Cuisine is expressive, performative and sometimes divisive. Not all diners and chefs agree on the aesthetic/gustatory/nutritional merits of a dish. Often, in the culinary arts, the critic is also an artist. Food critics have the added vulnerability of experiencing the experimentation directly (by ingesting the artistic work) thereby hazarding their own health. Despite these risks, effective critics give feedback delicately, sensitively and diplomatically. Navigating the complex needs and desires of the artist and the critic in the culinary arts is akin to navigating the complexities of a romantic relationship.
“The Artist and the Critic: A Culinary Love Story” layers personal narrative (describing my husband and I’s conflict and growth as chefs and critics) with ideas from artistic thinkers like Pater, Arnold, Morris, Benjamin and Sontag. It also involves culinary/performing arts commentaries from Despain, Finkelstein, Gratza, Pruiett and Robertson. The essay parallels the vulnerability of a chef and diner with lovers presenting their true selves. It explores the role of the critic who, according to Sontag and Pater, needs to be the gentle and passionate. The paper explores how the culinary arts meet William Morris’ ideal of being romantic and pragmatic (Harvey and Press). Through my interview with Jian Hui Cheng (a local chef in an award winning Vancouver restaurant), the paper explores the challenges of receiving critique in Vancouver’s culinary scene. Cuisines carry great emotional, social and political weight. “The Artist and the Critic: A Culinary Love Story” describes the paradox that food, like love, is divisive and unifying.