Chefs and restaurateurs have had a pretty simpatico deal go when it comes to the things critics write in L.A. For years, there have been two major voices weighing in on where we eat, with one poetically highlighting the best of what L.A. has to offer but steering clear of telling us where not to spend our cash, and the other doling out two stars to places that for all appearances are on fire. Online, mock-epic puff pieces with nary a bad word litter the scene. That’s why we’ve welcomed the a new voice in the balanced reviews of Besha Rodell. From the get-go, she hasn’t been afraid to serve up nuanced reports on the potential exemplified by so many of our exciting restaurants, while being brutally honest about their execution or lack-thereof. Last week, this honest tendency got the critic in hot water, as the letters section of L.A. Weekly is rife with blow-back from the blasts she dealt Black Hogg last Thursday.
Calling her review “disgusting,” one reader accused Rodell of “lashing…one’s character” and “attempting to end [chef Eric Park’s] career before it could really get going.” Another reader put it plainly in saying, “I couldn’t disagree with this article more.”
But it’s chef Eric Park who makes the strongest defense, arguing that a breakdown of his career, which claimed he had barely pierced the surface of the professional kitchen, was erroneous. “Had Ms. Rodell genuinely reached out to me, she would have discovered that I owned a local franchise of a sandwich shop for nine years,” he writes in. “I handled food daily and learned the ins and outs of operating a restaurant…In preparing to open Black Hogg, I rented a kitchen in L.A. for one year to hone and develop the menu we currently have.”
In all fairness, Rodell’s story seemed neither unnecessarily cruel or pointed towards the chef. This was not a drubbing like the one Pete Wells gave Guy Fieri’s place or anything resembling Rodell’s slaughter of Gordon Ramsay’s Fat Cow, which as brutal as it was, was still an attempt to steer tourists to a more rewarding experience. Her criticism of Park’s career felt more geared toward commonly misleading marketing speak than an ad hominem attack. Despite the review of Park’s record, a majority of the criticism was saved for the dishes, with Black Hogg still duly credited for some of its ingenuity and praise for a few recipes.
Clearly, a review like the one in question is a natural result, and possibly one of the points, of having a detailed, observant, tuned-in voice on the scene: to best convey through an expert lens the best and worst of what you can expect when spending your hard-earned money around town to have a crew of strangers cook for you and serve you.
L.A. hasn’t had a voice willing to hand out blows like Besha’s in a while. Is it possible that our city, which has so long had to fight for its reputation from a crouched, cornered position, can’t take true criticism? We might not always agree with what a particular critic says, but the discussion that follows is no doubt a healthy one.
Otherwise, the alternative is to allow such fouls as mediocrity, rude service, or poor execution to flourish, as it does in so many restaurants that are often skipped over by critics, in the name of civic booster-ism. When the city has so many good restaurants fighting for your attention, ignoring the aspects that trouble a trusted voice has no place in the conversation as the competition. Sometimes, vehemently disagreeing with the things you read is a crucial part of both digesting and expressing criticism. We see its nothing but a sign of a healthy, secure growing scene to see someone not just playing it safe for once.