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DINING OUT: Secrets from America’s Leading Critics, Chefs and Restaurateurs


By Andrew Dornenburg & Karen Page
(Also see the Interviews with the authors:
Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page)

Dining Out
was selected as a finalist for the two most prestigious awards in American culinary literature: the 1999 James Beard Book Award and the 1999 IACP/Julia Child Book Award.  It was also honored as one of the world’s best culinary reference books of 1998 at the World Cookbook Fair held in Perigueux, France.
 It is the first book to demystify the clandestine process of restaurant criticism, and to unlock the secrets of a great restaurant experience. And yes — that's former New York Times restaurant critic Ruth Reichl who appears incognito on Dining Out's cover, her face shielded by the brim of her black hat! Dining Out shares her trials and tribulations as a restaurant critic, along with those of other leading critics, from Gourmet's Jonathan Gold to New York magazine's Gael Greene to The Washington Post's Phyllis Richman and Tom Sietsema to Chicago's Dennis Ray Wheaton.

Having written about all it takes to become a chef in Becoming a Chef, and about how those chefs do their work in Culinary Artistry, James Beard Award-winning authors Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page have turned their attention, with Dining Out, to the subject of restaurants and restaurant critics. Restaurant owners, chefs, and critics alike get their turn to discuss the mercurial world of restaurant criticism--is the restaurant critic a valiant consumer advocate or a villainous ruiner of careers and businesses?

Dornenburg and Page interview 61 members of this "food intelligentsia" and offer the reader a snapshot of the process on either side of the kitchen door. New York Times critic Ruth Reichl notes, "I wake up in the middle of almost every night before a review is printed, agonizing over where the mistakes are.... I knew if I had called a turnip a rutabaga, my career was over." And chef Norman Van Aken says he believes "wholeheartedly in the idea of critical analysis, whether for books, movies, or restaurants. I just wish the public would understand that there are bad reviewers as well as bad reviews." Through interviews and research, Dornenburg and Page explore what it takes to become a critic, how the critics themselves feel about their power (not to mention what the restaurateurs feel), and the changing nature of what makes a great restaurant.

The book is packed with great quotes from chefs and critics, and peppered with sidebars on such handy topics as how to work with a wine steward in a restaurant to achieve the wine experience you're looking for. A lengthy appendix lists critics' favorite restaurants in more than 20 cities, and the beautiful black-and-white photographs by Michael Donnelly evoke both the fun and serious sides of restaurant life. Dining Out will appeal to foodies who delight in the behind-the-scenes stories of both chef and critic, and to anyone who's ever wondered just who those restaurant critics are, anyway.


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