Chef News

17 Metro Phoenix Chefs Discuss the State of Dining Criticism

With crowd-sourced criticism sites like Yelp and others on the rise, everyone's a critic. And that, some would argue, makes dining criticism less important, since anyone with internet access can judge, and affect, a restaurant. With so many Yelpers everywhere, does dining criticism really still matter? Here's what metro Phoenix chefs think about this issue. 

Do you think dining criticism is important? 

Akos Szabo, executive chef of Match: Cuisine & Cocktails   

From a respected food critic? Yes. It allows people to look at the experience they are providing their guests from a different angle or point of view. If it’s from an irate person on Yelp who swears you garnished their pizza with “soap-tasting” cilantro instead of basil? Then, no.

Rick Moses, executive chef of Scramble - a Breakfast Joint

Certainly, to a degree. I think it's important in any type of field where you are creating something to receive a level of constructive criticism. It's healthy, and when harnessed positively, can be very beneficial to a chef or restaurant. What scares me is the army of amateur keyboard warriors hellbent on destroying a certain location, just because an app like Yelp (which I also think is a positive thing for restaurants) gives them the platform to share.

Christopher Gross, chef of Christopher's and The Crush Lounge 

Yes, but only if the criticism is constructive. Everyone who owns a restaurant works hard, and a bad review could harm a new restaurant before it has the chance to get on its feet. The bottom line is that if guests aren't coming to new restaurants because of bad reviews, it will close. That being said, smart owners do tune in and listen to these bad reviews in order to improve. But if a bad review comes from a reputable magazine or paper, a restaurant may not get the chance to bounce back from it.

Silvana Salcido Esparaza, chef of Barrio Cafe

Dining criticism is important only if the person doing the criticizing knows what they are talking about. For the record, I hate Yelp. I get people who get pissed off because they can’t get their beloved chips and salsa. Sorry cabrones, I don’t serve chips and salsa, and I don’t care if you are pissed.

Gio Osso, chef of Virtú

I do as long as it's from a reputable critic and not the weekend diner who thinks Yelp is The New York Times! Unfortunately, people do read sites like Yelp and take to heart what Joe Schmo wrote about a restaurant. There are a lot of unfair posts on sites like that about some of the best restaurants in the country. It's ridiculous.

Beau MacMillan, chef of Elements at Sanctuary 

Yes. In this business, you’re only as good as your last plate. You need to know what your customers want, what they’re excited about, and what will keep them coming back.

Chris Lenza, executive chef of Café Allegro at the Musical Instrument Museum

Criticism is absolutely important. But I will admit that since I see cooking as an art form, it can sometimes be hard to hear. Different perspectives are invaluable, though, and if you are humble enough to truly listen to it, it can help improve a dish in ways you never could have imagined.

Rebecca Tillman, chef of Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Resort

I do. If you don't receive and embrace criticism, you bypass the opportunity to improve. I do, however, know that some take it to the next level. The internet has become our only source of information, and we rely too heavily on the opinion of others. Many feel entitled to bash restaurants simply because they can. I encourage the public to experience restaurants first-hand, then decide. There are some fabulous restaurants out there that don't get enough love.
Cruz Robles, chef of Bevvy

I think that food is too subjective to truly take all of that too seriously. I think that websites like Yelp do a service by informing the average customer of the reputation of a restaurant, but at the end of the day, everyone is different and has their own likes and dislikes. People need to see these opinions as what they are: one person’s point of view/experience.

Jacques Qualin, chef of J&G Steakhouse

All criticism is positive; it means they are paying attention to what you are working so hard at, even though now — with the explosion of the social media — it can be overwhelming sometimes.

Kevin Binkley, chef of Binkley's 

Absolutely, it's imperative. Nobody is perfect, and we need constant feedback to help us evaluate our performance.

Tracy Dempsey, owner of Tracy Dempsey Originals 

Depends on the critic, their qualifications, and their culinary knowledge.

Rick Phillips, owner/menu development at Bootlegger's

100 percent. How else will you know how you’re doing apart from numbers? Restaurants are here to SERVE and SERVICE the customer, not to amuse its chef or owners.
Andrew Nam, chef of Stingray Sushi

Yes, as long as it comes from people who understand the restaurant industry. Social media allows anyone to make comments and critique a restaurant when they themselves have no idea what the food or service industry is about.

Garrison Whiting, executive chef of Counter Intuitive

I feel like dining criticism is as important as any other kind of criticism. If people use individual reviews as their only source of opinions on restaurants, they will probably agree with said reviews. I want potential guests to be open-minded and try things for themselves instead of relying on reviews written by people who think they are food critics because they own a smartphone. Real, published critics, on the other hand, usually go about their work in a professional manner, taking into consideration all the aspects that brought that less-than-amusing dish to their table. To answer the question simply, I wouldn’t miss it if it didn’t exist.

Pauline Martinez, co-owner of Perk Eatery

To some degree. I value the trained palate of a critic, but I have never met anyone who likes everything and can be totally impartial. It's a matter of personal preference, and you'll never be able to please everyone. No matter how hard you try.

Chrysa Robertson, chef and owner of Rancho Pinot 

Not for me. I know many people think they are an expert on all things food, but it's simply not true. Everyone is an expert on their OWN opinion, and I include many "professional" critics - in my opinion. I am pretty confident that I am serving well-made food that reflects my style and vision, and I am very clear that I cannot please everyone. Don't get me started on Yelp. I have said this for years: If you have a problem with an incorrectly prepared dish - not something you just "didn't like" - at a restaurant, or a problem with service, speak up then and there. Don't go online and anonymously shit on the place because they didn't make pasta like YOUR mama does. If you didn't like the restaurant for other reasons, vote with your feet.