Entries in Josh Ozersky (5)


Josh Ozersky Still Doesn’t Get It

Last week, Josh Ozersky published an article on Time.com, Great Wedding Food: Tips from a Newly Married Critic.

The premise of the article is that, in lieu of traditional catering—which he says is almost always terrible—you should arrange for local chefs to each bring one dish:

That was my thought, and I put it into action with immense success. I cherry-picked my favorite dishes from half a dozen restaurants. . . .

Everybody got to do their best work, nobody was forced to carry the whole load, and since all the contributing chefs were invited to the wedding, they got to feel a well-earned pride at seeing their peers ravenously tear apart the dishes they (or in most cases, their underlings) had so carefully constructed. Out of so much destruction, my bride and I created the happiest possible memory, and all the guests got to eat their fill at the greatest wedding banquet ever thrown.

So here’s my advice to anyone who is starting to plan a wedding: Forget the caterer! Plug directly into the source of your hometown’s culinary delights, and happiness, enduring and radiant, will immediately follow.

The article went largely unnoticed until Village Voice restaurant critic wrote a blistering indictment, criticizing Ozersky for failing to disclose whether he paid fair market value for all that food.

Nobody who knows Ozersky would have any doubt. Of course he didn’t pay. In fact, unbeknownst to Sietsema, Ozersky didn’t pay for the space, either. The rooftop at the Empire Hotel came gratis, courtesy of restaurateur Jeffrey Chodorow.

After The New York Times called attention to it, Ozersky posted a clarification to the original article. Time.com released a statement, in which it said that Ozersky should have disclosed the circumstances.

Ozersky says that the chefs cooked his wedding banquet in lieu of gifts, but concedes that it was “dumb of me not to be more explicit about the fact that I did not pay for any of their delicious contributions, and I was wrong not to make this clear to my editor beforehand.”

The apology is fine, as far as it goes, but in many ways, it seems Ozersky still doesn’t get it.

In the first place, the article is couched as “advice” on how to avoid the pitfalls of a traditional catered wedding. Once you know that both the food and the space were free, the entire premise falls to pieces. Practically nobody could get what Ozersky got without paying for it. The fair market price would put it out of the range of all but the wealthiest buyers. I’m not even sure that these chefs at any reasonable price would bring just one dish to a wedding where Josh wasn’t the groom: Heather Bertinetti isn’t in the wedding cake business.

In the second place, the article misses the real reason why most catered food is bad: money. If you’re willing to pay enough, you too can have a feast fit for a king. Sietsema said that the average wedding costs $82 per person. The Times estimated that Ozersky’s wedding, if he’d paid for it, would have cost anywhere from $200 to $500 per person. Pay that much, and the quality of the food goes way up.

Parts of Ozersky’s explanation are flat-out disingenuous. He says he “cherry-picked my favorite dishes from half a dozen restaurants.” But one of those restaurants, as Sietsema noted, was Red Farm, a Jeffrey Chodorow restaurant that hasn’t even opened yet. It utterly eludes me how this could be one of his favorites.

His explanation of how the event came about doesn’t hold water:

Some of my closest friends are chefs, and when they asked me what I wanted for a wedding present, instead of a crystal decanter that I would never look at, I told them to just cook some lasagna or bake a few loaves of bread that I could share with other friends.

Now, wedding dates are usually chosen based on when the venue is available—especially in spring, the most popular season for weddings. Then, you book the hall, pay a deposit, and send out invitations about eight to twelve weeks in advance. Only then do friends start asking what you’d like for a gift, and you point them to the shops where you’ve registered.

So we’re to believe that, coincidentally, before any date was even announced, all of these chefs—eight of them are mentioned—asked him what kind of crystal decanter he’d like as a gift? Oh, and what about the conversation with Jeffrey Chodorow, when in lieu of a conventional gift, Josh asked if he could have the roof of the Empire Hotel? How did that happen?

Ozersky says that the idea for the article struck him only after the wedding took place, and that there was no quid pro quo with the chefs. This is awfully naive, assuming he even believes it. It may well be true that the chefs didn’t expect Ozersky to write about this event. But there’s no question that, in a general way, they benefit from his coverage of their restaurants on his website, ozersky.tv, and expect to do so in the future.

I’ve developed, over time, considerable respect for Ozersky’s work as a roving reporter of culinary trends. His work is nearly always entertaining, and in a few areas he is genuinely an expert. He may funnel a disproportionate share of coverage to the chefs and restaurateurs whom he likes, but there is no overt conflict of interest, because everyone knows he isn’t paying.

In this case, he wrote an article for a national magazine, which will be read by many people who are not familiar with the background. And the problem goes much deeper than a mere lack of disclosure. Once you realize that the whole wedding was free, the very premise of the article is completely demolished.


Sifton Still Getting Hammered for Hergatt Review

Today, OZERSKY.TV is out with a video piece on why Sam Sifton’s two-star review of SHO Shaun Hergatt is so spectacularly wrong. The Pink Pig agrees, as do most commenters on the Times website.

Let us be clear about this: I would not mind the review if Sifton had thought the food or service wasn’t up-to-snuff. But that’s not the case: he acknowledged that the food was inpeccably prepared, and that the service matched.

Rather, he slammed the restaurant for not hewing to some kind of abstract “this is how we eat now” zeitgeist. I mean, it would be as if the Times music critic slammed the New York Philharmonic for not featuring the latest rock band.

I’m not naive enough to suppose that my shouting reaches the tender eardrums of the Times critic. It is gratifying to find a more influential commentator, like Ozersky, calling bullshit as only he can.


Review Recap: SHO Shaun Hergatt

I never thought that I would be quoting @OzerskyTV for review commentary, but today Josh nails it:

Sifton’s off. his. rocker. Two stars for Shaun Hergatt? Absurd. The obligatory middlebrow preening. When will this mummery end? The whole review is one big cheap shot. I’m sorry. This “fine dining is over” meme has now officially jumped the shark.”

Here’s another thing I never thought I’d say:

Come back, Frank Bruni! All is forgiven!

Bruni, lest we forget, made many of the same mistakes. But he was at least an original voice. Sifton is just lazy. The review is a mash-up of what Pete Wells wrote eight months ago.

Can we count all the ways the review is incoherent?

  • He complains that SHO isn’t locally sourced. Marea isn’t locally sourced. It got three stars.
  • He complains that SHO is old-fashioned. La Grenouille is old-fashioned. It got three stars.
  • He complains that SHO looks like it “a good business hotel in Sydney or Zurich, Miami or Bonn.” Colicchio & Sons looks like Vegas. It got three stars.

Does Sifton have any plans to be relevant? If so, Right Now would be a good time to start.


How Dumb Can Ozersky Get?

Josh Ozersky, editor of The Feedbag, is often called on as expert du jour when the press need a quote and don’t know whom else to ask. But unless the topic is burgers, barbecue or steaks, he doesn’t really speak expertly.

The latest example comes in today’s New York Daily News article, “Recession forces ritzy restaurants such as Café des Artistes to close doors.” The reporters, Leah Chernikoff and Edgar Sandoval, don’t exactly cover themselves in glory. The story purports to be about “ritzy” restaurants killed by the recession, but several of those listed don’t fit that description. Elettaria wasn’t ritzy at all. LCB Brasserie closed before the economic downturn, and the restaurant that replaced it (Benoit) was practically the same genre. La Goulue closed due to a lease issue; its owner insists it will re-open nearby.

The reporters say that “512 [NYC] resetaurants have closed this past year.” But the vast majority, as in about 95%, aren’t “ritzy.” As far as I can tell, “ritzy” restaurants (however one defines that term) are closing in roughly the same percentage as the fraction of the market they occupy. No more, no less. Take a tour through Eater.com’s posts tagged “The Shutter,” and tell me how many of them are “ritzy” in the same sense as Café des Artistes. It’s a tiny number.

Café des Artistes closed, as far as I could tell, because the owner was 85, and as he was going to have to retire eventually, now was as good a time as any. [ETA: Oh, that and a greedy union.]

One doesn’t expect much nuance from Daily News staff writers, but from Ozersky one expects better:

The great fine-dining fuddy-duddy restaurants were already on the wane before the recession hit… Overwrought and overstaffed, they were lingering in their own twilight. Now the meteor has hit, and these places have all gone under… The old white tablecloth dinosaurs have been supplanted by friskier mammals.”

It’s usually a safe bet that when people use words like “fuddy-duddy” and “dinosaur,” it’s shorthand for “restaurants I don’t understand.” Now, I am not suggesting that the loss of Café des Artistes is any great culinary loss: my last meal there was a disaster. But it filled a legitimate niche, and some of the remaining examples of the genre are still very good, for what they are (Le Périgord, for instance).

If Ozersky’s point is that the narrow genre that Café des Artiste occupied (Classic Old French) is shrinking, that has been true for decades—not so much due to the recession, but because their clientele is aging and is not being replaced. But to Daily News readers, when “white tablecloth” and “dinosaur” are put in the same sentence, there is no distinction between Café des Artistes (which Ozersky hated) and Marea (which he loves). Both have white tablecloths and elegant service. And I’ll betcha Marea has far more staff than CdA did.

What, exactly, makes Café des Artistes “overwrought,” and not Le Bernardin? Obviously the latter restaurant is far better (and still thriving), but its style of service is much farther over the top than CdA ever was. If the word “overwrought” applies to the service at any restaurant, on what principled distinction could Ozersky apply it to CdA and not Le Bernardin? Or is it really just a lazy term used to disparage a genre he never appreciated?


End of Dayz for Grayz

Crain’s reports today what many had already guessed: Grayz will close at the end of the year. Kunz was pushed out of the restaurant six months ago, and it made no sense to continue operating a place named for a guy who’s no longer there. On our last visit, we found Grayz less than half full. There was some terrific food, but the whole misguided concept was designed for an economic climate that no longer exists.

The owners will re-open as “Gneiss” (“nice”) in the same space, with Kunz’s former chef de cuisine, Martin Brock, still in place. We don’t have much hope for this reincarnation, starting with one of the dumbest names we’ve seen. The story of Grayz is that of one fumble after another. These owners still don’t know how to run a restaurant.

Along with the doomed Café Gray, this is Kunz’s second failure this year. We strenuously disagree with Cutlets, who exonerates Kunz in both of these failures:

While technically true, neither Cafe Gray nor Grayz was really Kunz’s restaurant. The first was a gilded deathtrap, that not even Fernand Point himself could have broken out of, and Grayz, with its strange corporate concept, was a similarly Sisyphean struggle.

Café Gray was Kunz’s concept. He is as accountable for the failure as anybody. (We’re not sure if “gilded deathtrap” accurately describes Café Gray in any case; Cutlets, the ultimate cheeseburger guy, is probably not the one to understand such places.) Kunz was very much the minority partner in Grayz, but in signing up for the concept, he must take some knocks for its demise.

Kunz is one of this town’s best chefs, but he has turned out to be a terrible business man. Both Grayz and Café Gray suffered from conceptual flaws that Kunz either failed to see or couldn’t correct. Kunz needs a backer with better business instincts—a Drew Nieporent or a Danny Meyer—so that he can concentrate on the one thing he does well, which is to cook.