Ode to a Sycophant

The above photo is an altered version of "AZ in Action," taken by Sarah McGee.

Mitch Omer, proprietor of Hell’s Kitchen restaurants in Minneapolis and Duluth, responds to Andrew Zimmern’s Perspective in the December issue of Mpls./St. Paul Magazine:

"That’s all I can stands, and I can’t stands no more!"
~Popeye the Sailor

Some notes on a critic, his standards, and the obligations of the job:

What is the proper way for a restaurateur to critique a critic? As
far as I can tell, there is no such manner. I can only hold back so
much bile (the result of a gastric bypass, I’m sure), and I must
regurgitate my feelings about a self-indulgent, self-obsessed,
self-aggrandizing food writer; a former executive hack (but by his own
admission, master chef). Master or not, his Café Un Deux Trois in
Minneapolis, even though a clone of its mother ship in New York, won
many "best of’s" while open here.

However, it is with a nagging sense of professional obligation that
I respond to Andrew Zimmern’s journalistic treasure trove of
anti-Minneapolis condescension. I suppose I should be filled with a
sense of self-preservation. As it is, I am filled with a sense of
outrage, and I finally gave into it.

"In many ways, the work of a critic is easy; we risk very
little, yet enjoy a position of those who offer up their work and
themselves to our judgement. But the bitter truth we critics must
face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk
is probably more meaningful than our criticism designates itself."
~Anton Ego, food critic in the movie Ratatouille

God forbid, a restaurateur would actually take aim at a critic; this
would be suicide. This is a tight community, and none would say a
disparaging word about another. He, however, writes as if above
reproach, and I am here to tell him that he is not. At Mpls/St.Paul
magazine, no pretense is made of keeping him in check…and,
Mpls/St.Paul, just how does he rate a spread about celebrity homes, and
the only picture we see is of him and his family on a couch? Must be
one helluva house.

But I digress. His orations involve an immense waste of time. But,
like slowing down to look at a morbid and horrifying accident, I read
his column every month. His gastronomic fatalism sorely tries the
patience of every chef and restaurateur in Minneapolis. He is
inaccurate and tremendously negative; a perfect tabloid weapon. But,
Andrew, you have been playing without an opponent, and I must say, it’s
my turn at bat.

A cook does not a critic make, yet A.Z. is a self-professed Alpha
Male of food writing; one need only go back just a few issues for
examples of how he dismisses the sophistication of Twin Cities
residents, making us look as if we never travel outside state lines,
never try anything except meat and potatoes, don’t know a damn thing
about unusual ingredients, don’t support innovative restaurants, aren’t
willing to pay for good food, and are in desperate need of a god-like
food writer to tell us not only how stupid we are, but also what to
think from A to Z:

"My high profile can distort minor aspects of my dining
experiences, but I’d argue that what I bring to the table in expertise
and experience more than makes up for it."
~Andrew Zimmern, Mpls/St.Paul, May, 2007

Why don’t you let someone, other than yourself, make that decision.
And how dare you put yourself above more seasoned food writers like
Jeremy Iggers, Ann Bauer, Kathy Jenkins, Peter Lilienthal, Dara
Moskowitz, Rick Nelson, Lynne Rosetto Kasper, and let’s not forget the
late Pam Sherman. There is no objectivity here, only platitude
prescriptions for whatever ails you each month. Take a booster shot of
your own medicine, dude, you’ll feel better in a day or so.

"The transcendent restaurant must hit the Trifecta: It must be
good, original, AND successful."
~ Andrew Zimmern, Mpls/St.Paul, Dec

Lemme see. You all but got down on your knees and sucked the
gastronomic dick of Aquavit, "…goat cheese parfait with blueberry
sorbet and passion fruit curd. Wow!" Lotta guys from Anoka going to
order that malady. And then, when they had to fold up operations
because they were months behind in rent, owing purveyors, and not
paying staff, you denigrated the city for not being supportive of such
a grandiose, transcendent restaurant. Two out of three ain’t bad I
suppose, even if they didn’t meet your criteria for the
Trifecta. Bifecta? I think not. Stupid fucking elitist? I think so.

"We thrive on negative journalism, which is fun to write and to read." ~Anton Ego, from the movie, Ratatouille

A.Z. bludgeons local eateries with a blunt instrument: his pen, the
journalistic equivalent of keying a car. From his "Perspective"
column, he writes:

"Frank Brini’s brutal review of Harry Cipriani on Fifth Avenue
(NYC), is proof positive of how fun it is to wield a poison pen…awesome
." ~Andrew Zimmern, Mpls/St.Paul, Nov 2007

This is only a small tribunal of scorned restaurants, and I quote:

"Most of this year’s crops are conundrums wrapped in
half-baked concepts. Crave is a fancified Green Mill and not as good,
Picosa is missing identity, Bank under whelms, and Amazing Thai fails
to rumble me. Black Bamboo, Café Ena, Harry’s, Fogo de Chao, Spill the
Wine, Café Maude, Wasabi, Bulldog NE, Bagu, Toast, Manhattan’s, and
Landmarc all fail to rouse me from my desk. Need I continue?…I will not
fall into the trap of some of my peers who canonize such places on the
basis of pedigree."
~Andrew Zimmern, Mpls/St.Paul, Dec 2007

Should we canonize YOU on the basis of pedigree? Could YOU stand
up to such biased observation? Let’s see. Most of this year’s
observations are a conundrum wrapped in half-baked journalistic

Just for fun today, I went to his Chow and Again blog, where he
lambasts a press release announcing a new menu at a gentleman’s club.
Yes, a ‘Gentleman’s Club’; expensive drinks and powdered tits for the
expense account crowd. Press releases being, by their very nature, a
marketing tool, this one seemed fairly straightforward, explaining the
new menu that would start January 1: "Dinner selections will include a
42-oz. USDA prime Porterhouse, kobe beef hot dogs, colossal shrimp…etc.
All affordably priced. The kitchen will use the freshest ingredients
and…try to appeal to a larger guest base."

But Zimmern finds he must tear apart even a simple press release:

"Holy crap! Does someone actually get paid to write that
junk? Is that the best point of difference the owners can come up with?
Oy vey."
~Andrew Zimmern, ChowAndAgain.com

Oy-fucking-vey yourself! Please, allow me to ‘tell it like it is’.
You are pre-disposed here to a negative review of the club’s offerings,
even though you, by your own admission, have not dined at the
restaurant. "Holy crap!" I say. "Does someone actually pay you to write
this junk? Is that the best point of difference you can come up with?"
I doubt it.

Now, I’m anal-retentive, obsessive-compulsive and manic-depressive,
(and, probably a few more hyphenated maladies), so researching this
shit is right up my alley. I just couldn’t resist. Further down on this
self-absorbed blog, I found one of his little secrets…asking his blog
readers for their input, since he was too busy to attend some events.
(Don’t believe me? I quote Zimmern himself, "Any great pull quotes you
heard from the recent Anthony Bordain visit to Minneapolis? I was in
NYC doing the Today Show, so I couldn’t attend.") Hey MSP editors, who
ya paying?"

But then it got good…I found out I’m not alone! I discovered a
website called "Chowhound" that was upset at Zimmern for snagging their
moniker. Readers were almost unanimous in their, um, "reservations"
about our local-boy-made-big-TV-foodstar really being a poseur. A few
of their comments:

"…has anyone else noticed that he never touches the food with his
lips? He always sort of cowboys up and puts it on his tongue or throws
it into his mouth. Which is not only gross to watch; this is clear body
language saying that he doesn’t want to eat the things he’s eating on
his show. So watching him do that for a half hour while he goes
‘…mmmm…’ unconvincingly makes me think he’s a big fat liar when he
says he loves food. I am not buying."

"… he never enjoys the food or even acts like he’s eating it for
real. He puts it in his mouth much like someone who doesn’t want to.
Ever seen Bourdain eat anything like that? No. The man eats it, chews
it, tastes it. Anyways. I guess the Discovery channel execs like it –
so it’s on the air. But like Bourdain says, ‘I give him one season
tops.’ "

Where does this cat come from, and just what do the execs see in
him? Lack of good journalism leaves a hole in his articles and food
blog. If you swallow any of this offal, do not induce vomiting. Take
two Bauers immediately, and read Jeremy Iggers in the morning. Andrew,
in his Andrew way, has razed restaurants chef by chef. Some owners
survive, but nothing major on the scene is older than Solera.

"If we can’t recommend a restaurant, we don’t write about it,
so a long-term absence from our pages does imply something."
Zimmern, Mpls/StPaul, May, 2007

How fucking dare you! Long term absence from your pages tells us
only that your Id-ridden alimentary tract is represented as detritus,
and has nothing to do with objective journalism. A.Z.’s standard
take-out order is two negative reviews, an anti-Minneapolis with
cheese, and a small perspective to go. Can I super-size that for you?

"For years, I have wondered why someone who criticizes a
restaurant for being ordinary or derivative is derided by fellow
Minnesotans for being unsupportive of our restaurant community. I think
when we ‘call ‘em as we see ‘em’, we are holding the restaurant
community to a higher standard."
~ Andrew Zimmern, Mpls/St.Paul, Dec

For years, I have wondered why someone who criticizes a restaurant
critic for being ordinary or derivative is told to simply shut the fuck
up…or suffer the consequences. When I "call ‘em as I see ‘em", I am
holding the critical community to a higher standard. He is too smug,
too pseudo-objective, and wouldn’t stand up to any reciprocal reviews.
He has yet to capture the gestalt, the big picture, of food service in

"…lying to ourselves when we’re merely marking time serves no
productive end, least of all towards bettering our future food
~Andrew Zimmern, Mpls/St.Paul, Dec

You seem to lack a fresh, clear, well-seasoned perspective. If, as
they say, we are what we eat, well, crow is my second choice for you
here… From his blog recently about appearing on the Tonight Show with
Jay Leno
, he writes:

"There is only so much personal grand-standing one can dole out, even on a blog, where blowing your own horn is
‘de rigueur,’ par for the course, and standard operating procedure…" ~
Andrew Zimmern, Nov 15, 2007

Yeah, well, blow this horn! Personally, I am over-Zimmerned and
under-whelmed. He seems possessed with his own ego, and I say, "Ban
thee Satan from this body, and exorcise the evil within." As for me,
I’ll get down on my knees and pray to St. Jude, patron saint of lost
causes. Such is my fate. The fallout from this diatribe could be
catastrophic, given his "high profile" of magazine columns, blogs,
television show appearances, et al. I wish he’d leave the writing to
better journalists, and continue to roam the globe eating bugs on the
Travel channel.

This article pretty well eliminates the possibility of any positive
reviews I may ever get, but, like that second piece of pie at
Thanksgiving, which you are already too full to eat, you go ahead, and
suffer the consequences later. Such is my plight. I’ve never had the
ability, or maturity, to qualm my passions, good or bad. I’ll have to
suffer the fallout from this diatribe. So be it, there’s always another
slice of pie…

Warmest personal regards,
Mitch Omer

For the record, neither Zimmern nor Mpls/St. Paul Magazine has ever
critiqued my restaurant because of a policy to only review
establishments that offer dinner service, which my restaurant does not.
As a result of this policy, there has never been anything written,
negative or otherwise, that might personally taint my opinion of Andrew