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Lesley Chesterman [Montreal]

i
iheartspicyfood Aug 29, 2011 11:27 AM

Is LC respected among the foodie community in the city? I find her weekly write-ups extremely negative, predictable, and flat-out mundane. How long has she been writing for the Gazette? I wish the Gazette's editors would rotate the position every few years to inject a fresh culinary opinion to Gazette readers. 9/10 times S.Musgrave reviews are positive, so why can't LC find better samples to cover across the city? IMO, I think a number of regular chowhounders would do a better job.

  1. w
    wattacetti Aug 29, 2011 12:05 PM

    It's been a while since she's been writing (she used my "Peruvian sashimi" line about 6 years ago), and she actually beat out other candidates for the writing position. She has a lobster thing (can't eat it; orders anyway) and I find that she's weak on cuisines that aren't French or Italian.

    Respected among the local foodie community?

    Why she can`t find better samples: Musgrave does cheap eats (lots) while Chesterman's supposed to do fine/upscale dining. We're in Montreal - exactly how many upscale and fine dining establishments do we have exactly? At the higher end of the cheap eats and the lower end of upscale, we have a whole lot of overlap and I can just imagine the two of them doing rock-paper-scissors.

    While I'd prefer to resurrect Helen Rochester from the dead (or press-gang Carswell), she's still better than Byron Ayanoglu's stint. And if you're like me, you don't have to read the Gazoo.

    14 Replies
    1. re: wattacetti
      b
      BLM Aug 29, 2011 01:30 PM

      You think Lesley Chesterman is particularly weak at Chinese cuisine? Or Asian cusines in general? I certainly do. I also find she's too friendly with many Montreal chefs, that she reviews. As you indicated many of her reviews are not fine/upscale dining. I think it goes by price point, as to who reviews it(either Sarah Musgrave or Lesley Chesterman).

      1. re: BLM
        b
        blondee_47 Aug 29, 2011 02:56 PM

        what I find about Lesley is the rating system she uses...she will say a lot of negatives yet her star rating could be 2...she rarely gives 0 stars and most time it is 2+ even tho I am reading it and the negative comments outweigh the good. it's like she is afraid...

        1. re: blondee_47
          b
          BLM Aug 29, 2011 03:46 PM

          Lesley has a policy of never giving a restaurant no stars(she made one exception). She should state that(no matter how bad the food is, every restaurant gets a star at least).

        2. re: BLM
          w
          wattacetti Aug 29, 2011 03:52 PM

          I didn't want to say "particularly" since I don't think that's adequate for describing exactly how weak she is at non-French, non-Italian. And I should probably add the proviso that it's non-"mainstream" French and Italian.

          As for the chumminess there have been several rumors which don't have to be voiced here, but it gets kinda silly if you're told "pretend that you don't know me".

          1. re: wattacetti
            SnackHappy Aug 29, 2011 04:21 PM

            I think she's out of the closet about palling around with half the chefs in town. She seems to be moving away from the "anonymous critic" thing and more towards food media personality. I reckon she wants her slice of the "food is the new rock n' roll" pie.

            1. re: SnackHappy
              s
              Shattered Aug 29, 2011 07:02 PM

              Absolutely. She judges food events now, so how anonymous can she be?

              1. re: Shattered
                w
                wattacetti Aug 29, 2011 11:28 PM

                The anonymity was not really what I was referring to.

                1. re: wattacetti
                  b
                  blondee_47 Aug 30, 2011 07:02 AM

                  I know that she does not compromise her position and if it is a friend she tries to find someone else to write a review on it...first hand knowledge on this, or so I have been told.

                  1. re: blondee_47
                    w
                    wattacetti Aug 30, 2011 07:32 AM

                    ««first hand knowledge on this, or so I have been told.»»

                    Well, if you haven't actually seen this, then it's not first-hand knowledge. And if she got someone to write the review and took credit it's politely called ghostwriting (and impolitely called plagiarism).

                    I have been in eateries where it's her friends (or supposed friends) and she's been there to review: "pretend that you don't know me".

                    And as I originally said to iheartspicyfood, I don't have to read the Gazoo.

                    1. re: wattacetti
                      k
                      kpaxonite Aug 30, 2011 08:07 AM

                      saying something is plagiarism is not impolite if it's true

                      ghostwriters are announced and are usually for autobiographies.

                      1. re: wattacetti
                        b
                        blondee_47 Aug 30, 2011 09:56 AM

                        well since i don't own the restaurant in question that I wrote about and since the owner told me that she refused to rate it because of their friendship and since it was reviewed by Musgrave, then hence my comment ..<.." first hand knowledge, or so I've been told....>"

                        It is not usually the case where I feel, at first take, that I am being lied to. Perhaps as someone without a grind to axe, I believe what people tell me especially when they are people who I have always known to be beyond reproach.

                      2. re: blondee_47
                        b
                        BLM Aug 30, 2011 08:33 AM

                        I don't understand, could you elaborate? How can she take credit for writing something, that she didn't do(& still getting paid for it)?

            2. re: wattacetti
              TheSnowpea Aug 30, 2011 06:50 PM

              Yes, please, let's hunt down Carswell and press him to the task!

              1. re: wattacetti
                b
                BLM Sep 3, 2011 01:42 PM

                Do you like Musgrave's reviews? Do you think she knows her food?

              2. i
                iheartspicyfood Aug 30, 2011 09:08 AM

                Thanks for the great dialogue hounders. Your commentary confirms my suspicions. I almost laughed when I read Joe Beef's 4 * review a few weeks back. Wasn't it predictable from the headline alone? It confirmed her "palling around" interest which I find so weak considering how difficult it is to make it in the business. No disrespect to JB but I hope someone removes her silver spoon asap. Whether she's weak in non-italian, Chinese or not, this I will have to see for myself. @wattacetti I never read the Gazoo apart from the weekend insert but I think this might come to a quick end if I'm awoken to another negative review.

                1 Reply
                1. re: iheartspicyfood
                  b
                  BLM Aug 30, 2011 10:18 AM

                  I actually thought same thing. How many times has she reviewed Joe Beef restaurant for the Gazette? How many times, she written Gazette pieces directly connected with chefs David McMillan and/or Frederic Morin?

                2. Withnail42 Aug 30, 2011 03:23 PM

                  I've been feeling that way for several years now. Her writing is not particularly inspired or insightful. She comes across more and more as someone trying to be a big fish in a small pond.

                  The real tipping point came two or there years ago during the Montreal High Lights Festival. The city was full of world class chefs from across the globe. She basically ignored the festival and wrote a three page article about a local Italian woman (Her name escapes me) who has been around the Montreal scene for years she has a show and written a couple of books. In short old news that could have waited until the festival had run it's course. If I remember correctly Chesterman was featured in her own article. (I even posted about it at the time. She posted back and was not pleased. She pointed out that she did recaps of events that had already occurred. Not that that was in any way useful.) It was almost as if she was intimidated by the international chefs and instead wanted to show that she's a big shot locally.

                  Nor must we forget her infamous Chilean sea bass issue. Her justification was that she's a critic so it was okay.

                  Then there was the time she went to Paris and wrote about what she cooked.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: Withnail42
                    i
                    iheartspicyfood Aug 30, 2011 08:56 PM

                    @Withnail42 "infamous sea bass" issue? Please do tell.

                    1. re: iheartspicyfood
                      w
                      wattacetti Aug 30, 2011 10:32 PM

                      Chilean sea bass. Montreal and Vegas are the 2 cities in North America where it's freely available. LC harps about how the Patagonian toothfish is an "avoid" on Seafood Watch and then proceeds to order it every time she spots it on a menu based on her being a restaurant critic.

                      1. re: wattacetti
                        b
                        BLM Aug 31, 2011 08:42 AM

                        Interesting. I didn't know this contradiction from her. I knew of her complaints of still seeing Chiiean sea bass on Montreal restaurant menus.

                    2. re: Withnail42
                      s
                      Shattered Aug 30, 2011 11:24 PM

                      Oh geez, I remember the Paris article years back - one of those days I picked up the Gazoo by chance. Self-indulgent puff piece.

                    3. i
                      iheartspicyfood Aug 31, 2011 09:24 AM

                      @BLM can you dig the article up?

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: iheartspicyfood
                        Withnail42 Aug 31, 2011 11:04 AM

                        Out of curiosity I looked up the article to which I believe BLM was referring: http://www.montrealgazette.com/life/F...

                        For my part it's about as sugary sweet as one can get. It seems very self indulgent in the sense that she seems to be trying to show off her knowledge of modern day gastronomy by mentioning as many famous chef as she can.

                        However true to form she has a couple of factual errors in her work.

                        1. re: Withnail42
                          m
                          Maximilien Aug 31, 2011 11:26 AM

                          Wow, that review is really something !!! dumping names (Adria, Redzepi and Aizpitarte) that are from a really different class of restaurants to review Joe Beef is pushing it really hard.

                      2. m
                        Mr F Aug 31, 2011 10:15 AM

                        If the Gazette were to get rid of every "negative, predictable, mundane" critic and columnist, they'd have to do a massive purge. Not that I read the Gazette very often anymore, but when I do it's pretty clear the good columnists are very much the exception to the rule, while most are in full-on zombie mode, cranking out the same predictable, whiny pap over and over.

                        Not to mention that our town (and especially the anglo community) is small enough that it must be extremely tough to find anonymous, qualified critics in any field. For a very long time, it has been normal for critics -- music, film, food, books, etc. -- to be plugged into the local music, film, food etc. community.

                        Local novelists review local novelists, music critics are part of the scene, film critics review films made by people they party with... and food critics go to the same events as the people whose businesses they review. In every case, connections may compromise objectivity, but they're also part of the qualifications for the job, so criticism is inevitably an incestuous business, especially at the local level. (And I say this with all due respect to my friends who are critics. I realize the incestuousness makes the job harder, not easier.)

                        As for whether reviews should be positive... gotta disagree thoroughly on that one. Good, honest criticism needs to include a fair share of bad reviews, especially when something is popular despite massive shortcomings.

                        Guaranteed that if you replaced LC with someone else, you'd soon find that person having trouble staying anonymous, being seen being chummy with prominent people in the industry, the works. Maybe you'd get a better standard of research and writing, but I'm not convinced you'll ever get a truly anonymous critic with no industry connections.

                        13 Replies
                        1. re: Mr F
                          k
                          kpaxonite Aug 31, 2011 10:50 AM

                          Then how do good montreal food blogs exist?

                          1. re: kpaxonite
                            m
                            Mr F Aug 31, 2011 11:16 AM

                            Name me some that are written by anonymous people without industry connections. Heck, name me even one.

                            The most acclaimed local food blog I know of is "...an endless banquet", whose writers most certainly are known faces who are plugged into the local scene.

                            A major (not the only) difference you'll find between bloggers and newspaper critics is that a smaller audience means a lower profile, which in turn means less reader scrutiny. Take any given blog and give it the scrutiny that LC receives and you'll be back at square one when it comes to issues like anonymity and connections. (Though you might indeed fix any quality problems, or at least swap them for new ones.)

                            1. re: Mr F
                              k
                              kpaxonite Aug 31, 2011 11:55 AM

                              off the top of my head

                              http://foodguymontreal.com/

                              mrlewburger.tumblr.com

                              http://www.midnightpoutine.ca/food/

                              1. re: kpaxonite
                                m
                                Mr F Aug 31, 2011 01:26 PM

                                There may be some worthy talent there. I'm not familiar with their work, so I don't know.

                                But I will point out that Mr Food Guy is not incognito (photo posted), and the rest don't cover the high end. And the fine dining scene being quite a small world, staying incognito is bound to be much more difficult than if you're writing about greasy spoons or even mid-range places.

                                So I still don't think it's realistic for a fine dining critic in this city to be incognito, at least not for the long haul.

                                Not to mention that we hold bloggers to a much different standard than we do the person who has a coveted page in the Saturday paper. I don't disagree that the Gazette ought to consider replacing LC, I'm just not convinced you'll ever see a fine dining critic who doesn't know people in that world, creating ethically questionable situations. And if you do get one, they won't be able to stay in their bubble forever.

                                1. re: Mr F
                                  b
                                  BLM Aug 31, 2011 03:34 PM

                                  When I don't like with Montreal restaurant critics(not just LC), is that almost all reviews are based one visit.

                            2. re: kpaxonite
                              SnackHappy Aug 31, 2011 11:47 AM

                              There are very few good, well written Montreal food blogs and they don't get updated very often. OTOH, there are some popular Montreal food blogs that update all the time, but they are written by people with a very limited knowledge of food and restaurants. Some bloggers are quite obviously out of their depth. Others are just trying too hard to get invited to media events and eat for free.

                              1. re: SnackHappy
                                b
                                BLM Aug 31, 2011 02:09 PM

                                Yep, concerning the Montreal food bloggers. Some of the most popular Montreal food bloggers updating regularly, are more concerned publicizing themselves on Facebook, Twitter, local media & getting into freebies. How much they know about food, I'm not sure.

                                1. re: BLM
                                  b
                                  blondee_47 Aug 31, 2011 02:20 PM

                                  I happen to know a food blogger who spends his hard earned money to review restaurants on a fairly regular basis and deserves to be in this list as Shut Up And Eat does reviews on resto and he is dedicated to his blog.
                                  http://www.shutupandeat.ca/

                                  1. re: blondee_47
                                    m
                                    marblebag Sep 7, 2011 09:51 AM

                                    That site is full of factual errors and English mistakes it's hard to read with a straight face.

                                    1. re: marblebag
                                      b
                                      BLM Sep 14, 2011 08:56 AM

                                      Yes I agree, I just went through the Shut up and eat food blog site more closely(I knew of his blog before, but didn't check many of his reviews). Way too many spelling mistakes, incomplete reviews. Jason says he only reviews restaurants he likes. Checked his blog tweets on Twitter, he hangs out with other Montreal food bloggers who are also not too good. Additionally Jason take shots at people who posts on this board. He should take care of his blog first, before lashing out at people.

                                  2. re: BLM
                                    SnackHappy Sep 1, 2011 07:10 AM

                                    Well, you can tell by reading them what they know and don't know. I don't consider myself to be very well versed in culinary matters, but I still pick up factual errors and incorrect assumptions all the time. That's not tot mention all the food reviews that barely even talk about the food.

                                    1. re: SnackHappy
                                      b
                                      BLM Sep 16, 2011 12:12 PM

                                      Have you checked out the Shut Up and Eat blog? IMO, among the worst food blogs as far as spelling mistakes & incomplete reviews(in some of his reviews, just describe some of the dishes, with no actual review if he liked the dish or not). I just saw blondee_47 long response totally disagreeing with me.

                                      1. re: BLM
                                        SnackHappy Sep 16, 2011 01:47 PM

                                        Yes, I've read Shut up and eat. I even followed it for a while. but quickly gave up on it after the guy edited one of my comments to hide a mistake I had pointed out. I have no tolerance for that kind of crap. At this point, I don't really trust anything he writes.

                            3. t
                              thelonious777 Sep 1, 2011 06:44 AM

                              I don't mind being the voice of dissent here. I think Lesley Chesterman is more knowledgeable about food than approximately 100% of the people posting on Chowhound (I rounded up). I won't defend the quality of the writing, but in all fairness once you've written 100 or more restaurant reviews (as I have) you will discover that the subject matter is somewhat limiting. Also let's not forget that (IMHO) the content of the Gazette is geared to aging Anglo housewives, so many of us are not the target audience.

                              I think the smartest thing said in this string was don't read it, if you don't like it.

                              4 Replies
                              1. re: thelonious777
                                w
                                wattacetti Sep 1, 2011 07:56 AM

                                If we go back to iheartspicyfood's original post lamenting the writing quality, yes there are problems but as I said, no one's making you read neither the column nor the paper.

                                If we start talking about her behaviour as a reviewer, yes some of it's puerile and I'm fairly certain she's been "inspired" by some of your writings and the writings of other bloggers. But, it again goes back to the fact that no one's forcing you to read. .

                                And if we go to your assessment of her culinary knowledge vis-à-vis everyone else here (in which you've included yourself by the way), I take no offense but I still think you've overrated her abilities. I don't doubt her cred as a former pastry chef and she's got her ITHQ certificate, but consistent errors (especially outside of Western European cuisine) over *years* speak to either inattentiveness or ignorance. You choose.

                                1. re: thelonious777
                                  b
                                  BLM Sep 1, 2011 09:16 AM

                                  In all fairness, LC herself fairly often take shots at local food writers, bloggers & restaurant critics publicly on places like Twitter, media appearances. Probably not against you, as she seems to know you & meet you before(I recognize your handle on Twitter & here).

                                  1. re: BLM
                                    t
                                    thelonious777 Sep 1, 2011 07:15 PM

                                    For the record, I have never met her (and have only communicated with her on Twitter a couple times).

                                    1. re: BLM
                                      b
                                      blondee_47 Sep 15, 2011 06:48 AM

                                      IMHO to BLM: Lesley Chesterman, as far as I know, has never 'made fun' or criticized anyone on Twitter and I follow her...not that Twitter leaves enough room to do that. As for Shut Up and Eat which I read all the time I have never found enough mistakes to warrant a mention besides I would like to know in the age of email and blogging who 'doesn't ' make a spelling mistake or whose sentence structure is impaired. In fact that book Modernist Cuisine had to put up a website just to correct its mistakes and that was an edited book.

                                      Personally I find I do best when I go to a restaurant eat and then decide...I don't do restaurant critiquing but those that do and are not paid for it do us Montrealers a service because although a lot of Americans earn money thru advertising etc...bloggers here earn bupkus and do it for the love of food.

                                      We should also be happy that we even have an English restaurant critic because that means we still have one English newspaper.

                                      As for culinary knowledge I have felt and still feel that being a restaurant critic whether u have a cooking background or a great palate is and will always be subjective. Unfortunately though there are those in the States esp NY and LA that wield the power they have been given by their audiences and even as we judge we still have and carry with us, by virtue that we are all human, built-in predjudices that are not supposed to, but sometimes do, come out on paper. I applaud the restauranteur who doesn't care what kind of review he gets but cares solely about his food.

                                      Now I can be taken to task for my spelling and sentence errors...bad girl..ok I have been duly reprimanded.

                                  2. i
                                    iheartspicyfood Sep 3, 2011 06:21 AM

                                    Thoughts on today's review? - my last.

                                    4 Replies
                                    1. re: iheartspicyfood
                                      m
                                      Mr F Sep 3, 2011 07:38 AM

                                      Because she doesn't even pretend to be incognito anymore?

                                      If that's it, I'd much rather have the disclosure than be left wondering.

                                      1. re: iheartspicyfood
                                        Withnail42 Sep 3, 2011 10:32 AM

                                        Is that the one of Kitchen Galerie? If so then I have a couple of observations.

                                        She seems to be very hung up on oysters and seems orders them a lot.

                                        It seems that if there is Foie Gras on the menu she thinks its a sin of a god restaurant.

                                        She talks about how nice and casual the place is. Then she whines for two paragraphs about the table she has been given. She notes that it is the last open one in the restaurant yet still demands to be moved. Then she demands candles. But by the end of the night once Her Holliness has been appeased, she's back to saying how great and laid back and casual the place is and one need not stress about the room

                                        1. re: Withnail42
                                          m
                                          Maximilien Sep 4, 2011 08:16 AM

                                          Nothing wrong asking for a table when one frees up.

                                          And to be fair, as far as I undertand it, she did not ask for candles; she just wished for some and commented about it (maybe, it's not clear) to the waiter.

                                          1. re: Maximilien
                                            Withnail42 Sep 4, 2011 01:39 PM

                                            I agree nothing wrong in asking. But as I read it it sounded like she knew it was the last table and still wanted to do something. As for the candles I got the impression that she did ask otherwise how would she know they the place didn't have any.

                                            Regardless of the interpretation it still seemed like a lot of time devoted to her personal issues.

                                      2. Peaches to Poutine Sep 8, 2011 04:01 PM

                                        I assume everyone has read her lengthy article in the Art of Eating regarding her ideal way to make creme anglaise?

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: Peaches to Poutine
                                          Withnail42 Sep 8, 2011 04:24 PM

                                          Haven't seen it. What did she say?

                                        2. i
                                          iheartspicyfood Mar 31, 2012 04:17 AM

                                          NH's Kitchenette is another prime example of LC's predictability. Terrible.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: iheartspicyfood
                                            m
                                            Maximilien Mar 31, 2012 02:19 PM

                                            Why is that ? The review looks fair, some good points, some bad points,

                                            link : http://www.montrealgazette.com/touch/...

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