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Dear Bill Keller (in re: Bruni)

Dear Bill,

Today, you announced that Frank Bruni, the Times restaurant critic, will be leaving his post in August, when his memoir is published.

I have to ask: Do you seriously believe that Frank Bruni was an “inspired” choice? I can only hope that, despite your praise for his “ambitious feats of criticism,” you recognize that the Bruni experiment was not altogether successful.

Bruni, to be sure, is a very good writer (not quite “exquisite”), a top-notch journalist, and a smart guy. Like anyone with those attributes, he naturally had some successes. Over time, he nearly mastered the job. He also had a long, painful, unacknowledged apprenticeship, during which much of his criticism was just plain embarrassing.

The fact is, the best critics are normally those who bring a lifetime of experience to the subject matter—something it was simply not possible for Frank Bruni to have had. That’s not the only requirement, but it is an essential one. There is no substitute for it.

When we read The New York Times, we expect not just exquisite writers, but writers who have deep background in the beat they are covering. Although Frank Bruni is a better writer than I am, I never thought that he knew more about restaurants than I did. That’s because his background for the job was the same as mine: he had none.

However, I am an amateur. Frank Bruni’s work was marketed as a professional product, and it wasn’t, because he lacked one crucial attribute: expertise.

Of course, there were other problems with Frank’s work. He consistently overrated Italian restaurants (the one cuisine in which he was arguably an expert). And you always got the sense that high-end restaurants—the kinds that get 3 and 4 stars—held little joy for him. Even when he rated them highly, these restaurants seldom brought out his passion the way a great pizzeria did.

It’s awfully telling that you cite his nationwide tour of fast-food restaurants as a highlight of his tenure. That piece is emblematic of everything that was wrong with Frank Bruni as a fine dining critic.

So Bill, I wish you luck in your search for Frank Bruni’s replacement. But this time, please choose someone with a solid track record in the field. Is that too much to ask?

Very truly yours,
Marc Shepherd
New York Journal

Reader Comments (1)

Very well said, Marc! You nailed it. Frank Bruni developed into a very entertaining writer, but his actual food acumen and open-mindedness left a lot to be desired. I am looking forward to his writing for the Times magazine, where his skills can really shine.

May 14, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Sconzo

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