If all the world is a stage, chefs are as inventive as artists at getting revenge on their critics.
Having earned a chunk of my income from reviewing everything from comedians to restaurants over the years, this scribbler was alarmed to read that a German ballet company director had reacted rather violently to a bad review.
Marco Goecke, the head of Hanover State Opera’s ballet company, was not best pleased by a stinging critique written by Wiebke Hüster, the ballet critic of Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. He is alleged to have shown his displeasure by confronting the critic at the opera house and rubbing dog dirt on her face. It is an effective method of displaying what he thought of Hüster’s critical style but not exactly elegant.
One imagines that many chefs may have read the story, given a silent cheer for Herr Goecke and wished a similar fate on anyone who badmouthed their culinary creations. Rather than reaching for the pooper scooper, today’s aggrieved chefs are much more likely to fire back at their critics online. Penning a scathing reply to a bad TripAdvisor review is not really recommended by e-commerce etiquette experts but it is probably preferable to the chef silently seething their way to a cardiac arrest.
Back when the internet was in its infancy and online flaming was not an option, certain chefs nurtured a reputation for taking a more hands-on approach to critics. Gordon Ramsay famously evicted the late Sunday Times restaurant reviewer AA Gill from one of his restaurants after a bad review of another Ramsay establishment. The incident did wonders for both parties. It helped Ramsay boost his bad boy credentials while simultaneously polishing Gill’s crown as the UK’s most feared critic.
As his Michelin-starred career was taking off, Ramsay’s mentor Marco Pierre White was another chef who became known for his fiery temper as well as his winning way with a soufflé. There are a number of stories of Marco ejecting customers who displeased him but he did have a more satisfying means of revenge.
One City wide boy tried to show off to his mates by ordering off menu and asking the much lauded MPW to cook up a plate of chips. The chef did as asked and charged £25 which, back in the late Eighties, was equivalent to just under £90 now. That is an expensive poke of chips.
Sacked and cracked
Other, less celebrated chefs have chosen less subtle means of evening the score. We will keep this anonymous but one Scottish journalist wrote a culinary review that was so damning that the chef was sacked by the restaurant owner. This was not the journalist’s intention but the former pan-rattler was so incensed that he drank more than was wise and pitched up outside the newspaper’s offices to challenge the hack to a ‘square go’.
Staying north of Hadrian’s Wall, one of the Sunday broadsheets sent their reviewer to an Edinburgh gastropub. He did not enjoy his meal and said so in his review. It would seem unthinkable now but the restaurant decided that a suitable response to this would be to write ‘X wears women’s panties’ on their blackboard and display it on the busy street outside.
Ever keen to get one over on what they might have perceived as snobby broadsheet journalists, the Scottish tabloids picked up on the story and amplified it. Much to the amusement of the journalist whose underwear choices had become the subject of so much discussion.
Critic’s face as doormat
My personal restaurant revenge story came about after reviewing a French/North African restaurant that had opened in the run-up to the Millennium. The restaurant had been open about a week when I visited and they were still finding their feet. My review was not favourable. To get his revenge, the restaurateur took my byline photograph from the newspaper, blew it up and had it printed on a doormat so all his customers could tread on my face as they entered the dining room.
Now that is a witty way to get your own back. Given what is alleged to have happened in the German opera house recently, I think I got away lightly. Incidentally, the restaurant is still going strong some 25 years later.
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