You be the Critic

A restaurant critic's role in New York is probably more influential than in any other U.S. city.

But is it fair? What do chefs and other restaurant employees think?

I bet you there have been bloggers and readers on here who would love the job.

A rave review by the New York Time's Frank Bruni or New York Magazine's Adam Platt can keep a restaurant packed for weeks on end - whether or not you agree with the review.

I can see the practical side: In the endless dining options of New York, readers want some help. And in this economic recession, those readers value where their money is spent more than ever before.

But I've heard classmates debate the issue. The critics don't know what they're talking about or they're paid off, I've heard some say. Others will say, "I trust this critic's word, but I'd never go on such and such critic's review."

As a journalist-turned-culinary-student, I can tell you that reviewers like Bruni and Platt adhere to high standards. Their publications give them enough funds to dine multiple times at restaurants they end up praising or slamming. If they ever took money for a favorable review, for example, they'd be out of a job in a New York minute.

At the same, neither critic has formal culinary training. But that doesn't matter. They're paid to give their opinion and they have the writing skills. I've seen it too many times where a culinary student interested in becoming the next Bruni or Platt throws thousands of dollars in school believing it qualifies them to be a critic. My advice: become a good writer first and foremost.

Critics who do their jobs well, however, understand the rhythms of a restaurant. They know there are "off nights" (thus the multiple visits) and that no dish is exactly the same each time it sits in front them.

So what should we do? Yes, there are New York restaurants who actively keep an eye out for critics and even reward their staffers who spot the one. But focusing on what they teach us in culinary school is what will keep a restaurant going. After all, even restaurants that don't receive the coveted four stars can live on when they deliver what people want: good food, atmosphere and service.