Just the guy who cooks the food
I first heard of Fay Maschler twelve years ago as a young commis chef working in Chelsea. At the time, I was told by the by the restaurant manager that she was the most respected food critic in London.
Fast forward to now and I have had the privilege of having my work critiqued by Fay for the second time. As a chef, I find both pleasure and sometimes pain in hospitality. It is well known as a demanding industry with plenty of subjective eyes on it. Fay was the first critic to review my other restaurant, Story, back in 2013. I remember her visit vividly. She sat on table 3 with her husband and I learned three things about Fay that evening: she does not eat flowers or like the headlights of passing cars and most importantly, I learned that she had ticked Story off ‘the list’.
I read that review with relief. I had managed to get through it lightly bruised and not completely battered. On the whole, I survived.
Today, I didn’t manage the same fate. As always, Fay was the first to come through the doors of my new restaurant, Ours, which in itself is a compliment I’ll take.
After reading her thoughts today, I think it’s safe to say that she didn’t enjoy either of her two visits during opening week. I have always wondered what it must be like to eat out every other day of every week. Perhaps it becomes a little tedious. Whilst reading the review, I couldn’t help but think that maybe Fay had done one too many restaurants that week, which had left her unable to correctly identify the ingredients in the dish placed before her. The red mullet escabeche consisted of onion, fennel and purple carrots – no beetroot or red cabbage as mentioned (red cabbage in May, I ask!). Whilst this might not have changed her opinion on the dish itself, I think it only fair that readers receive the basic information accurately, beginning with the correct ingredients. Maybe she had just eaten out too many times that week, or that day even, and become confused. The devil is in the detail, remember.
Fay did correctly point out I have worked alongside Thomas Keller and Rene Redzepi whilst describing the other dishes that she didn’t enjoy. Truly, I long for the day when a critic breaks rank and resists name-dropping every chef that I have worked for. Perhaps buzz-words like ‘Keller’ and ‘Redzepi’ create a bit more traction. I am extremely proud of my career to date but surely now, three years and three restaurants later, it can be left to the hundreds of reviews gone before?
Next, I’d like to discuss the salmon part of your dinner, Fay. As you know, you ate risotto which I cooked personally and it consisted of peas, broad beans, asparagus and mint. How was this? I couldn’t find your views anywhere in the review. The salmon was eaten by your friend, though I did see you try it later on. I would like to apologise in one respect as the waitress did describe the cooking method incorrectly. Understandably, she was extremely nervous and got it wrong. Serving Fay Maschler must be fairly daunting for a young waitress in her first week of work.
I have learned something else about Fay Maschler today in that Fay doesn’t like to be noticed:
I have been recognised. Suddenly, there is a table ready and it is a good one in the centre of the room
– now, I wish I could preserve your ego by letting this lie but in the interest of accuracy, the importance of which is detailed above, this was not the case. The table reserved for your pseudonym was always your table and the delay was due to the staff re-laying it from the guest before. Simply, we were very busy and the bar was full which will explain the shortage of chairs, I hope. Had I known that Fay Maschler was dining then I would have reserved two tables just in case but of course you don’t like to be recognised or treated like a high profile food writer, so scrap that. The glass of bubbles was a gift from me because yes, I recognised you and have been reading your reviews for the past twelve years. I have also met you personally several times. Please forgive my hospitality.
I have been cooking for my entire working life and am accustomed to being criticised daily. I too surround myself with food and restaurants with the difference being that I serve and critics get served. The similarities between both professions can be made as we share a passion for the same industry, as well as a baited anticipation for what can be achieved using the right skills and the correct ingredients. After reading Fay’s review of Restaurant Ours, I am willing to believe that I was wrong to think this. I am deeply saddened that no part of Fay’s experience at Ours was enjoyed, including the choice of music. Is there a genre that wouldn’t have been criticised at that stage? Perhaps we should employ Fay as our musical director going forwards.
Fay, my respect for you goes beyond description and I hope one day we can enjoy dinner together as I think it would be eye-opening for us both.
In many ways, the work of critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgement. We thrive in negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than “our” criticism designating it so.
What’s ours is yours and I stand by the principle that we give everything to those who choose to accept our hospitality. The most beautiful thing about food is what it reveals in those who engage in it. Thank you for the review.
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