Retro Heaven

Death of the Food Critic

AA Gill and the slow death of gastronomy….

imageIn the nineties they had power and bile. They can’t close us down anymore” The words of Gordon Ramsay in GQ this month. He is of course talking about food critics and a direct counterfoil to Giles Coren, food critic for The Times in response, no doubt, to some unseemly spat on Twitter. Where else? I read this and immediately found myself agreeing with Ramsay despite my better judgement. Ramsay is of course speaking from a new, loftier, more independant pedestal as American TV star first, London restaurateur second, but it is a telling statement for those clinging on to the last throes of Michelin starred gastronomy and its relevance in the new world order of eating out.

Yesterday, Adrian ‘AA’ Gill died following his diagnosis for lung cancer only a few weeks ago. Gill was the epitome of restaurant critics and its whole, vacuous existence in the nineties. Following in the footsteps of the widely respected Jonathan Meades and the dreaded Fay Maschler, Gill turned self-promoting, pompous, ridiculing of chefs, restaurants and waiting staff into a mecca for aspiring future Tripadvisor moaners and revenge seekers.

Whilst Gill would go on to other, often praise worthy forms of journalism, his ‘power’ as an influencer over the success or failure of a restaurant had long since diminished along with his diatribes about anything other than the purpose of the article. Gill’s death, like Ramsay’s comment, feels like a door closing on an era when the hedonism of London in the late eighties and early nineties courted nationwide and international publicity until its bloated, Cristal soaked and Kobe stuffed guts imploded, taking the relevance of the printed press with it.

In the nineties, chefs were big business and everyone wanted to be in on it. Joe public hoovered up their books and food with aplomb. Dinner parties based on the latest culinary offerings by Gary Rhodes, Gordon or The River Café were all the rage. We all knew friends who loved to dine out on dining out until the financial reality of lamb cooked at five degrees for three weeks and served in a hay bale hit home. Britpop, raves, Lad-mags, Hirst and Emin all seems like a lifetime ago. The digital age has burst the bubble on the metropolitan elite lifestyle poured over by the newspaper buying public of the past. Reading the Sunday Times today it seems as self-centred, irrelevant and elitist as it did in Gill’s ‘heyday’. Gill’s death feels like the end of an era in more ways than one, the symptoms of his illness bore a sobering reminder of the reality of free-ticket excess he and others like him enjoyed for so long and for so little long term consequence to their audience.

Gill could be witty, erudite and heartfelt in his writing but equally cruel and demeaning to those trying to build a business or living outside the wealth of the home counties. Sunday mornings spent laughing at his dissection of an unknown, hard-working, underpaid cook may have amused the privileged but kicked the proletariat where it hurt. Now, as Ramsay eludes to, restaurants no longer fear the wrath of the singular opinion or the entry in a guide book resigned to the remainder shelves. Post financial crash, businesses are telling their chefs to lighten up and cook what the customer wants at a price the customer can afford. If this decade and yes, Brexit, tells us anything, it is that people care less about the sneering classes, their weekends at Cloisters, stag hunts and road trips and it’s about time too.

Categories: Retro Heaven

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