THE ABSOLUTE PALATE
There are a variety of reasons why you may know, love, hate, admire, secretly admire (or all of the above) London restaurant critic Jay Rayner. Whether you’ve feared his furrowed brow on Top Chef Masters or found one of his restaurant reviews more true than anything you’ve ever read, it’s hard not to notice “the quotable Jay Rayner” (as Eater would put it). In a world where food has become the watchword, verbal culinary battles are all around us. Bourdain vs. Dean, Mariani vs. Bastianich, Chang vs. Rayner, Chang vs. Bloggers; it’s all in a day’s work. Espousing culinary belief systems and making epic points isn’t for the faint-hearted – and fitting those into 140 twitter characters especially isn’t. The trend we’ve all seen though is honesty, which has become the ever-popular policy when it comes to the food world. The feisty personalities, the chefs that stick to their guns, and the authors that unveil restaurant truths that customers hadn’t fathomed are the ones that win. It’s for this reason that it was time for us to sit down with one of the kings of culinary honesty, Jay Rayner, whose new e-book, My Dining Hell; Twenty Ways to have a Lousy Night Out, hit “shelves” June 1st. It’s published proof that when it comes to food, honesty is truly the best policy. The book is a collection of Rayner’s most scathing reviews, which he is well aware his readers love. Rayner’s palate isn’t just absolute, it’s feared…the sign of what we’d call a truly great restaurant critic.
What’s your perfect food day?
What would be my perfect food day…I think it would be a Saturday because the rest of the days I’d be working and breakfast would be dull. I’d just do cereal and yogurt because it means I won’t blow my appetite for the rest of the day. I would go to one of the Markets on Maltby Street in South London where there are a lot of small producers. I’m not somebody who says that everything has to be seasonal, local and organic – it’s a middle class choice.
It is! It’s a middle class lifestyle choice, not a political thing. If you can afford the good stuff, then great. I can, I’m lucky enough to. So, then going there and grazing on the really nice sort of street food that’s available there. There’s a particular item – the chorizo sandwich with piquillo peppers – which has almost become a sort of gastronomic icon in London. And I’d pick up some other really good stuff – pork belly probably. I have a bit of a reputation for liking Pork Belly. My name is Jay Rayner and I am powerless in the face of pork belly. I would take it home to cook for dinner later that evening. So I think that would be it–eating off the street and then cooking at home.
I’m really curious, what’s the difference between food TV in the UK and food TV in America?
The budget. In the U.S. the budgets are so large that everybody is terrified of going into the edit and missing something. So if they’re spending $500,000 an hour, which is what they were spending on Top Chef Masters when I was doing it, there is this gut-wrenching fear that, after all of these cuts, they will possibly go into the final product without having something substantial.
This means that the shoots are incredibly long, staggeringly tedious, (this is in the U.S.) and repetitive because everybody has a fear that they’re going to mess up. Also, when you’re interrogating the chefs, which is what I was doing, those shoots would just go on and I was so bored and it was excruciating. All because there was this terror. Whereas in London when I shoot, it moves much more smoothly. We make it quickly; we make it on the fly. Who’s to say which is better? Actually I am. I think that probably I’d vie that with Top Chef Masters, I couldn’t quite see where all the money had gone. It hadn’t gone to me.
So, there are all those differences but certainly one of the major things is that with American TV, the shoot time is much, much longer.
Do you miss working on Top Chef Masters? What were your least favorite and favorite parts?
I liked doing the two series. I liked the people I worked with. It was fascinating to see an American shoot on that sort of a scale. They were all incredibly professional. It was shot beautifully actually; the quality of the photography was really fantastic. But to be in Los Angeles for a whole month at a time without my family is quite hard work – and the upside was not enormously obvious. As I said earlier, I wasn’t doing it for the money. And in the end, for a long time I said I wanted to do something for profile but I wasn’t sure what. This is not necessarily massive or not where my natural audience is. I don’t know – I could be wrong.
Otherwise it was fun. I’m glad I did it. I’m glad I can say that I’ve done it. But, I wouldn’t go rushing to do it again. And when they told me that – I think the word is I was being “sacked” – I saw the logic of it. Once they decided to have a new presenter, in the shape of Curtis Stone, and therefore had another non-American accent on the show, they couldn’t have two. They also had a surplus of heterosexual men on the camera and as a result of that there was just no space for straight, non-American men.
But you had a good run!
I had a good run! And you know, I was terrified that they were going to ask me to do a third because it would be hard to say no, but at the same time I didn’t really want to do it.