Critical Eye
It Cuts Both Ways
Food critics' elevated status tempered by tales of threats and harassment
By Maria C. Hunt UNION-TRIBUNE FOOD WRITER Illustration: JACIE LANDEROS / Union-Tribune When I tell new acquaintances I'm a food writer, they tend to get this glazed, delighted smile and utter something like, "Ooh, so you get to eat out at all the restaurants for free?" These days in our food-obsessed society, being a food writer has a special aura. A spate of foodie blogs and self-revelatory books by writers including Anthony Bourdain and Ruth Reichl have conjured up images of a life filled with exotic foreign meals and thousand-dollar repasts at restaurants that elevate cuisine to a religious experience. Most recently, former New York magazine critic Gael Greene mixes tales of dining at Le Pavillon and Lutece with accounts of sensual dalliances in Insatiable: Tales From a Life of Delicious Excess (Warner Books, $25.95). One notable review, written after Greene had begun an affair with the chef at Le Cirque, was titled, "I Love Le Cirque, But Can I Be Trusted?" "It used to be the armchair traveler; now you have armchair diners," said Andrew Dornenburg, a chef turned award-winning author. "You get this vicarious pleasure from reading good writers." But people rarely hear of the other side of restaurant criticism: the threats and harassment that can plague writers after a less-than-positive review. A recent e-mail discussion among a group of food writers across the country, all members of the Association of Food Journalists, revealed some discomfitting tales. When Patty LaNoue Stearns was a critic for the Detroit Free Press, she wrote a review of a waterfront restaurant with mediocre food and awful service. "The next day, the (owner), definitely a goodfella, was on the phone to me, then my editor for hours," Stearns wrote. "He wanted me to meet his brother somewhere and talk it all out. It was extremely creepy." Read the rest at www.SignOnSanDiego.com click here to visit this site

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