Monday, 26 January 2009

Gut Instinct or Seven Seconds Again




On Jan 17 the Age ran the following story on what was probably a quiet news day during the hot and steamy holiday period.

"Irish food critic Trevor White applies his seven-seconds rule to five of Melbourne's best restaurants. He says...
I BELIEVE it is possible to review a restaurant within seven seconds. This is not, I admit, a scientific theory, and it is true that some chefs manage to outshine the dumps where they work. Still, the seven-seconds rule has served me well in 17 years as a professional restaurant critic....


I found the story a little disturbing as despite calling himself a "professional restaurant critic" of some 17 years standing, he has chosen to use what most of us would call gut-instinct to make up his mind about something that he is supposedly reviewing professionally .

But the more I read the story the more it seemed to ring true. I found myself agreeing with him..

Yes my vast experience of dining out combined with my " 30 years of professional expertise in the business" can indeed give me a quick instinctive accurate analysis of any restaurant that I visit.

Looking back over recent and not so recent dining experiences just confirmed it, yes that's quite true after a while of course we can pick the duds and the gems in possibly 12 if not seven seconds.

I started to congratulate myself on how clever I was and that yes we should just trust our highly experienced instinct and just go with it.....
A couple of days later I found myself in one of the places that Trevor White gave his 7 seconds away to and within the given short time frame I realised that his 7 seconds combined with the column inches he devoted to his seven second rule had given the place a sense of hubris that was lamentable. My seven seconds antennae told me to leave but I stayed and while the overpriced food was delicious my own seven seconds analysis was indeed correct I should have left after 5 seconds. So to my mind the question is this: civilians like you and me often apply what is really just a gut reaction, and usually, yes, its correct. But a "professional" restaurant critic cannot be so presumptuous that he can make an instant judgement. And this is the difference, tell a very wide readership of his instant Epiphany. The staff at the place I went to had such swollen heads and thought themselves so cool that they even mentioned that they had just been reviewed and that I should read it while I was waiting for my meal. Really?

Would a respected theatre critic leave after the first act? a film critic after the intro?

Yes you and I can and be quite content in knowing that we have good gut [intended again] instincts but professional reviewers have a deeper responsibility. Or am I just dreaming?


13 comments:

Duncan | syrupandtang said...

I reckon the reviewer's piece is a little conceit to fill some space. A cute idea. Sure, after a while many of us learn that gut instinct or first impressions are a reasonable gauge of an establishment. As you say, the reviewer has a bigger task than that, doesn't he... mind you, either way it seems that reviewers' opinions don't always match the experience of punters, seven seconds or more! Nice to read your perspective, thanks.

Ed said...

Yes, critics do owe us more but the funny thing is that he was spot on. When we meet people we make up our minds about them in the first few seconds and this exercise really shows how the attitude and presentation of staff can really let down a restaurant. The last time I was at Donovans our waitress had a bit of attitude ( and a huge yellow spot that threatened to burst) that put us off. As for Ciccolina - 18/20 atmosphere, 15/20 attitude (bad) and 13.5/20 food.

Sunnybrae and all who sail in her said...

ED
Everyones a critic, but a professional critic who writes in a major publication has from my [ a consumer and an owners'] perspective an obligation that goes beyond first impressions and personal food predjudices.
But I guess I really am only dreaming...

Zoe said...

Hmmm. If I'd trusted my own instincts I would have left White's book "Kitchen Con" on the shelf at the remaindered bookshop rather than buying it and then feeling obliged to read his self indulgent crap!

Sunnybrae and all who sail in her said...

Hi Zoe

Too right, I did my due dilligence before blogging on White and found his book in an ebook form so I scanned it and yes it was so sad to see someone who grew up in a restaurant family but obviously did not appreciate the work that goes into running a restaurant He just tries to live off the industry by sucking out a living if you can call it that...

Leaving out fidential from the title should have alerted all our 7 second antenae instantly.
Your site looks great I will get on later tonight for a god read after all the prep is done and the temprature dops a it cheers.

steve said...

Hi George-Whites book should also be given the 'seven Second review'.
I got past my own 'three page caveat' & doggedly swam on through its confusingly choppy swell.
After its laboured laps, I sat on the familiar & neautral concrete warmth of the edges & mulled.
Though I appreciated his particular take on the cult of celebrity, this seemed to permeate his views on the way many restaurants operate & to their detriment of its custom as far as his opinion is concerned.
His is a view of the restaurant world that has a very narrow & simplistic outlook, perhaps born from an unfulfilled landscape of the great middling of Britsh dining & of course the possibility of his generation of never quite coming to terms with the actuality that if one is to aspire to geat heights in hospitality, that it is will generally go unknowledged & that it is ultimatley a life of service, an arcane & possibly distasteful career for those of the prolatariat leaning, but hey, someones got to do it eh!
Look I didn't mind the book but I thought it was more a vehicle to get his greater persona over the line to a buying public eager to connect to the culture of food, Just my opinion
Steve

Sunnybrae and all who sail in her said...

Steve
Love the nautical turn of phrase...

did you like the cartoon?

steve said...

I love this cartoon Geo, but then again anything he does grabs my attention. I especially loved the Denton interview. My cynical gland always reacts by spewing counter enzymes when affronted by bullshit froth pieces but watching that ep I was convinced I was viewing a true eccentric, such a brave & rare thing these days, like a beach without boardies & boobs!
Zero-ing on the zeitgeist thought, it also, to me, points toward a facination that popular media has fixeated upon, perhaps its the final frontier of the affluent classes whom having exhausted everything else from Third world poverty concerns, indigenous cultural 'discoveries' to looking intospectively at their own backyard issues, the notion & haven of personal style as a way through the mire that is everyday life. How ironic is that? Food as the connect to their readers?! Its always been there right under everyones noses but its not been noticed until its been 'sexed-up' or that they are running out of stuff to write about. Call me old fashioned!

Sunnybrae and all who sail in her said...

Old fashioed!
I can't imagine a beach without boardies and boobs.

It looks like someone has taken a flame thrower to my garden and I remembered how you must have felt when you got back to your garden after the critters got in...
But minor compared to Gippsland.

Sunnybrae and all who sail in her said...

SORRY STEVE I DELETED YOUR COMMENT BELOW BY ACCIDENT.

SADLY LAKE COLAC IS DRY WE HAVE CONECTED VERY RELUCTANTLY TO THE MAINS WATER SUPPLY AFTER 30 YEARS OF BEING ABLE TO SURVIVE OFF RAINFALL 4 NEAR EMPTY DAMS...


Hi again George,
Sorry to hear about your garden.
This year in Cygnet, drier than most many can remember but long sunny days have helped many a garden flourish. Although we plant late(cause on the late November & even December frosts)some of the vege are a little slow. Everyone has heaps of squash & zuchinini & peoples tomatoes are just getting to the critical mass stage.
Nearbye in Franklin there are masses of stone fruit available, still cherries, raspberries & strawbs.
I have 40 tomato plants at the cafe which are all starting to look like Peter Cundall himself has tended them!
Hope you get some water or you might have to run a pipe from Lake Colac to your place?!

Anonymous said...

Love the site, photos and stories

alan rom NYC

Anonymous said...

This is a little late to the party, but your post reminded of the concept of 'thin slicing' in the book "Blink" by Malcolm Gladwell. He says, "...our mind takes about two seconds to jump to a series of conclusions. Well, "Blink" is a book about those two seconds, because I think those instant conclusions that we reach are really powerful and really important and, occasionally, really good."
Because you have expertise and years of experience, your 7 seconds (or maybe 2!) are crammed with analysis.
Glad to have found your blog via Gourmet Traveller (p.134)
Von, Perth

Sunnybrae and all who sail in her said...

Thanks Von I will lookout for the book

G