Alan Richman Holds Forth on Restaurant Criticism, Penicillin, Man Bags


Alan Richman, GQ’s longtime restaurant critic and our favorite endlessly eloquent contrarian, can typically be counted upon for comments that waver between the blunt, the frank, and the utterly dismaying (particularly if you happen to be one of his students). He remains true to form in an interview today with Mediabistro, wherein he answers questions about restaurant criticism and food writing.

Among many choice quotes he gives the website, Richman — who’s nominated for three Beard media and journalism awards this year — has some interesting things to say about how he goes about writing restaurant reviews:

“I have two things in mind when I do a review. Number one, I want to say something really interesting about the restaurant. I want to make the experience I had there, at least I’m trying to do this, something that the reader can enjoy reading, because restaurant reviewing is really about taking the person into the restaurant with you and having them either enjoy or hate the experience as you have enjoyed or hated the experience.

The second thing I try to do is somewhere in that story give some sort of indication in my opinion what this restaurant is all about. Give some sort of feeling that this is the essence of this restaurant, this is what this restaurant is trying to do and whether they’re doing it successfully or not. I think the one way in which my restaurant reviews differ from others is I try to do storytelling more than most people.”

Which perhaps explains why he doesn’t have a lot of patience for the kind of “citizen criticism” popularized by social media:

“I think it’s of course disastrous. It’s like asking your neighbor whether or not you need penicillin for a cold.”

Not disastrous? Carrying a man bag.

“I was carrying a handbag in the early ’70s because I could put notebooks in it. The reason you always carry the bag when you became a restaurant critic was to steal menus. But I’ve only been caught twice stealing a menu in my life, so that’s pretty good, isn’t it?”