He’s got the job everyone wants, and the one everyone thinks they can do.
So what makes British food critic and Masterchef judge Jay Rayner stand out? And why won’t his friends invite him to dinner parties?
Rayner made global headlines last month when his scathing review of French restaurant Le Cinq went viral, and he has compiled his thoughts in a new book, The Ten (Food) Commandments.
Now he lets us in on what chefs say back to him and answers the question he gets asked most often, which is:
How can I get your job?
The thing to understand about my job is that it’s a writing job, not an eating job.
I often receive emails asking me that question, “How can I get your job?” and I have a form letter that I wrote six years ago that I send out to them that basically says “learn to write”.
SOUNDCLOUD: Rayner speaks to ABC Brisbane radio.
But what makes you qualified to judge these chefs?
There are two elements to a restaurant.
There are the staff who are cooking for you and then there are the diners. And a restaurant doesn’t exist without the diner. And my job is to be a professional diner.
Rayner’s 10 food commandments
Thou shalt eat with thy hands
Thou shalt always worship leftovers
Thou shalt covet thy neighbours oxen
Thou shalt cook — sometimes
Thou shalt not cut off the fat
Thou shalt choose thy dining companion bloody carefully
Thou shalt not sneer at meat-free cookery
Thou shalt celebrate the stinky
Thou shalt not mistake food for pharmaceuticals
Honour thy pig
More to the point I’m there to present a sketch of what eating in that restaurant is like as the consumer, not as a chef who’s trying to dissect what their colleagues have done.
I’m trying to tell you how much pleasure your money will buy you.
Do your friends fear cooking for you?
I am rarely invited to dinner parties. I think because of what I do people are concerned to invite me to dinner.
I like to claim that it’s unfair and that I’m just there for the social stuff, for the company.
My wife says, however, that however polite I am on the night I will then get in the car and whinge.
So probably I am a horrible person.
Do chefs ever contact you after you’ve reviewed them?
Chefs sometimes get in contact to say thank-you for a nice review. To which I always say: “No need to thank me. You did your job and I did mine.”
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AUDIO: What is Jay Rayner’s philosophy on food? He tells RN. (Blueprint for Living)
And I absolutely mean that.
Occasionally I’m contacted by a chef who says, “You know, you’ve got a point”.
I very rarely hear from chefs I’ve given negative reviews on.
Some of your reviews are scathing. Does anyone ever sue?
Le Cinq review extracts
“And so, to the flagship Michelin three-star restaurant of the George V Hotel in Paris, or the scene of the crime as I now like to call it.”
“Never did I think the shamefully terrible cooking would slacken my jaw from the rest of my head.”
“The dining room, deep in the hotel, is a broad space of high ceilings and coving, with thick carpets to muffle the screams. It is decorated in various shades of taupe, biscuit and f–k you.”
“The cheapest of the starters is gratinated onions “in the Parisian style” … It is mostly black, like nightmares, and sticky, like the floor at a teenager’s party.”
Source: Jay Rayner’s Le Cinq review
No. I know the laws of libel.
I mean obviously those laws are different in different countries, so I suspect I couldn’t have written that [Le Cinq review] about a restaurant in Australia looking at the way the laws work.
But one thing that has to be said is I didn’t do this so people would go, “Oh he’s so clever and witty and nasty”.
I did it because it’s a place costing $600 a head and that’s an enormous amount of money.
I went there to write a good review, not a bad one. And then when you get somewhere and it’s charging these extraordinary sums, from $140 to $200 for a main course, I just got very angry, very cross.
Do you have to dress in disguise when reviewing a restaurant these days?
I book all my restaurants under a pseudonym; they don’t know I’m coming until I’m there. Generally I use my companion’s surname.
There’s very little a restaurant can do to change the experience once you’re there, because a lot of restaurant food is what’s called “mise en place” — it’s in the preparation.
My picture of the onion dish at Le Cinq. Read about the restaurants version against mine here: http://www.jayrayner.co.uk/news/spot-the-difference-the-food-pics-supplied-to-the-observer-by-le-cinq-in-paris-as-against-mine/ …
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But the key thing is that it’s a writing job and not an eating job. And because it’s a writing job, if, as a result of a lack of anonymity, people stop believing my reviews, I will lose my job. And I’m determined to cling to it with my cold, dead hands.
Are you a good cook?
I am not a bad cook.
I say I’m not a bad cook because I can think of people who are absolutely brilliant. So I have a scale on which to gauge myself.
I can’t eat in restaurants every single night, but I am greedy so I need to be able to cook some of the stuff I actually want to eat from time to time.
I’m not a very good pastry chef because that’s chemistry and science and precision, but I’m pretty damn good at the roasting, the grilling, the sauces and salads and soups.
Do you ever get sick of the job?
No. I really don’t. I think I’d deserve a fair old slapping if I started whining about my terrible job being sent out to eat on other people’s expenses.