get compensated nor dine free across town and bemoan how dreadful this scene is.

              I say, if the 'scene' is so dreadful, why didn't you stay in LA? I also say, lay your wallet, your life savings, your home and credit, your children's college fund on the line, then snoot about the pate. Otherwise its just contempt.

              Remember, there is no college course called 'restaurant critic'. It is a job often given to the person that was in obituaries and did a good job.

              1. re: DallasDude

                Like her or don't like her, Brenner's resume is impeccable - far, far beyond, for example, the experience of the last three New York Times critics for example - and there is scarcely a foodie in town who knows as much as she's forgotten. And when a critic holds her city up to real, international standards, she tends to pull the scene up rather than drag it down. more often than not the average quality increases, often by a lot. The city is lucky to have her.

                If the pate sucks, the pate sucks, and it does nobody any favors to pretend otherwise. She spent a year researching a book in the kitchens of perhaps the best French restaurant in America. She knows what pate is supposed to taste like.

                1. re: DallasDude

                  it doesn't take a critic to tell me or anyone else that wine prices are too high. But, she was qiuck to point out the situation, and previous critics were not . Your contention that there should be no critics because they don't have a college course, nor do they have their money at risk, well that is a contemptuous thought, isn't it?

                1. re: Melanie Wong

                  Very interesting Melanie. I guess she got tired of LA and moved on to Dallas. Was she active on CH after she got to LA? Doesn't seem like she is anymore, but I guess that would be a conflict of interest to be a food critic and a poster on the Texas board.

                  1. re: danhole

                    ``Tired of L.A.'' in that the giant media outlet she worked for fell apart like a cheap watch, yes.