Maybe I woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning but I’ve had just about enough of Lesley Chesterman’s restaurant reviews. My milk finally boiled over when I read her review in last Saturday’s Gazette on Restaurante Inferno, a review somewhat irresponsible and nonsensical.
As usual the first five paragraphs have little to do with the restaurant in question and reads more akin to a preamble of sorts, in Inferno’s case, Chesterman’s introduction is filled with observations on Italian restaurants past and useless rhetoric steeped in stereotypes.
She doesn’t like the menu on the blackboard but I’ll bet you 50 liters of tomato sauce that her column once proclaimed blackboards as ‘in’ and menus a thing of the past. And in any case, what does the blackboard, or menu for that matter, have to do with the food? Indeed, a restaurant experience is more than just food, service and ambiance lend themselves to a greater experience, but negative nitpicking has no place in a review for it undermines the hard work cooks stoically preform in the kitchens.
As for the trippa, here’s part of what Chesterman had to say, “Trippa, aka, my most dreaded of dishes- tripe- is a specialty of the house. Though I am sure I have tasted tripe before, I avoid it because to me, eating a bowl of tripe is like eating a bowl of braised caterpillars.” I’m going to go out on a limb here and say tucking into a bowl of caterpillars might not taste good, so, it sounds to me like Chesterman has made up her mind regarding trippa before eating it.
My issue here is not in defense of the restaurant (which I love by the way) but in defense of journalistic integrity and ethical food writing. Slamming a restaurant with negative verse because you don’t like a particular dish even before you taste it is, in my opinion, irresponsible. Slamming a restaurant after you tasted a dish you knew you were not going to like is grossly irresponsible and should have been edited out. I don’t like okra, can’t stand the stuff, as such, I’ll never order it in a restaurant because I know I won’t like it. A pre-determined outcome has no place in a restaurant review! And while I understand that restaurant reviews are nothing more than op-ed pieces seasoned with salt and pepper, the restaurant’s reputation, and consequently, its livelihood, is on the chopping block.
The trippa at Inferno is not as hyper-palatable as say a poutine, but that’s to be expected from this staple of Italian ‘cucina povera’. The fact that trippa has a “soft and springy texture”, as Chesterman suggests, is normal. You can boil trippa for a week and it won’t melt in your mouth. It’s also normal for trippa to be warm and not piping hot, and trippa is not a bowl of intestines, as Chesterman points out, but of stomach. Trippa simply is what it is and the trippa at Inferno tastes a lot like the stuff I grew up with and God bless Inferno for making it.
At one point in the article, Chesterman asks Inferno “where’s the love”? Well people, I can confidently tell you that the love is in the trippa. The love is in cleaning the stomach, which takes days. The love is in boiling the stomach for hours. The love comes from being in the kitchen with a pot of boiling trippa and fennel seeds that emits a smell that can honestly drive a person mad. Days of prep all to turn a piece of animal junk most people would throw away, into something so marvelous. There’s love at Inferno. Keep making that trippa boys, it’s dishes like that that define us as a people.
Chesterman holds a lot of power amongst restaurants in this city. She would do well to heed the advice Peter Parker has adhered to since that fateful day he was bitten by a radioactive spider: with great power comes great responsibility. And if comic book superheroes don’t do it for you, let me end by quoting the greatest restaurant critic the world has ever known, Anton Ego. In many ways the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and themselves to our judgment. We thrive on 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 itself. The "average piece of junk" Ego is referring to here is trippa, and it certainly is more meaningful, at least in this case, than Chesterman's review.