Marc Vetri: Philly’s Angry Grandpa

Marc Vetri

As he occasionally does, Marc Vetri took to the internet again today, writing a piece for the Huffington Post about how modern food writing, particularly as it relates to him, all sucks all the time always, and how all the punk kids in town have to get off his lawn.

His list of grievances, in no particular order:

“Real” journalists have been forced to downgrade their standards in order to keep up with the Yelps and Eaters and Chowhounds of the world. (Because at no point in history has a competitive marketplace of ideas ever been a good thing, right, Marc?)

Restaurant critics don’t believe in standards anymore, and only traffic in hyperbole. “A full-service restaurant is the same as a sandwich shop, pizzeria or even a hummus stand. Nice hummus at a counter? Give the joint three stars.” (Ouch.)

Modern journalists are panderers because we only write things that people want to read, as opposed to subtle, nuanced, long-form essays on the (non-hyperbolic) beauty of well-considered wine programs like his. Or something like that.

–Once upon a time, Vetri was busy all the time. This was because of a good restaurant review. Now, some of Marc Vetri’s restaurants aren’t as busy. And according to Marc Vetri, this is the fault of everyone else.

“Social media…is the enemy of relevant food journalism.” (Because, in Vetri’s mind, relevance = time and consideration and irrelevance = this, which will never not make me laugh.)

“In the process of lowering their standards [food journalists] have done irreparable harm to the once-elegant business of reviewing restaurants. They have made traditional restaurant reviews all but irrelevant.” (Speaking as a former critic who worked in the dying days of said “elegance” and somehow survived the chaos of modernity, this is just SO much bullshit.)

All food writers want to make everything about themselves. They are wicked, foul-mouthed, “deluded and self-important” little egotists who think they’re as good as the chefs they’re writing about, which is obviously not true because they’re only writers and no one cares about writers.

John Mariani lived in an “ethical netherworld” like some sort of Bond villain.

Critics only exist to make chef’s lives miserable.

–Also, food journalists are bullying thugs who DARE to re-visit the restaurants they’ve already written about, forcing restaurateurs to actually focus on their operations beyond the three-month window of the initial review which, again, is unfair because… I don’t honestly know why. Something to do with the permanence of a review and the fact that a restaurant (like Osteria Moorestown, one assumes?) only needs to be good for a few months there at the beginning, until all the grubby writers have gone home to the bridges they live under, at which point no one ever gets to say anything about it ever again.

Setting aside the painfully obvious shots being taken at Michael Solomonov, Craig LaBan, our own recent 50 Best list, and all the other insults, both specific and flailing, being lobbed here by a guy who has benefited mightily by virtually every single thing he is railing against, I’m just going to make a couple comments on his basic premise (that modernity killed classicism and that everything was better in the good old days) and then leave it at that.

First, the modernity he’s so angry about exists in service to the consumer. It is our ability to report quickly, respond agilely and, yes, make lists that keeps Vetri’s restaurants (and everyone else’s) in the news. Without the various platforms we utilize to put our stupid words in front of your sheep-like eyeballs, we’d have nothing but six pages every thirty days in which to talk about restaurants in Philly–three of which are taken up by good, old-fashioned (and apparently pointless) restaurant criticism. I get how this would be good for Vetri. In a given year, he’d gobble up a significant portion of those pages because he owns a lot of restaurants and many of them are very good. But we’re not running the All Marc Vetri News Service here. There are plenty of little guys that we like talking about, too. No matter how poorly Marc Vetri thinks we do it.

Also, for a group with such a strong and well-managed social media program to claim that quick-twitch reporting is causing the ruination of his industry is just ridiculously hypocritical. So until Marc Vetri issues the kill order and shuts down all Twittering, Instagraming and whatever else so that he and his staff can focus solely on “[earning his] reputation the old-fashioned way, one good meal at a time,” he can just shut the fuck up about the evils of the internets.

Second, everything was NOT better in whatever invented golden age he’s harkening back to in his essay. For all the reasons mentioned above, things are better now. And for one other big reason, too.

The old system vastly favored the venerable, the entrenched, the well-known and the well-financed. Even a daily newspaper only got to talk about 50-odd restaurants in a year. On Foobooz today, we probably name-check 50 restaurants in a week. Some of them are Vetri restaurants (or Solomonov restaurants, or Starr or Garces). But not all of them. A little sun for everyone is better than all the sun for a few is how I look at it, and modern journalism has given me and all my food-writing brethren the ability (and the space) to democratize the scene a little bit. Do I think a pho shop and a fine dining restaurant ought to be given the same weight of attention? Absolutely. For the same reason I think Vetri and Pizzeria Vetri both deserve to be talked about. And as for Vetri’s primary complaint (that criticism is pointless and stupid now because everyone is doing it), this is a common lament by those accustomed to hogging the spotlight and having to please only two or three powerful voices in order to guarantee themselves good ink.

I honestly don’t believe that Vetri (the man) is like this because Vetri (the restaurant) has remained impressive and relevant for years. Because it’s rare to hear from someone who went to Vetri for dinner and doesn’t count it among one of the best meals of their year. But I get how Marc Vetri and his partner, Jeff Benjamin, have become soured on formal criticism. They believe that the aforementioned democratization of criticism and the attempt at equal coverage offered to all players in the scene has lessened the impact of the formal review on their bottom line. But that’s a false correlation. What has happened is that other great restaurants have opened. Other great restaurants have been brought to the attention of the dining public. The scene, as a whole, has become stronger, our bench has gotten deeper, coverage has gotten more diverse, and all those people who used to go to Vetri when it got written about? Well, some of them are going to Dizengoff now, Marc. Or Townsend or Laurel or Pumpkin or Will or Serpico or Vedge or Quetzally or Hardena or Sa Bai Dee. You think it’s all the noise in the system that’s making things hard on you, Marc, but it’s not. It’s options.

Finally (and I’m going to be brief here), we don’t do this fucking job for you, Marc. No food writer who matters works on behalf of the industry. We’re not boosters or cheerleaders and we owe you nothing. We write for the people who go to your restaurants and everyone else’s restaurants, full stop.

You can check out the whole piece below. And you should. If for no other reason, it’s worth it for the laughs.

How Food Journalism Got As Stale As Day-Old Bread [Huffpo]