Long before I started writing this site I religiously bought & read your columns about food, be it recipes, restaurant reviews or general food articles. The Observer Food Monthly (OFM) supplement was a particular joy, filled with exquisite images and insightful text, but alas, I won’t be buying it for the foreseeable future. The reason?
Very simply put, Jay Rayner.
Jay Rayner is the self appointed chief foodie of all things gastronomically related; when the reality is so far from that; that you’d have to measure it in light years to quantify it.
I’ll put aside for minute that I quote him in my old Twitter bio (spelling mistake & all), calling me:
Sad, bitter little troll and blocked by many if us critics.
And I’ll press on with why I have such disdain for him. He admits himself that he’s in a privileged position, let’s face it who wouldn’t want a job where they have to eat out (at The Observer’s expense), write about a thousand words about your experience and then get paid a fortune for doing it. Whilst Rayner admits that his column for The Guardian accounts for ‘about 20%’ of his income, many would gladly give their right arm to write it instead of him. Ironically, Rayner sees his commitments to The Guardian &, in particular, OFM, as a tedious drain on his talents, once describing a 600 word piece on Twitter for OFM as:
How can somebody treat their employers & readers with such public contempt and remain in employment? Sadly it has been a continuing trend, reaching the pinnacle of dross that The Guardian saw fit to publish on 10th December:
597 words on NOTHING, no delightfully witty insight to food trends & fashions in the coming 12months, just NOTHING. Hell, I could have written 600 words on nothing for a fraction of what Rayner was paid for that piece. But then that piece just reinforced what a former Michelin starred chef once told me about Rayner. He was surprised at his lack of knowledge on the subject he writes the most about, food, but then Rayner will tell you that his job isn’t to be an expert in food or restaurants, but instead to sell papers (or page views).
So why do The Guardian & Observer persist with him? Some would leap to Jay Rayner’s defence and say he’s a witty original writer, but having read his review of Adam Handling at Caxton he seems to recycle his punchlines, how very green. Rayner describes Adam Handling at Caxton as:
….is not cheap. It’s barely on nodding terms with cheap.
Also describing L’enclume as:
But let’s not pretend it’s cheap, or even on nodding terms with cheap.
And Richard Corrigan’s Bentleys (in Jay’s News) as:
It’s not cheap. It’s not even on nodding terms with cheap.
It’s not cheap. It’s not on nodding terms with cheap.
Granted it’s a good line, but to keep repeating it is akin to telling a joke, then explaining it. Or maybe Rayner thinks that it’s his trade mark, sorry to disappoint Jay, but your trademark is your fat face & baroque locks.
Clearly I’m not the only one who despairs of Rayner either. Many have said that getting a Twitter parody is a form of flattery, clearly not in the eyes of Jay Rayner. His mocking alter ego (@RayJayner) has since ceased to tweet after April 5th 2013, but it was great fun while it lasted, despite the pleas of Rayner himself.
Such classic tweets as:
I’m so famous now it’s getting impossible to review anywhere without me & my hair being recognised. Oh to be as anonymous as @gilescoren.
have been sadly missed.
Rayner doesn’t just reserve criticism for those in the culinary arts in his restaurant reviews either. Recently he rounded on fellow journalist Bruce Palling over comments made on Twitter about Rayner slating Massimo Bottura, of the 3Michelin starred Osteria Francescana in Modena. Rayner wrote in a review ‘Adam Handling at Caxton’ (about the chef):
I liked him even more when, faced later in the series by a swivel-eyed Italian chef who had apparently read too many self-help books with the word “creativity” in the title, he slumped down in a corner of the kitchen muttering that he didn’t get it. You could see the phrase “this is cobblers” forming on his lips, even if you didn’t hear it, and the phrase “too right, my son” forming on mine.
Essentially Palling called Rayner’s bluff with this tweet:
Rayner disses @massimobottura cuisine as cobblers – has he been there? Yet adores Heston..
There are several things to point out to this, as Osteria Francescana has been a steady riser in the Worlds 50 Best list, & has now been residing at number 3 for the past two years. So as former chair of his region at The Worlds 50 Best, Rayner should be fully aware of Bottura’s culinary efforts & would be outrageous if he hadn’t dined there, and it appears he hasn’t.
Secondly, Rayner staunchly defends the PR company line that Heston Blumenthal is self taught. By very definition Blumenthal can’t be self taught as he spent time at Le Manoir Aux Quat Saisons, as verified by Marco Pierre White (head chef at the time) and Raymond Blanc. And after my experience with Heston’s PR representatives it is doubtful I’d ever trust them again, so why does Rayner accept being spoon fed this rubbish & repeating it ad nauseum?
I return to somewhere near the start of this post, with Rayner calling me a:
Sad, bitter little troll and blocked by many if us critics.
Really?!? A troll, if by Rayner’s definition a troll is somebody who is prepared to start & engage in the debate, vigorously standing their ground as their opinion is based on experience & fact, rather than a press release, then guilty as charged. But Rayner has decided that I’m a troll because he doesn’t like what I say to him (& possibly how I say it either). Well Jay, hate to break it to you, but despite what you think, you aren’t the arbiter of internet definitions & the world doesn’t revolve around you.
Thirdly, Rayner regularly talks about Michelin, clearly an organisation he despises, presumably because the regard it is held in & the self perpetuating PR it creates (something he can’t). Rayner has no experience in a Michelin starred kitchen, highly unlikely to have ever spoken to an inspector, and thinks he’s an authority on them because he’s dined in enough of them to rival Andy Hayler. Let me give you an analogy Jay: Just because a person owns a Ferrari, it doesn’t mean that they know how it works.
For a long time Rayner was at the forefront of The Worlds 50Best in the UK, formerly the chair of the UK region and lately just a member of the voting panel. Yet, and this maybe just coincidence, one of the highest rated & acclaimed restaurants in the UK never made the list until Rayner left, that said, he’s never reviewed it for The Observer either. The restaurant? The Ledbury in Notting Hill, a £25 taxi ride from Rayner’s house.
Rayner also, in a cack handed way, says that I’m blocked by ‘many if(of) us critics’. Again, a some what loose realisation of the truth. If Jay you mean you & Giles Coren as the ‘many’ then you’ve just illustrated how large your ego really is. The facts are this, far more journalists, editors & restaurant critics follow me than block me, so in essence I must be doing something right. When I say doing something right I mean exactly that; live tweeting a meal that you’re being paid to review is such a ridiculous idea, isn’t it Jay (Oxo tower in 2012)? But coupled with the attitude of ‘I can do it because I’m famous’,really shows that Rayner is about to disappear up his own rectal cavity because he loves himself so much.
So, to the editors that are responsible for publishing Jay Rayner’s less than insightful scrawl, I say this. Look elsewhere for a new restaurant critic & food scribe, there are enough people out there that could easily do a better job: Palling; Blythman; Pople, Naylor, Thring and so the list goes on. You gave Marina O’Loughlin the vacant position of restaurant critic at The Guardian, bringing her excellent writing to a wider audience, & I applaud you for it. Now be bold & rid your publication of the egotistical dilettante, so some of us can go back to enjoying your articles.
A former reader.