Monday, September 5, 2016

What it's like for a chef to get a bad NYT review

[David] Chang, knowing that the [New York Times] review would appear online the next day, slept fitfully, and woke in a bed that “was wet with sweat,” he told me later. Mid-morning, he went uptown, to discuss an expansionary media venture. During the meeting, he broke a promise to himself, and read the review on his phone. He then apologized to his hosts and left. He took a taxi to Momofuku Nishi, where he told his colleagues that they were experiencing something akin to a diagnosis of terminal cancer.

[New York Times critic Pete] Wells’s review began, “Searching for money, for love and for food, we strike bargains. We may be content with one for years until we begin to be shadowed by the suspicion that the terms aren’t working out in our favor anymore.” He protested, genially, about the restaurant’s noise and its uncomfortable seats, praised some dishes, and continued, “Too much of the cooking at Nishi is self-referential, inward looking, and so concerned with technique that you can’t help being conscious of it. In his early days, Mr. Chang used to serve the kind of food chefs like to eat: intense, animalistic, okay with messiness, indifferent to prettiness. Nishi serves the kind of food chefs cook to impress each other.” He gave the restaurant one star.

When I spoke to Chang that day, he talked almost without interruption for ninety minutes, in bursts of defiance, anger, and self-laceration. We met a few days later, and he was barely calmer, although self-awareness softened the effect. He apologized for whining; when he dreamed up conspiracy theories, he labelled them as conspiracy theories, and laughed dryly. (He came to accept, in time, that this article wasn’t planned with thoughts of discussing his restaurant.) When he said “Fuck him!” it was as often with resignation as with scorn. ...

“I can’t ever read that review again—I’ll get so fucking angry I’ll die,” Chang said. “I made a lot of that food! I tasted it! It was delicious. And . . . fuck!”...

Within weeks, the restaurant had abandoned its no-tipping policy and added a brunch menu.