LIVE TO EAT: Chef Edward Lee’s thoughtful essay “Restaurant Reviewing Needs a Revamp.”


Marty Rosen points the way in a short post at Food & Dining Magazine, and Chef Lee takes it from there.

Writing for Mark Bittman’s new online food magazine Heated, Chef Lee recently penned an incisive essay that defends the importance of professional criticism but argues that our increasing diverse culinary culture calls for equally diverse journalism.

His tagline is telling: “For those of us who cook from a culture that is outside the European vernacular, we may own our recipes, but we never owned the words that described our foods. And it’s time we did.”

I suppose the future of the genre itself — restaurant reviews as written by someone who knows something about food — is up for grabs in a world where Yelp follies proliferate. When everyone knows everything, no one really knows anything, do they?

Restaurant Reviewing Needs a Revamp, by Edward Lee (Heated)

As chefs and diners move away from Eurocentric restaurants, food writing still needs to catch up

… I don’t want to dismantle a system that has documented America’s restaurants, but when the country’s most exciting restaurants are as diverse as the America we live in, how can we possibly rely on the old system? In the past two years, some of the best dishes I have eaten have been from restaurants that serve Sri Lankan food, Laotian food, Uzbek food, and Nigerian food. I am an expert in none of these cuisines. And I am going to make the bold assumption that neither is the food reviewer of the local paper who has been tenured there for the past 20 years. When diners are more interested than ever before in the foods of nations that have been ignored by history, how do we properly and intelligently review these restaurants?

One of the incredible byproducts of the food revolution in America is that we have an army of “foodies” that come in all shapes, colors, sizes, ages, and economic and social backgrounds. We are as discerning about our Michelin-starred meals as we are about our banh mi and our pupusas. In a near future, when Eurocentric restaurants may not be the dominant cuisine, when the new audience is going to demand more from a review than a list of italicized dishes, how do we adjust to this? At a time in the restaurant industry where we are going through a reckoning of what is right and wrong, is there a place where food criticism of “ethnic” cuisines can be more inclusive and respectful?

Edward Lee is the author of “Smoke & Pickles” and of “Buttermilk Graffiti,” winner of the 2019 James Beard Award for Best Book of the Year in Writing; the chef/owner of 610 Magnolia, MilkWood, and Whiskey Dry in Louisville, Kentucky; and culinary director of Succotash in Penn Quarter, Washington D.C. and National Harbor, Maryland.