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Do we need "professional" food critics?

So, do we really need the Anton Egos of the world or should we be our own unbiased judges?


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  1. I prefer to read restaurant reviews written by professionals just like I prefer to read news stories written by professional reporters employed by actual news operations rather than from blogs written by "citizen journalists".

    1. I don't need professional food critics like I "need" oxygen.

      But I would certainly miss them if they were no longer around.

      1. Like Ipsedixit said, 'need' may be pushing it. However, if this is a question about the relative uses or value of a professional in the age of Yelp and Chowhound, that's another thing. And the answer is 'yes'.

        Bless the people here for finding places and bringing them to a collective attention, but in the main, it is not pleasurable reading. The style and grammar of many here has made my eyes bleed, or rather, made me wish that my eyes were bleeding so as to detract from the headache I got trying to decipher the post's meaning. That may be extreme, but honestly, it seems people turn up their noses at these issues as if they were arbitrary and unfair rules rather than the means through which words become communication. That said, there are some 'professionals' out there who are just as wretched when it comes to written communication.

        Also, a person able to visit many restaurants in a short period may have a better sense of the landscape. And they can taste many dishes in order to give a broad overview in a single visit.

        But of course, these other sites and chat rooms becomes ways of testing whether places have improved, gone downhill, or maintained their quality. Similarly, they become necessary interventions for when a critic is rumbled and thus given preferential treatment. Or when a critic may not be aware of a food style.

        Finally, while I'm sure critics can harbour ill will towards certain restaurateurs, the standards of professional publications give credibility to both glowing and damning reviews. Once in the interwebs, extremes at either end become cause to find backup and corroboration.

        So, I guess basic issues of quality are still in play, even if these sites provide more information through which we filter.

        1. A Chowhound post or a blog is not the same thing as a really good food critic. If you are looking only for thumbs up or thumbs down, then I suppose any opinion you agree with will do. But good professional writing can offer so much more and is still something to cherish.

          1. Yes, and we need editors. (And copy editors, too, but that getting to be a lost cause.)

            1. Oh my, yes! I don't mean that we need them to live or eat or even that I think they're correct, but they are much more useful than most of the amateur food writers I've read recently. I will be more than happy to send you the latest column from our pathetic local paper if you doubt me...

              1. I read, "our own unbiased..." and chuckled. Most of us don't know much about food. Read a random online review/rating of a place. How many sound unbiased? How many sound like they know what they're talking about?

                Let's say you're judging a new Cantonese restaurant. Do you know the history of the food? Do you know how it evolved through the times? Have you been to the region and tasted its offerings? Have you tried the variety offered in city x and city y? Have you tried the cheap street vendor version of the food? Have you tasted the ingredients in their raw form? Can you identify the components of the dish? Can you identify the techniques used?

                All that and more is part of truly understanding and appreciating a dish. And, all that goes into writing a good review. Most of us here are beyond the, "I luv it!" level. Most of us could go into some details about the dish and have some knowledge base. But, not many will know the food like a professional would.

                1. Yesterday I watched a PBS documentary on the history of film criticism, which like food writing, has in recent years suffered from internet inroads. If the nonprofessional food criticism bloggers are anywhere near as jejune and callow as their film counterparts, the answer is an unqualified YES.

                  1. what does need have to with almost anything?

                    we need air, water, a little food, and protection from the cold. everything else is optional

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: thew

                      This exactly.

                      True needs are very few and far between. But I do appreciate a professional's take on practical and pleasurable pursuits.

                    2. I believe your scare quotes are in the wrong place, since I think the word professional means simply that someone gets paid to do something. So we "need" professional food critics, the same way we "need" professional real estate brokers or professional house painters. Yes, we could do these jobs ourselves, if we had to, but probably not as skillfully as the people who have devoted considerable time and energy to learning to do them well.

                      1. we don't "need" them but they are an amusing read (sometimes)

                        1. The honest answer is both. We all seem to "need" some measure of review; professional or very unprofessional but respected first-hand account to where we dine or where we shop or sites like CH wouldn't work either.

                          But our sensibilities def. come into play. And in the end we're our best food critic...because, the food is going into our own mouths :)

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: HillJ

                            I agree. I find them fun to read, too, whether we ultimately agree with the reviewer or not. There was one food critic on the staff of the sole daily newspaper in my city who was useful in one way at least: whatever place he raved over I knew I would be unlikely to like. :-)

                          2. Yup. Speaking for myself, I do like to read the opinion of a "professional" food critic. Whereas, I'm just a person who loves to dine--whether it be dining on a wonderful dinner I"ve made at home for my family, or in a fine restaurant. However, before I DO go to that fine restaurant, I want to read a professional's view on the food, the prep, the ambiance, the service. I'm an amateur. I'm tired of (and, please, if you are a blogger, take no offense, I do like to read blogs) bloggers' reviews. Each blogger has their strengths and weaknesses--however pros have a better understanding of the nuances of food--just my opinion.
                            Hey. If Bourdain and Riepert didn't go to Frenchie (I know--they aren't critics, per se, but they ARE professionals in the food industry) and get all drooley-misty-eyed, floating-on-a-cloud about the place, I would never have had the best meal of my life. So yup! Pros are sometimes greatly appreciated.

                            1. Professional food critics have their role to fulfill. Like any other professional, some are better than others. Some, like Jonathan Gold, are in a class by themselves with their extensive knowledge of many different varieties of food and the budget to actually try them.

                              1. If you're looking for a gauge of general popularity go to Yelp or Chow. If you want to really find out about the character of the restaurant and chef, read a good, professional review.
                                You can wade through mountains of crap before finding anything in blogland.

                                1. It'd be nice if the reviewers could review at will -- not to earn a living or meet a quota of x number of columns, etc. That must lead to fudging with purity of thought.

                                  1. I think professional reviews can be very helpful. Personal reviews are somtimes biased and aren't consistent. There are certain reviewers that I like because they provide realistic reviews about things that people actually care about.