An Interview with UK Restaurant Critic Jay Rayner
The book titled: My Dining Hell: 20 Ways to Have a Lousy Night Out compiles Rayner’s twenty most epic restaurant take-downs in London. We talked with Rayner to discuss his new book, background and favorite American cuisine.
How did you come up with the idea to publish a book of bad reviews?
Over the years people would say have you thought of publishing a book of bad reviews? I came to the conclusion that the only thing people would want to read is negative restaurant reviews. People have an appetite for negative reviews.
Are any restaurants mentioned in the book still open?
There are a number still open. I haven’t heard from them. I have no idea what they think. In my reviews I add a “what happens next,” to be clear this isn’t the end of the story. I’m not assuming I am God.
How did you get started as a restaurant critic?
It comes from my history as a journalist. I started in college at the student paper writing about everything, except sports. The restaurant reviewing job came up as a writing job not an eating job. They were looking for someone to write a compelling and engaging column week after week.
Do you have a culinary background?
No, none at all. I never claim to be a chef. I’m a journalist, but I know my subject. I have spent a lot of time in restaurant kitchens and I cook at home. Brazing makes me very happy. I’m very happy when a large animal has been brazing in my house for six hours.
What do you look for when you review a restaurant?
Something to write about, it’s as simple as that. When I go into a restaurant I think what am I writing about here, what can I say?
What’s the best meal you’ve had recently and where?
I just reviewed a pub outside of London where the chef is 18 years old and a lot of us thought it was a publicity stunt on the part of the restaurant, but this boy can cook, really cook. It was thrilling to find out what that experience was like and it was very good.
Do you eat fast food?
Any man of appetite is going to have eaten it. If they say they haven’t they’re lying. I prefer Burger King [to McDonalds], their char grilled thing just works.
What is your favorite American food?
I’m a very bin fan of American barbeque. That attention to detail and long cooking is fantastic stuff.
Any projects you’re currently working on?
I’m working on a book called A Greedy Man in A Hungry World. It’s about the challenges of food security. If you talk to classic foodies in America they go on about the important of buying local and organic ingredients, but small isn’t always beautiful. We need to get real about the challenges we face.