A legendary chef gets skewered.
3:15 PM, Jan 15, 2014 • By VICTORINO MATUS
Today would not be a good day to hang out with Michel Richard. I've been around the award-winning French chef when something's not right—the vegetables in the soup aren't fully cooked, bread is being wasted, a waiter's shirt is verging on the untucked—it's not pleasant. Normally Richard is a jovial fellow, often likened to Santa Claus. But probably not today. The New York Times finally ran its review of Villard Michel Richard, the chef's first New York outpost, located in midtown Manhattan. I read it on my phone and blamed the mobile version for the lack of graphics—why is the star rating missing? In fact, critic Pete Wells had given the restaurant zero stars.
It wasn't a bad review. It was devastating—possibly as mean as Wells's critique of Guy's American Kitchen & Bar. The only difference is Guy Fieri has yet to win the James Beard award for outstanding chef in the United States or be inducted into the Maîtres Cuisiniers de France. And yet here is just a sampling of Wells's review of Villard Michel Richard:
I imagine someone had to break the news to the chef. And I can picture him closing his eyes, taking it all in, and wanting to be left alone. On one occasion, I asked Richard about a negative review of a meatball restaurant connected to his name. He said he didn't read reviews, but then went on about everything that was wrong with the writeup and said, "They slaughtered me before I was born," which I took to mean the critics didn't give the place enough time. Richard asked why critics must destroy a place and put at risk dozens of jobs. I repeated Ruth Reichl's line about a critic being responsible to the readers, not the restaurateurs. He didn't care much for that—or for the vegetables in our soup that were still al dente. (I thought they were fine, which brought the response: "Then you know nothing about cooking!" The French love their vegetables soft. Americans, not so much.)
Wells seemed puzzled by the incongruity between Villard Michel Richard and Central Michel Richard here in D.C. The latter far exceeded the former, but why? "Perhaps the restaurant was awful because Mr. Richard wasn’t actually involved," the critic wondered. "It’s true that he is not the owner, but neither does he have the kind of licensing and consulting deal that has often made the names of Gordon Ramsay or Todd English little more than celebrity endorsements."
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