Hoo boy. Not-so-anonymous Seattle Weekly critic Hanna Raskin has opened up a serious dialogue with her piece "Professional Food Critics Not Needed in Portland," and the internetz reverb has inspired tongues to wag not only about PDX's critics and the Oregonian, but also about Raskin herself (in proof of no love lost, Dallas' D Magazine proclaims in an article hed that "Former Dallas Observer Dining Critic Hanna Raskin is Off Her Rocker"). The fall-out thus far:
Oregonian restaurant reporter/critic Michael Russell responded to Raskin's apparent dig in her piece — she refers to Russell, who replaced the laid-off Karen Brooks, as "a cops reporter who had washed dishes in a restaurant kitchen" — with the preceding Tweets. (Later Tweets by Russell point out that Raskin herself started out as a crime reporter: "Seriously? 'What makes Raskin peculiar ... is that she was a crime reporter before she was a food writer...' Glass houses...") The Atlantic's Wire blog throws a couple punches from Russell's corner, pointing out that several major food critics — including Sam Sifton, Frank Bruni, and Michael Bauer — were apparent "non-foodies" before their respective section appointments.
Meanwhile, on the original post's comments section, debate rages with some considerable names throwing their weight around:
A commenter that's apparently LA Weekly critic Jonathan Gold gives major, major props to Karen Brooks' contributions to local criticism:
"Portland's restaurant scene may have become a national presence without the groundwork Brooks laid down in her many years as the restaurant critic. You have no idea what a rotten restaurant town Portland was before she got to the Oregonian."
Oh hey look, it's Nick Zukin! After comparing old media restaurant reviews to a fading art form like theater, he writes:
"To PDX, I would ask why Russell should learn on the job at the 'paper of record' rather than put in some years at a weekly or online, like both Karen Brooks and Roger Porter did before their move to the Oregonian?"
From the Oregonian's Michael Zusman, on the importance of critics:
"I still prefer a few choice words from professionals I trust, such as Jonathon Gold, Karen (she still writes for Portland Monthly) and Michael Bauer, than 800 anonymous opinions, often badly written and suspect in other ways, from the self-styled 23 y/o mavens who tend to congregate on the blogs. Not to say that everyone who writes professionally is trustworthy (or that everyone who blogs isn't), but those who care about what they eat know whose opinions to trust."
And finally, Raskin's response:
"My comments weren't meant to indict Russell: I haven't read his reviews, and have no reason to believe he isn't a competent writer. But as he pointed out on Twitter this morning, he'd spent six months writing features before taking the critic job. I believe a paper of The Oregonian's stature — in a town with an enviable culinary reputation — could have recruited a far more experienced candidate (especially considering how many talented food writers have found themselves out of a job over the past decade.) Nobody is born a restaurant critic. Every food writer has a first column or a first blog post. As an outsider, I'm just surprised Russell's was printed in The Oregonian."
· Professional Food Critics Not Needed in Portland [SW]
· All Previous Oregonian Coverage [Eater PDX]