Are Austin’s Dining Reporters Lost Up Their Own Asses?

No one considers CultureMap any great source of journalistic integrity (or grammatical, for that matter—would it kill someone there to edit a piece?), but the sneering denigration toward Chef Deegan McClung in this article seems supplied entirely by the perspective of one source, in this case one restaurant reviewer, Pat Sharpe (almighty in her Texas Monthly throne though she is). Never mind that McClung turned Jeffrey’s from an increasingly irrelevant dinosaur into one of the best restaurants in Austin.

Never mind, too, that TM took that star away before McClung had even cooked there one day—a fact Sharpe admits to in the article—implying that the decision had less to do with Jeffrey’s earning the demotion and more to do with politics. Emotional, petty, high-school politics.

Sharpe says, “Texas Monthly removed the star from Jeffrey’s—we have a three-star system—in April 2009, in an abundance of caution when Deegan McClung became chef. He was new and relatively untested. We had no idea whether he could handle the kitchen of a major restaurant.”

Really? So in your illustrious decades of writing about restaurants, with that James Beard Award glimmering brightly on your mantel, you still “had no idea” that a guy who worked at Commander’s Palace and Herbsaint in New Orleans, and who was the Chef de Cuisine at Uchi when it leaped into the national spotlight, could handle the kitchen of a major restaurant? How curious.

She goes on to claim that,”We never gave the star back. Yes, there were flashes of excellence and creativity, but the quality was inconsistent.”

Interesting observation. It’s worth nothing that Texas Monthly has pelted former Jeffrey’s chefs Dave Garrido and Alma Alcocer-Thomas with coos and kudos throughout the years, even though their cooking isn’t so much inspiring as it is resolutely capable (anyone who’s eaten at Alcocer-Thomas’s Tacos N Tequila might find this a bit generous). Could this be the real reason for the knee-jerk star spanking? It’s one thing to stand up for your friends; it’s quite another to use your power and reach to condemn the person who replaces them, having “no idea” whether you should or shouldn’t.

All of this lends the next quote from Sharpe a near-histrionic peal: “In January 2011, we took Jeffrey’s out of our dining guide. That was the first time it had not been in since March 1976, shortly after it opened.”

The reader is almost shocked not to read a subsequent “so THERE.”

More importantly, the fact that TM took Jeffrey’s out of its dining guide — but splattered Robert Del Grande/Schiller Group’s unbelievable Lake Travis stinker Soleil with unflagging adulation—speaks more to TM’s food section’s increasing irrelevance and removal from reality than it does to any ability on the part of McClung’s kitchen.

In full disclosure, I have become friends with the McClungs in recent years, a measure more of my attraction to talent and good people than the cause of my praise for his cooking skills and defense of the underhanded attack on him. Don’t confuse the two.

In further disclosure, I was the editor and a contributor to the Fearless Critic Austin Restaurant Guide when Deegan took over the kitchen at Jeffrey’s, and was part of a panel of critics that independently visited and reported on the place in the first year of its revival—a panel that unanimously found it one of the most important and interesting restaurants in the city, even with moments of “inconsistent” quality.

Regarding the dubious reliance on “inconsistency” to make one’s case: the Swedish theologian and scholar Krister Stendahl might step in here to remind us that “The more one pleases generally, the less one pleases profoundly.” In my years as a restaurant critic, I have never once thoroughly enjoyed an Austin restaurant that was consistent. Quite the opposite. You experience higher highs when a chef takes risks—even Uchi has had some flops on its changing specials page, but it more often hits it out of the park. If you seek the remarkable with “consistency” as your lamplight, you’ll keep running into Chili’s.

Or, in the parlance of the stove: If you want to make a fucking great omelette, you have to break a few eggs. If you want to eat a mediocre omelette, however, you could consult Texas Monthly’s dining guide. It’s riddled with them.

You can read (a regrettably abbreviated version of) what Fearless Critic had to say about Jeffrey’s here.

But regardless of how much and how often I disagree with TM’s food reviews and its apparently specious star system, it stands to irrefutable criticism that this CultureMap piece is petty and outrageously one-sided, plus gloriously riddled with grammatical errors. If CultureMap is interested in offering Austin something it doesn’t already have with Eater, Republic of Austin, Austinist, or (shudder) The Examiner, then it will better vet its pieces and strive for the sort of journalistic integrity that seems so otherwise lacking in our fair city.

Otherwise, stick it in a blog…where it belongs.

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About emc

Out beyond any ideas of right-doing and wrongdoing, there is a field. I'll meet you in it.
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7 Responses to Are Austin’s Dining Reporters Lost Up Their Own Asses?

  1. I love a blogger with a strong opinion! Also, what is up with CultureMap? I started reading it after it first launched, but I stopped wasting my time after spotting many errors and puzzling statements and inconsistencies.

  2. Miss N. place says:

    I`d rather have my head up my own ass than some chefs.

  3. bridget says:

    Amazing piece, so very true

  4. rich says:

    I agree completely about lambasting a chef without trying their food. I am not so sure about Deegan, my experience with him as a worker was hit and miss. But he has worked in some good places and you don’t become chef de cuisine of Uchi by sucking balls.

  5. Right on. Shameful lack of journalistic integrity on both of ’em, though CultureMap does seem to be a useless blog filled with the random opinions of nobodies. AM, on the other hand, should know better. And should use a more traditional 4 stars, IMHO, as 3 makes no sense.

  6. shim says:

    sweet lord, how i love this blog. in these troubling/worrisome/vexing financial times, i would just like to thank you for reminding me why I WILL NEVER SERVE AGAIN! …ahem. plus i still love food. thanks.

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