Kitchen Mechanics by Gary O'Hanlon: The Food Critic

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Insufferable bastards? Or a necessary evil?

Hmmm! Depends on the critic, I suppose. For me, though, we need them. Most of all in parts of the country that doesn’t have major city footfall. Social media has, without doubt, made the country a much smaller place but nothing can better top drawer words from a highly regarded food critic.

You can talk all you want about yourself, most do (myself included) but when you read well written words from an educated, well versed and well travelled food critic it can make you feel like the fucking man/woman. And, more importantly, it can boost business.  

I think back to 2009. Viewmount House had been open since August 2nd ’08. I had been working there since mid June ’08 and was totally immersed in the place. Tasting, unwrapping cutlery, crockery, cleaning and familiarizing myself with the Midlands, where I’d never lived nor worked before. Georgina Campbell was a very early supporter, always was for the house and thankfully continued to follow us through to the opening of VM. I walked into the kitchen at some point mid-late ’09 and in my station James, the boss, had placed a Bridgestone Guide sticker. It was a lovely moment. It really was. Someone had been in, the Top 100 Best Places to Stay & Eat were about to be released and there we were. Kick-off. We never looked back.
My dear friend Paolo, a colleague from TV3’s The Restaurant, gave me my first national review. The brilliant Katy McGuinness followed as did Lucinda and Ernie. It took years, but they eventually came.  

I see Dublin restaurants opening nowadays and the same place has a scurry to see which critic/publication can get their speak in first. Three, four or more reviews will follow. Almost always some glowing, some mediocre and then one will go for the jugular. Bloodbath shizzle.

Back in the day I used to go fucking mental watching it happen. Viewmount, myself and Longford getting ignored but, in hindsight, maybe I was the lucky one. As much as I thought I was the man, I wasn’t. We were good, very good even but nowhere near where we are today and a million miles still from where we want to be, but we keep pushing. At the end of the day I’m our biggest critic. As every chef should be in their respective restaurants.

Having a critic in your restaurant is a buzz. Akin to perhaps standing in a boxing ring with thoughts of “I’m ready for you mother fucker” going through your brain. You can pretend to not love it, but that’s bollocks. Every chef in the country wants critics. The bigger the better. It’s a them-versus-us mentality but, much like the Scottish Old Firm, Celtic v Rangers, one needs the other.

I remember going back to my honeymoon. I’d been to Vegas for a week of debauchery, a few days in San Fran just to eat, and then to Cancun for what was supposed to be a week of relaxation. But I knew there was a review due in the Indo from Lucinda. I was sick with worry. I paced around the resort until finally Olivia, Frankie Fish’s wife from An Port Mor, sent me images that I could read. It was a cracker of a review. The fun was back in the honeymoon.

That’s the pressure a pending review brings. It’s a pressure you crave though because not having critics visit is a far bigger stress. For the most part if you do things right all day every day then getting buried asunder is never going to happen. Every day a chef will face problems but, if structures are in place to deal with them, then there’s never much to worry about. A good, knowledgeable critic will see things like a chef. They won’t ride you for the small things. Unless, of course, they set out with a vendetta.

If ever you want to see where their allegiances lie though look no further than September or whenever the Michelin guide comes out. During the year it’s as though we all play for our separate clubs but, once that guide comes out, we are ALL IRISH and sit back and watch our Irish critics stick it to Michelin should their favourite chefs or restaurants not make the cut for a star. It’s lovely to see.

They keep it fair, they keep it real and they keep our obnoxious egos in check 'cause, in my opinion, they only want what we want……

A better tasting Ireland.



Read more from this series:

The Food Critic
The Next Generation
The Front of House
The KP
The Vac Pack
The Chef