The Daily Meal, the online site that covers all things food and drink (www.thedailymeal.com), is taking much delight over the results of its latest survey, "Top Chefs Rate America's Food Critics."
In fairness, the term "food writers" should have been added to that title, as some of the people on the list do not strictly qualify as restaurant critics, though they do cover the food and dining scenes to varying degrees.
At any rate, the Daily Meal explains: "We have given dozens of chefs and restaurateurs a chance to turn the tables on food critics by asking them to divulge their opinions about the men and women who write reviews for America's top publications. While anonymity was guaranteed to elicit the most truthful responses, every chef and restaurateur is an elite industry figure. Most, in fact, are household names."
The Daily Meal will not disclose who the "dozens" of chefs and restaurateurs are, nor in what cities they operate, other than to say they are in "major markets around the U.S."
According to Daily Meal public relations manager Tim McGeever, the list of chefs/restaurateurs and the list of critics were devised by the Daily Meal's executive editor, Arthur Bovino, and its editorial director, Colman Andrews. Andrews is a food and wine expert and co-founder of the influential glossy food magazine Saveur.
The critics/writers were rated by the chefs/restaurateurs in four categories, McGeever explained: culinary knowledge, prose style, integrity and likability ("How much they would be interested in sharing a meal with these critics?"). The highest possible score was four stars; fractions were used. "Nobody received a perfect score of 4.0," McGeever said.
Jonathan Gold of the Los Angeles Times was No. 1 out of 20 critics/writers, with a score of 3.0. In last place was Brad A. Johnson of the Orange County Register, with 1.7. Michael Bauer of the San Francisco Chronicle placed No. 8 with 2.5.
I emailed Gold and received a reply. Because the Daily Meal had placed a 1 p.m. PST Tuesday embargo on the survey results - meaning that media outlets could not release them until 1 p.m. today - Gold and Bauer both were unaware of the story.
"First I've heard of it," Gold said. "I'm stoked. I'm lucky to live in Los Angeles, a city where great restaurants are thick on the ground."
I called Bauer, who answered his phone. When I explained what was going on, he said, "All I can do as a restaurant critic is try to maintain my integrity and write what I think. If people think that makes me a good critic, fine. If not, there's nothing I can do about it."
Johnson did not reply to a phone message.
These are the rankings. Some of them appear to be ties, but they are not. "In each case, we rounded up or down two decimal points, as there were several close calls," McGeever explained.
1. Jonathan Gold, Los Angeles Times - 3.0
2. Jeffrey Steingarten, Vogue - 2.8
3. Pete Wells, New York Times - 2.8
4. Tom Sietsema, Washington Post - 2.7
5. Alan Richman, GQ - 2.7
6. John Mariani, Esquire and Bloomberg - 2.6
7. Corby Kummer, The Atlantic - 2.5
8. Michael Bauer, San Francisco Chronicle - 2.5
9. S. Irene Virbila, Los Angeles Times - 2.5
10. Gael Greene, www.foodie.com - 2.5
11. Robert Sietsema, Village Voice - 2.4
12. Brett Anderson, Times-Picayune - 2.3
13. Phil Vettel, Chicago Tribune - 2.3
14. Robb Walsh, www.robbwalsh.com - 2.2
15. Josh Ozersky, Time - 2.2
16. Andrews Knolwton, Bon Appetit - 2.2
17. Adam Platt, New York Magazine - 2.1
18. Alison Cook, Houston Chronicle - 1.9
19. Tim Carman, Washington Post - 1.8
20. Brad A. Johnson, Orange County Register - 1.7