Pain, praise for celebrity chefs

Harsh reviews, responses for Fieri, Elliot

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Maybe when you're a grown man with bleached hair, criticism shouldn't come as a surprise.

On the other hand, maybe when you're the restaurant critic for The New York Times, reviewing the Times Square tourist trap of a celebrity chef best known as the braying presence on a TV series named "Diners, Drive-ins and Dives," an explosively harsh, sardonic review of a joint that serves Motley Que Ribs and Guy-Talian Nachos, however hilariously cruel (and fair) that review is, just feels, oh, let's say, um, excessive.

Discuss, foodies.

Which is exactly what restaurant watchers have been doing this week since food critic Pete Wells of the Times wrote an apocalyptic review ("When we hear the words Donkey Sauce, which part of the donkey are we supposed to think about?") of celeb-chef Guy Fieri's massive new dining establishment in New York, Guy's American Kitchen & Bar. Fieri went on NBC's "Today" show Thursday to defend himself, saying the review went "overboard" and that the restaurant is still finding its way. Wells told his newspaper's public editor: "This is important American food that makes a lot of people very happy ... you ought to do it right."

So much has been said about this ... but this: Celebrity chefs, who rarely work in the kitchens of the restaurants associated with or bearing their name, generally absorb all the pain and praise of a restaurant.

For instance, Wells' review came out the same day that the Michelin Guide awarded its annual stars to Chicago restaurants. The restaurant Graham Elliot on Huron Street was one of only two establishments to receive two out of three stars from the notoriously stingy Michelin. Elliot, the chef, has been often criticized in recent years for not being a presence in his eponymous kitchens. That, and turnover in September, led to harsh whispering in food circles and social media that its stars were undeserved.

Merlin Verrier, the restaurant's executive chef and director of operations, said he has heard the same stuff: "But we had made a push, in our kitchen, in staffing, to go from one star to two." He said Elliot is now in the kitchen "100 percent, four or five days a week." And as for the Fieri thing: "I don't even know why (Wells) would waste his time on that place." As for Elliot himself, the chef was in Europe and could not be reached for comment.

cborrelli@tribune.com

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