Critic job indeed an acquired taste

By Helena Rodriguez: CNJ Columnist

In a former life, I was a restaurant critic. Yum! Sounds like an appetizing job, right? Well, this was not always the case. I eventually discovered that one man’s chicken is another man’s tuna.

What I really mean is, one reporter’s good restaurant experience one day can be one editor’s bad restaurant experience on another day. You get the idea!

This seemingly easy job was not always as easy, or tasty, as it sounds. For one thing, we only printed the restaurant reviews of the restaurants we liked. I still got paid for eating at places I didn’t like, thus confirming what I said above — it was not always as tasty a job as it sounds.

On the other hand, it could be worse. I enjoy watching the Travel Channel’s, “Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern,” and on this past Monday night, he was eating fugu, a poisonous fish in Asia.

The restaurant Zimmern ate at had to have a special license to serve this potentially deadly entree. I guess one man’s poison is another man’s delicacy.

I can’t say I’ve ever been asked to eat poisonous fish in my line of work. To walk on water, perhaps. Well, no, not walk on water, but come up with something to write about on days when I don’t have anything to write about, on days when eating poisonous fish would be much better than writing about nothing. You get the idea!

Anyway, back to my story. It was 2001 when I was working for the Abilene Reporter-News in Abilene, Texas, as an arts and entertainment writer and occasional restaurant critic. I went and reviewed a small mom and pop diner in a little town somewhere in Taylor County. I won’t reveal the restaurant name, namely because I cannot remember it. I just remember this restaurant had delicious chicken fried steak, creamy mashed potatoes and gravy, and to-die-for blueberry pie.

One of the perks of being a restaurant critic was that we got to treat a guest, on the newspaper’s tab, to a free meal too. With all important news stories, we needed a reliable second source. Also, I guess the idea was that if we choked to death or something like that, there would be a eye witness, or, if we actually liked the restaurant and wished to give it a rave review, again, we had an alibi to prove we had actually eaten at the named restaurant.

Now, a week later, one of my editors confronted me, telling me he had gone to this small diner and had a few bones to pick about their chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, and even their delicious blueberry pie, which I had particularly praised. It seems his gravy was runny, his chicken was overcooked and the pie somewhat stale.

Perhaps I just went on a good day, like say, on the day they made everything fresh. We can’t say the restaurant was biased, though, because part of our policy was not to tell people that we were reviewing their restaurant until