We’re still scratching our heads over an essay in Slate today, in which a British journalist, fretting over what he considers the unseemliness of today’s food writing, declares himself out of the game. Is it for real? Something about the piece had the whiff of a put-on, like Ernie Kovacs’s poet character, Percy Dovetonsils, or one of those stuffy authority figures who get hit with a pie in a TV commercial appealing to teenagers. “The food writing that’s in vogue today consists chiefly of a bellow of bravado,” writes Paul Levy, formerly of the British newspaper The Observer. Today’s food writers, he says, “thrive on the undertow of violence they detect in the professional kitchen, and like to linger on the unappetizing aspects of food preparation. The gross-out factor trumps tasting good as well as good taste.” Is he kidding?
As a rule, every trend that begins in New York ends up in Philadelphia eventually, from punk rock to New American dining. Now, according to the September issue of Philadelphia magazine, the city has inherited our most inane and pointless debate, one which continues to fester here. Craig LaBan, Philadelphia’s chief restaurant critic, is being sued by the owner of Chops Steakhouse over a review he wrote some months ago. And in the process, he’s threatened with losing his anonymity. But as the critic of record in essentially a one-paper town (with due respect to the Philadelphia Daily News), LaBan is about as mysterious to Philadelphia as cheesesteaks or Legionnaires’s disease.