Jay Rayner: culinary observations from a literary food master. Part one.

timthumb‘Bad restaurants are like car crashes and colds; they’re things that happen to me’ – Jay Rayner, food critic and writer.

As A Well Fed Man and every day food obsessive, I frequently share my planning, cooking, consumption, conversation, research and journeys with family, friends, work colleagues and people from the wonderful world of academia.

But there’s also several activities I prefer not to share, like leisurely perusing the imported products that abound within Asian retail stores. Or watching the produce around Werribee South’s market gardens as they make the journey from seed planting to harvest and beyond, regardless of weather, season or time of day.

From the joys of personally observing food styling and photography, to inspecting the veg plot deliver its bounty and watching an absolutely essential TV show, like the UK’s Masterchef: The Professionals. Among the many highlights are the slick culinary comments espoused by leading food writer Jay Rayner. Widely noted for his clinical, cynical and ‘no holds barred’ approach to writing, Jay provides both culinary humour and inspiration to AWFM, so here’s a few guipps and quotes from the man himself.

When responding to the question Why do people love a bad review? Jay concluded ‘I cannot deny that writing a negative review is easier because bad experiences are simply funnier, the 600full-jay-raynervocabulary of the awful much wider. Even so I rarely if ever seek them out. I don’t have to, given how often they happen to me. But I am also a consumer of bad reviews. If they are fun to write they are also fun to read…’  1.

When commenting on dining in Moscow he said ‘yes, Moscow. It’s a deeply sinister, brooding, vile, criminal place. And that’s just the airport. Visiting it as a tourist only lets Muscovites believe that their city is okay when it’s really not. A friend of mine, who has been the Moscow correspondent for my newspaper here in the UK, told me Moscow was ‘a troubled place full of undiagnosed psychosis and rage’. He’s absolutely right. Plus the food is crap and nose-bleedingly expensive.’ 2.

When reviewing a London eatery he said and ‘then there was the food: I was told I would be presented with a list of 16 dishes from which I was to assemble a tasting menu. It was obvious. At some point during the meal a waiter would tell me they had “a concept”. The whole table had to have the same dishes. So to try enough, we’d have to go for at least seven courses. Oh God. Tasting menus. If I’m given a menu, I really don’t want to taste it. I want to eat it. I want to get armpit-deep in the sauce. Tasting menus are to the pleasures of food what IVF is to the pleasures of sex. And I should know. I’ve been through both.’ 3.

One of the Man Vs Food menu delights at Sizzle and Grill.
One of the Man Vs Food menu delights at Sizzle and Grill.

When providing a final literary ode to a previous review, he wrote ‘earlier this year I wrote disobligingly about Sizzle and Grill, a grim Cardiff restaurant which promotes a Man vs Food competitive-eating menu. This month, the owner, Paul Stevens, pleaded guilty to 18 public hygiene offences (plus two counts of benefit fraud). It seems you risked making yourself sick by eating there even if you didn’t order the 69 oz mixed grill.’ 3.

When personally replying to a critical email he’d been sent regarding a subject within his column, he wrote ‘have you always been this pompous, patronising, joyless and tiresome or did it just come with time? And don’t try claiming it’s a function of old age. My mother dealt with about as many calamities as the passing of the years could throw at her and it would never have occurred to her to throw out such a self-pitying piece of cobblers. She had no time for it and neither do it. For what it’s worth that one column amounts to less than 1% of my yearly output. I write about food poverty, modern agriculture, the food supply system and a lot of fun stuff too. But you wouldn’t know about that because you never read me. And can I suggest we keep it that way. What I write will never make you happy.’ 4

When asked about the food adjectives he didn’t like he singled out mouth watering, noting ‘its useless and lazy. It describes a untitledphysiological response. Your mouth waters in response to all foods. If it didn’t water you couldn’t eat. There should be a law banning it from all writing about food and if I ruled the world there would be.’ 5 Well said that man!

When interviewed about his role as a food reviewed, he said ‘I’m not selling restaurants – I’m selling newspapers. Nobody reads my column to find out whether the lamb was overcooked or the fish was raw. They’re reading for the pleasure of reading. We’re selling an experience.’ In the same interview he also noted that ‘I’ve just got to do what I do and take no prisoners. If I stop writing honestly then I’m not doing my job anymore; I’m not worth employing; I’m not worth reading.’ 6 Well said again.

When reviewing the Buddah Bar in London he said ‘one of the curiosities of this week’s restaurant – along with ‘How do they live with themselves?’ and ‘Why isn’t there a baying mob outside with pitchforks and burning torches?’ – is that it should be named after a deity whose followers are famed for their serenity and yet should be capable of engendering in me such a blind, raging, spittle-flecked fury. There will be casualties in the restaurant trade as a result of the current economic turmoil; I sincerely hope London’s Buddha Bar is one of them.’

When asked about his profession Jay said ‘there are lots of people who say I would love to have your job. Well I say I am sure you are capable of going out and eating for a living but are you capable of writing for a living? I’m not about to make great claims for my genius but I do always say I am not employed for what I know about food, although I think I know quite a lot, but because of how I write.’ 7

When Belfast’s Made In Belfast restaurant decided to take Jay on Made In Belfastin a game of unproductive, unhealthy ‘twitterings’ he said ‘it was just a stupid, clumsy thing to do. I had shat all over them in a review. Do not then attempt to turn that into some sort of positive coverage because I will rip you a new one even if you think you’re being witty and funny. It was clumsy, it was silly, I told them to take the fucking thing down and they did. If you want to draw pictures of me as a leprechaun, you’re more than welcome. If you want to take the piss out of me, you’re more than welcome but do not attempt to turn a negative review about your restaurant into a positive or I will really be cross and make your life hell.’ 8

When asked about his influence on restaurant patronage, he said ‘How many people read my column in the Observer on a yearly basis? Hundreds of thousands, it’s relatively tiny numbers. Most people are reading it for the conversation, dialog, for the stupid knob gags… everybody loves a knob gag, you get away with the subtle formation of one and they love it.’ 8

In a blistering 700 word review on noted Moscow import Arkady Novikov’s eponymous London venture, Jay noted the place was so121160_00024 ‘astoundingly grim you want to congratulate the kitchen on its incompetence’ and compared its cuisine to cheap Chinese food. He was just getting warmed up. And so my advice to you. Don’t go to Novikov. Keep not going. Keep not going a lot. In a city with a talent for opening hateful and tasteless restaurants, Novikov marks a special new low. That’s its real achievement.’ 9

Then there’s Jay’s fabulous Twitter commentary on his Tesco Express ‘grab and go’ meal experienced during 2012. Commencing with ‘tonight I will be dining from the ‘Tesco express all you can grab before the train leaves Worcester’ menu’, followed by ‘I would live tweet my ‘Tesco Express’ dinner, but my fingers are too greasy’ to ‘God. That pork pie tasted like something died and got wrapped in pastry’ to ‘by which I mean died of natural causes, not the unnatural ones of the abattoir’ and finally ‘when the coroner comes to find out how the pork pie died he can give me the once over too. Two more hours of train journey to go…’  Lovely stuff.

Next I’ll share some wonderful quipps and comments from Masterchef: The Professionals.

Marc – A Well Fed Man.

1. http://www.theguardian.com/theobserver/2012/may/27/bad-critical-reviews-jay-rayner

2. Moscow observations taken from http://www.gourmettraveller.com.au/restaurants/restaurant-news-features/2008/5/a-bite-with-the-man-who-ate-the-world/

3. http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/apr/20/blanchette-restaurant-review-jay-rayner

4. http://popbitch.com/home/2011/11/17/observer-food-critic-versus-80-year-old-reader/

5. http://au.askmen.com/celebs/interview/jay-rayner-interview.html

6. http://www.leedsstudent.org/2012/10/05/the-interview-jay-rayner/

7. http://www.crumbsmag.com/journal/211_the-crumbs-interview-jay-rayner

8. http://forked.ie/2013/06/interview-jay-rayner/

9. http://eatocracy.cnn.com/2012/05/18/written-in-the-stars-the-art-of-the-bad-review/

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