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Food Writers and Experts on the Untold Stories of 2013

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Illustration: Eric Lebofsky

Between all the spectacles and disasters, promising new restaurants, notable shutters, great drinking, and the onslaught of new cookbooks this year, some stories perhaps just didn't get the play they deserved. Today in Eater's ongoing series of year-end surveys, industry experts, seasoned diners, and friends of the site address the untold stories of 2013. These include new restaurants that didn't get as much attention as they deserved, as well as a food system that Andrew Zimmern writes "is in disrepair." There's also the issue of diversity both in the kitchen and in the media itself, plus a lacking discussion about worker's rights and wages. Here's the full list to ponder for 2014:

Ryan Sutton, Bloomberg News Restaurant Critic:

I love that everyone's buzzing about D.O.M. — Atala is doing some pretty amazing stuff with indigenous Brazilian food just as Gaston Acurio does crazy good things with Peruvian food at Astrid y Gaston. But it would be cool if more journalists turned an eye to what's going on with Claus Meyer's Gustu. I had the good fortune of flying down to La Paz last January, before Gustu opened, and I got hang with the chefs for a few days (the amazing Kamila Seidler & Michelangelo Cestari). And the dishes I tried — sous-vide llama, etc. — were phenomenal.

Really, what you have going on there is at the heart of what's important in contemporary gastronomy. Gustu is helping Bolivia re-discover its indigenous cuisine at the high-end — so many restaurants in La Paz are French or Italian, because Bolivians don't see their own cuisine as fancy. Gustu is also about extricating Bolvian food from the shackles of authenticity and the burden of being cheap, through modern techniques and a wine-paired tasting menu that runs about $135. And Gustu is where you have a female co-executive chef (Seidler), which is something we're all starting to realize there aren't enough of. And finally Gustu has a social component in that many of its chefs are at-risk or under-privileged youths, with the hope that they might end up training the next Gaston Acurio (of Bolivia!). Really, an amazing story.

Joshua David Stein, food writer and New York Observer restaurant critic:

A story that's often told but rarely heard is about the tremendous economic and environmental cost of eating meat.

Ben Leventhal, Eater Co-Founder:

This is admittedly a Manhattanite's take, but Brooklyn still does not have a proper, polished adult restaurant that has more than 50 seats. How is that possible?

Boston chef and restaurateur Barbara Lynch. [Photo: Barbara Lynch Gruppo/Facebook]

Marie-Claude Lortie, Columnist at La Presse:

The biggest restaurant media scandal this year is by far the way Time magazine dismissed women chefs in its now-infamous dossier on who's who in the world of gastronomy. Women chefs are indeed under-covered. Female and male journalists should pay more attention to them and not be afraid to put them on the front page because women are everywhere in kitchens! Ideas for 2014 for food journalists: a feature on Helena Rizzo, Margot Henderson, Angela Hartnett, April Bloomfield, Barbara Lynch, Suzanne Goin, Helene Darroze, Cristina Bowerman, Ana Ros, Kylie Kwong, etc., etc.

Greg Morabito, Editor of Eater NY:

I don't think we realize how lucky we are in New York to have Pete Wells and Ryan Sutton working right now. They are both smart, thoughtful critics, that write highly entertaining and easily digestible reviews. There's a lot of talk about the sad state of restaurant criticism, but I don't think we're talking about how good these guys are right now.

Charlotte Druckman, Senior Editor at Medium and Skirt Steak author:

Look at all the people who were written about ad nauseam and stories recycled. Everything else is probably more interesting or, at least, worth taking a look at. The problem is that the same stories keep getting told. It's feast or famine.

Matt Buchanan of The New Yorker:

Free. Gluten.

I want to know more about the Chop't salad economy, which isn't very cool because it's midtown drone food. But when will that bubble burst? I demand answers.

Zach Brooks, founder of Midtown Lunch and co-host of the Food is the New Rock podcast:

The death of quality food journalism was greatly exaggerated in the aftermath of San Francisco Chronicle closing its food section. Lucky Peach is printing (yes, printing) some of the best food journalism around. You want to read Robert Sietsema? You still can. Cookbook publishing? Never been bigger. What's dying right now is not quality food journalism. It's the outdated business models of old-school print publications who thought that pageviews and banner ads would be able to subsidize their bloated budgets, which more often than not include now completely obsolete test kitchens. People still want quality food content... they just don't have to go to newspapers and alt-weeklies anymore to get it.

Alyssa Shelasky, Writer and Author of Apron Anxiety:

I thought someone was writing a story on why Brooklyn Heights (and by extension, DUMBO) has terrible food?! A must! And, as [Grub Street editor] Alan Sytsma knows, for years I've wanted to write an investigative piece on whether or not everyone is still doing cocaine in restaurant bathrooms.

Roy Choi at the MAD Symposium. [Screenshot: Vimeo]

Helen Rosner, Executive Digital Editor of Saveur:

Look, it's not fun to talk about gender, race, class, and privilege in the food world, but we need to. We've got the gender thing sort-of covered, or at least the wheels are turning in a promising way, but race and class are less sexy and also much harder to confront. Roy Choi, bless his goddamn heart, started some great conversations with his MAD Symposium presentation, but it petered out almost immediately.

Elizabeth Auerbach, food writer and blogger behind ElizabethOnFood:

The global recession is really taking its toll on restaurants. Numerous established restaurants are quietly struggling to keep their heads above water. In many countries in Europe, lunch bookings have dropped severely and not just at fine dining places. While we are chasing the flavor of the month, we forget that great restaurants, right on our doorstep, still need our support and our custom.

Sharlee Gibb, Melbourne-based writer and restaurant expert:

Community projects such as The Pig Idea in the UK, which is highlighting and creating awareness about the unnecessary and destructive way that forests are cleared in South America to grow soy and other crops for pig feed. Their solution relies on feeding pigs food waste which would otherwise be thrown out into landfill.

Robbie Swinnerton, Japan Times restaurant reviewer and Tokyo Food File blogger:

The elephant in the room that no one is talking about in Tokyo is the impending takeover of Japanese agribusiness by Monsanto, through the forthcoming Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade agreement. Hello GM crops; sayonara traditional agriculture.

Kyle Nabilcy, Isthmus food writer:

I'm no expert, but as much as the subject has been discussed over the last couple of years, I feel like we're still not talking enough about the health of our oceans, and the damage we're doing to biodiversity in the planet's aquatic biomes.

Kerry Diamond, Editor of Cherry Bombe:

The media as a whole gets too caught up in what's new, next, and hot. I'd love to see more coverage of farms and the food supply chain. Chefs, diners, restaurant owners, everyone needs to care more about those two subjects. I actually heard a journalist say he was tired of restaurants noting where they source certain ingredients. Really? You shouldn't be allowed to write about food if you think that. Go buy some factory raised chicken and stay home.

Diversity among chefs and the food press is another issue. Gender got a lot of play late in the year thanks to Time magazine, but the lack of diversity among chefs and writers/editors/bloggers is troubling. What are we as an industry doing to change that?

Peter Meehan of Lucky Peach:

Everything was perfect. Absolutely perfect. Bravo. (Slow clap. Rose petals rain down. A Mariah Carey song plays.)

Trading Post opened this past Summer in New York City's Hurricane Sandy-damaged South Street Seaport. [Photo: Daniel Krieger]

Adam Goldberg, blogger behind A Life Worth Eating:

It's been more than a year since Sandy struck and the South Street Seaport remains a ghost town. This is an incredible waterfront space, a city within a city with a lot of potential. Trading Post and Jack's Stir Brew just recently opened and reopened, but there's still room for more cafes and small shops to flourish.

Andrew Zimmern, Host of Bizarre Foods:

Despite all the attention paid to it, our food system is in disrepair from bottom up. But at least that is a mostly talked about subject because the bad guys aren't "us." Many food folks have been screaming in the wind that eating well in America is a class privilege. That socio-economic disparity isn't right, it's not sustainable and to not address it while making a living in the food world smacks of hypocrisy. We need the rest of you to scream louder.

The "under-cover" side of the equation is hard to pin down, and there's a bitter irony here: websites and magazines under-report many issues like this one because it sells fewer glossies and creates fewer hits than a Paula Deen rant or a video of someone making tobacco salmon ice cream with liquid nitrogen. Roy Choi, Tom Colicchio, José Andrés, and many others have been trying to get everyone's attention for a while that its now or never. I choose now. It's cool these days to be conversant about the vanishing giant blue fin schools and to eat sustainable fish, but it's not cool to talk about the fact that the modern food utopia for many is unrealized and a highly visible minority fiddles while Rome burns.

Mike Thelin, Feast Portland Co-Organizer:

GMOs. It's not a sexy topic, but the debate has been wrongheadedly framed as a good vs. bad thing. The debate should be about transparency. There is not one example in all of history wherein humanity has not benefited from transparency. It's crazy to me that smart people are fighting that.

The Gurgling Cod:

Amazed how much The Owl got slept on, especially by John Mariani. Looking forward to its relaunch. Self-taught guy doing bootleg wd~50 shit in an abandoned Pizza Hut on the outskirts of Greenville. Now he will be doing similar stuff in a new location.

Kat Kinsman, Managing Editor of CNN Eatocracy:

We need to have more conversations about the treatment of service workers, from fair wages and distribution of tips to sick leave and on-the-job harassment. Diners don't want to see how the sausage is made, and it's up to us in the media to shine a brighter light on the conditions in which people work — and often barely eke out a living.

I also am increasingly aware that a lot of diners either don't know or don't care about how tipping actually WORKS, and how it's taxed and distributed, and it would behoove all of us to share more public education on the matter.

Adam Roberts, Amateur Gourmet blogger and cookbook author:

You did a good job, food media. No complaints!

Copenhagen newcomer Amass has its own sizable garden. [Photo: Martin Kaufmann]

Alexandra Forbes, Food Writer and Columnist of Folha de São Paulo:

Chefs are becoming botanists, gardeners, and farmers. A couple of years ago, finding excellent suppliers from nearby farms and working with them to get customized produce was enough for most, maybe complemented by a bit of foraging and a few herbs planted out back. Now, El Celler de Can Roca has a new vegetable garden across the street; Sean Brock has become an expert in heirloom varieties of rice, corn and other plants and a researcher of seeds; and the highly-acclaimed Amass that recently opened in Copenhagen has an expansive view of...their own vegetable garden! Mirazur's Mauro Colagreco takes most of his veg and herbs from a magical and expansive garden perched on a cliff across from the restaurant, the most enchanting chef's garden I've ever seen. Even Ferran Adrià has taken up gardening as his main hobby, losing considerable amount of weight in the process.

Janice Leung Hayes, blogger behind e_ting in Hong Kong:

We still need more regional Chinese coverage. It's time to go beyond Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing and Sichuan, and to get out of the city into rural China.

Kate Krader, Food & Wine Restaurant Editor:

People aren't talking nearly enough about the amazing work that Dan Barber is doing at Stone Barns, through programs like Seeds: The Future of Flavor conference that he hosted earlier this Fall.

Bonjwing Lee, photographer and blogger behind the Ulterior Epicure:

I think that quality is the most important untold story of this year, and most years. I wish food media would focus more on understanding and talking about quality - ingredient quality, quality of cooking, etc. - rather than doting on personalities, hyping stunts, and trying to discover the "next big thing." The next big thing should be an understanding and appreciation of quality.

Speaking of quality, why isn't the food media talking about the amazing food that Justin Cogley is cooking at Aubergine at the l'Auberge Carmel? Or about Megan Garrelts's flakey crust pies at Rye in Leawood, Kansas? They're amazing. Nick Wesemann may be the most talented pastry chef no one talks about; he's at The American Restaurant in Kansas City.

Per-Anders and Lotta Jorgensen, Editors of Fool Magazine:

Too few pieces of investigative food journalism. Poorly written and researched reviews of restaurants.

Ian Froeb, St. Louis Post-Dispatch Restaurant Critic:

Not so much untold as an extension of the current discussion about tipping vs. service charges: What is it really like in 2014 to make a living, or at least try to get by, in a major American city on a server's or a cook's wages? Seems especially apt when so many of the big-name chefs are jetting around the world on book tours or to attend symposiums with the other big-name chefs.

· All Year in Eater 2013 Coverage [-E-]

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