For the love of food

Oct 20 2011

Illustration by Ricky King

I feel the need to address an issue that has been plaguing our bourgeoning restaurant industry here in St. John’s for a number of years. That issue is Karl Wells, the once weatherman, turned food critic. Somehow over the course of the past decade, he has managed to turn his status from a local TV personality, into sitting on the judging panel of the local and national Gold Medal Plates competition, which celebrates the best in Canadian food, and a restaurant panelist with En Route magazine. The only designation that Karl holds to validate his role is the vague title of an ‘accredited personal chef’.

While I do not wish to discredit anything that Karl has done in his career as a media personality, or for maybe telling someone in Toronto that Newfoundland is doing good food, Karl has been continually doing our restaurant industry a disservice with his weekly Saturday column, ‘Dining Out’. His nonsensical commentary, lack of culinary knowledge and audacious comments, going as far as suggesting that he taking credit for the national success of such local restaurants as Atlantica, are embarrassing.

Week in and week out Karl takes to the restaurants in and around the Avalon Peninsula, reviewing and re-reviewing anyone that will take him – from the fish and chip joints to the fine dining restaurants in downtown St. John’s. While he undoubtedly filled a niche of a St. John’s ‘restaurant critic’ (using the term VERY loosely) and initially raised the profile of local restaurants, he has now resorted to writing articles that include little to no insight into the great food that is coming out of our province and the chefs at the forefront of this movement. Instead he has been dedicating the majority of his column to quirky commentary and self-validating dribble that one would expect from a gossip column.

It is a downright shame that we have to turn to the Globe and Mail, a publication notorious for writing negatively about Newfoundland, to get insight into what is actually happening in Newfoundland cuisine. The article “When it comes to cuisine, Newfoundland is a ‘have’ province” was featured in the October 4th edition of the Globe & Mail, and beautifully described the culinary movement, inspired by our chefs and how their cuisine is fast becoming a byproduct of our environment in Newfoundland, and reflects the close cooperation those chefs have with local farmers, producers and their products.

This article ran the same week as Karl’s article on Atlantica. A full-page spread that devoted about 10% to the food, and the rest to airing out dirty laundry.

Instead of using his profile to help foster a community amongst local restaurateurs and chefs, he is acting as a dividing force – focusing his attention on backroom drama, backhanded smears and politics – three things that have no place in an unbiased critique of a restaurant and their cuisine. One does not need to look far to recognize what Karl is doing is not the work of a restaurant critic, but of someone who has eaten in restaurants and likes the attention. Do not get me started on his poor grammar, inadequate and often wrong description of dishes and his lack of editing.

I have worked extensively in the restaurant industry, and I know a lot of restaurateurs in St. John’s. Above all else I am a food enthusiast who loves to dine and is interested in what is happening in Newfoundland cuisine and how it relates to what is happening Nationally. That does not give me grounds to be a restaurant critic, so I am at a loss as to how Karl is where he is. While I do often read his article, it is not for increasing my food knowledge, but to see what nonsense he has taken on this week. If it is him reviewing a club sandwich, using a whole column describing a take out dinner with two young children, or letting us know that some anonymous girl is wearing designer sunglasses. Karl column, and attitude, has become a both a joke and a thorn in the sides of most downtown restaurants.

This is an open call to anyone who has any journalistic skill, knowledge of food on a local and national level, and a honest interest in growing the restaurant community in Newfoundland – not just their personality – to come to the forefront and write something creditable; something we can send with confidence to the national media so they can see what Newfoundland is doing, as opposed to waiting for the national media to send that information along to us.

Rant by Anonymous

37 responses so far

  1. Fantastic! Couldn’t have said it any better. That man is possibly one of the worst people out there to be doing this kind of thing. He’s terrible at it.

  2. oh my god man, thank you!

  3. Haha…great Rant! Finally! I agree whole heartedly!!!! Karl, its about time you hung up your self imposed title of “critic”. And for that matter, how the Telegram ever let him become their restaurant critic in the first place makes me wonder about its credibility as well. His article the other week on Atlantica was a disgrace…and I am SO glad that he’s been called out on it. Good on ya “Anonymous”

  4. Agreed! I was embarrassed for him. There was no need to get into the nitty gritty of Atlantica. Whatever went on with the business side of things was none of our business. There are two sides to every story and Karl chose to write on one of them. It seemed like his motive was to create a divide and make some sort of point on a personal agenda he has.

  5. I, for one, would miss Karl’s purple prose, his seriously over-the-top figurative language, AND his fascinating judging rubric.

  6. Agreed … to take up an entire page of the Evening Telegram to discuss the gossip regarding the ownership at Atlantica was pointless! Who cares !!! I want to hear about the food, the atmosphere etc. Not the Atlantica “Days of Our Lives” version!

  7. anonymous love.

    What a great article/rant! This should be put into the scope AND the telegram so that we can get rid of Karl for once and for all. You are so right, he is not doing our fantastic food culture and cuisine in St. John’s any favors with his writing, nor is he educating anyone on food. Well said, anonymous, you deserve a metal for speaking up! Made my day.

  8. a metal?

  9. Here, Here!

  10. well then you’re a moron

  11. having just returned from my annual trip to St. Johns…I cant speak to his reviewing but I certainly hope for a day when the average restos in nfld exceed the quality of their food ingrediants they cook with…No one loves nfld more then me and food is the weak link out there. Perhaps a critic that will challenge some of the local cooks and chefs to exel would be the right thing. Someone get Velma to fix their sewage gas and urine stink please……..

  12. Usually, when one is pointing out the flaws in another person’s grammar and poor editing skills, it helps to proof one’s own writing before hand. Thorn in thy eye and all that. . .

  13. I was going to say the same thing, but then realized that this s/he is a civilian that is posting their thoughts in rant form on a website, unlike the subject who is placed in a published article weekly. Hopefully they take better care if they decide to put something out that is meant for the paying public! Not bad though, nonetheless.

  14. I cant’t stand his critiquing skills. He doesn’t describe the food well nor does he choose menu items that are appealing (to me). If I was going to critique a restaurant, I would critique it all including service (which he omits all the time). There is a certain restaurant in town that I love foodwise but will not go there until their service improves (I have been there 3 times in the last few months, have also informed management). Also, I think he should also review cheaper restaurants, family friendly restaurants, as well as the high-end restaurants. While I love eating at places like Atlantica, I cannot afford to do so all the time and would like to know of new places to take my family. But what do I know? I am not a writer. Also if the Telegram gets a new person, that person should remain anonymous. That way, the service and food they get will be same as the normal customer not because they are a critic.

  15. Not to mention the fact that his experience at a restaurant could hardly be compared to that of the ordinary diner. As, not only a recognizable figure for his TV work, but a well known “critic” he could be given superior treatment.

    When he makes a reservation does he book a table for Karl Wells restaurant critic??

    A well known restaurant critic for the Los Angeles Times was outed last year by an overzealous restaurateur, a picture was snapped and posted to a blog.

    This raised the question of whether or not this would have an impact on the meals the critic would be served now that her identity was known. The section editor at the time defended the critic saying that as she always made reservations under a different name. The chef and staff could not change anything they had done up until the point the critic sat down and therefore the meal would likely be the same as what is served to any other guest.

    In my opinion however the service can be modified the minute a critic is recognized. During my career as a chef in the 90′s and early 2000′s I remember a certain Halifax food critic coming in to the restaurant I was working at the time. As he was easily recognizable the level of service he received could not be compared to the average guest including the complimentary glass of Louis the 14th Brandy.

  16. FINALLY.

    This has needed to be said for a long time but nobody in the industry (or the readership of The Telegram) has ever had the balls to do it. Congratulations.

  17. Finally someone says what everyone is thinking. He is nothing other than a poncey phoney with poor diction! No one in the industry likes or respects him. The average seasoned waitress would know more about food and the restaurant industry than him. He’s a poser and a wannabe. He just sucks and his personality is so flat and dated. One Chef One Critic is the most stifled exchange of conversation I have ever had to witness….

  18. Eateries in the area must want to put up the ‘closed’ sign if they see Carl Wells coming through their doors. I thought the job of a restaurant critic was to provide information to potential diners about the complete dining experience. Sounds to me like Karl with a K is using his visibility to puff himself up rather than doing a responsible job on providing accurate interpretations about the places he visits. Does Karl think he’s the star reporter working to expose the antics and goings on in restaurant kitchens throughout the land?

    Oh Karl with a K, you’re a little fish in a little pond. Nobody wants you to be Woodward and/or Bernstein. Leave that to the big boys, won’t you?

    ps Enjoy those free scallops with a side of pretension.

  19. i really believe karl wells gave himself his own title.he had to do something upon retirement.say cbc didn’t want him.who is he to put pen to paper upon an individual’s hard work..from the owner down to the dishwasher…to the person who cleans the place.restaurant business includes everybody.he praises the big guys with all the medals,and waves them right on through.you know karl,in two sentences you can deter business from people’s livelyhood.why don’t you take up…selling flowers or…..just delivering them to all your ma..chef heros…..

  20. What I find interesting is that the majority of you, including the person who wrote and posted the initial rant, are anonymous. It’s easy to be critical of an individual when you are not letting that person or the public know who you are. I find it rather cowardly and most certainly less then creditable. If you want people to take you seriously, don’t be such gutless wonders.

    It seems to me that all of you are giving Karl’s writing far more power than is reality. You seem to think that his column in The Telegram is a disservice to the restaurants in Newfoundland. Not the case. The most Karl’s column does, as a food columnist, is spark some interest in a restaurant that may entice people to pay a visit to that establishment for a meal. That’s it. The choice is yours. Once your foot is in the door, it’s up to the staff of that establishment to prove itself. Failure to provide good service and food is going to be the determining factor for the survival of that restaurant, not what Karl Wells writes in a column.

    Everyone is a food critic these days. Check out yelp, chowhound, urbanspoon, trip advisor, any form of social media, etc, the list goes on and on. One does not need to be trained as a professional chef or own a restaurant business to be a food critic, even those that have their articles published in newspapers, magazines, websites, Fearless Critic and so on. Google “how to become a food critic” and you will not be as lost, Anonymous. Bottom line, the restaurant has to leave the patron feeling satisfied or they are dead in the water. Remember, there is no such thing as bad press, just overpriced bad food and poor service.

    Tom

  21. People don’t need to give their full name to have an opinion. Some people don’t because it may come back to bite them, such as in the workplace but people will always want to speak their mind so it helps that they don’t need to give their real name or a name at all.

    Either way, the majority has spoken. The man’s writing is not enjoyable to read and seems to miss the point every time.

  22. Maureen, I very much agree.
    The entire point of this is to discuss things, such as Karl Wells poor interpretations and gossip mongerng, is a safe environment where you can express opinions without the potential of harming your business or drawing negative attention to your person.

    Tom Clark, if you have nothing more to contribute than our bravery for posting your full name on this forum, than why not move on and join a discussion with other superheroes?

  23. First, I think the point to take home from Tom’s post is that anyone can be a critic these days. I think he’s right.

    Second, pretty much everyone in town has heard something about the situation between Atlantica and Raymonds. It’s the only interesting thing that has happened in the St. John’s restaurant industry. We all heard shit went down and Karl, being the great man he is, went out there and got the story for all of us. Thank you, Karl! Thank you for writing about food and, somehow, making it worthy of a lengthy internet “discussion”. As for the rest of you: how dare any of you say anything critical of a critic. Have you no sense of irony?

    Karl describes the food and says it’s good. Does the food at Atlantica not fall under the “good” category? Do you need him to write his reviews in poetry? Does a proper food critic pontificate about the wonders of a tomato?

    Go to Mcdonalds, forget about the happy meal, order off the big boy menu and then grow up.

  24. This struck me because I also read the articles in the Globe and it was in that paper, usually totally devoid of Newfoundland content, that I found out about Todd Perrin’s amazing sounding Roots, Rants and Roars event. I was so disappointed not to have known in advance, I thought ” But this is exactly the kind of event I would love to go to, it is totally for me and how is it that I didn’t hear about it?”

    Okay.
    I agree that Karl Wells is no critic.
    It’s hard to be a critic in a town where we all want to be supportive and encouraging- and also supported and encouraged by others. But it is clear we need a real food critic. The telegram has reason to keep on Karl Wells, but what about the Scope, which we are clearly all reading? They cut the Food Nerd and didn’t replace it, and have very few articles about food or restaurants besides the inane online reviews which are problematic for many reasons including lack of control over owners and other interested parties posting. I good food critic needs to visit the restaurant multiple times at different times of day and week, with different people and taste many menu items. See the fabulous book by former LA food critic Ruth Reichl (Garlic and Sapphires) if you want to hear what a good critic can be. LISTEN TO YOUR READERS SCOPE! WE WANT A REAL FOOD CRITIC!!!

  25. My husband and I have been saying the same things for years, and I’m thrilled someone finally put it out there.

    First, Karl Wells has no qualifications as a chef or as a journalist, to write such a column. He’s a celebrity only, in that he’s famous for being famous.

    Second, his criteria for evaluating restaurants has very little to do with the rating he gives. It has become increasingly obvious that if you’re a friend of Karl’s, or if you bend over backward to kiss his butt, you’ll get a great review. Or if you’re swanky enough. He often compares fine dining apples to corner diner oranges.

    Third, the anonymity is a huge thing. Of course, Karl gets special treatment, because everyone knows who he is, and I have no doubt, from the personal contact I’ve had with him, that he makes no bones about making it obvious that he’s there to do a review.

    In addition to not being qualified and not doing a proper job, he is a petty and pretentious man. A few years ago, my husband wrote a letter about his review saying that you could get a better deal at a local restaurant for a lot less money. Karl then proceeded, the next week, to write a scathing “review” of this mom and pop diner in what could only be described as a bid for revenge.

    Maybe if we had a proper food critic or two, the quality of service and food would improve (although it is getting much, much better!).

  26. I will be the first to agree that what Karl Wells write in his reviews is less than credible at times. He lacks basic knowledge of a trained professional and denies restaurant publicity to those who need it most before advertising events he himself is involved in.
    In saying that, No one else is stepping up to fill the niche that every other province , and every other city has fulfilled. We need a critic. Not even so much a critic as someone to put the small businesses out there for the public to review before deciding which one(s) they would like to dine in. We need an educated and capable person (who I agree should remain somewhat anonymous) to step up and start researching what Newfoundland and Labrador has to offer. The fact is, the restaurant industry is starting to boom , thanks to Charles and Perrin for their publicity in a small city.The problem is everyone would rather “rant” about the one person who is trying to fill that niche instead of stepping up and creating a new critic. Competition for Wells is what we all need to see. Then the question of whether or not we will still listen to him or the new guy will be answered!
    So to the Scope and all trained cooks, capable and beloved foodies out there – Step up. We need a new voice for all the hard working and kick ass chef’s in town!!

  27. Has anyone else noticed that Geoff Meeker has offered up an opinion on all this? He also gets the exclusive from Karl. See: http://www.thetelegram.com/Blog-Article/b/20847/Food-Fight

  28. Ryan Snoddon should be the new food critic

  29. I can’t comment on Karl’s articles because I rarely read them. However I do think that food critics have become obsolete now that virtually everyone has a computer. I’d rather go onto a website, such as the Scope, and read 50 comments from regular people than read one long-winded article from some pretentious “food critic”. Nothing personal against Karl Wells, but all food critics are hit-and-miss and I would rather hear a wide range of opinions from normal people.

  30. Also, this is somewhat off-topic, but I really don’t understand where you get this idea that the Globe and Mail is “notorious” for writing negatively about NL. I’m not trying to defend them, the Globe is a terrible paper, but aside from one comment that Margaret Wente wrote in an opinion piece like 10 years ago (to be honest, at the time I thought she was right) I’ve never seen them write negative of this province.

  31. Every single chance they get, they refer to baby seals.

  32. I have been saying for years how inadequate, unprofessional and inexperienced Mr. Wells is in his role as restaurant critique. Well said and well done Ranter! Thank You!

  33. funny stuff–I missed this while at sea….it is a crazy thing to look at and criticize our culture..on the one hand you get shit on because everything from NL is great right now(we are selling culture like never before and it is sad that the food industry in catching up) and on the other by engaging with critique you are often called a skeptic, whiner, or worse. This has been fun to read.

    In commenting here, while recognizing that the whole issue in most fundamental sense is a farce(Wells as restuarant critic)the broader issue is how far do we go at selling culture…I walked through Trinity one day about 5 years ago and was told that I needed to buy a ticket to look into a store..enough said…..many Nlers have been growing and using `local food` `regional food`, etc for years and yes the actual industry lagged far behind because it was trying to keep up with mainland trends (albeit always 10 years behind)…now if someone gets on a mainland show, or has a hit with a food product we laud such achievements as if to say `well look at us, now there we’ve made it…`commodification of food culture, whether Wells, Perrin or any others is simply that…one parting thought(and why I seldom write in on this stuff) is just get on with it….go eat…..say what you want t say and have self worth……

  34. Great rant / article and about time someone spoke OUT about Wells’ column! I’m not sure he even qualifies as a celebrity… certainly not a food critic… and even more certainly NOT a journalist! His articles are obnoxious and badly written but for whatever reason – the Telegram continues with these articles.

    Well done on the rant and great comments all around! Thank you!!

  35. Just a note about this subject.
    In all fairness Karl did feature a full page spread in the Saturday telegram a week before the Roots Rants and Roars festival. He interviewed Chef Todd Perrin about RRR and added all the necessary information regarding the event.

  36. I have issues with the presentation of this blog. The writer would certainly gain more credibility by stating his or her name. Is this person involved with a restaurant that received a negative review? However, I agree with some of what is said. I find the Wells column to be very self-indulgent and uninformative. I get the feeling that Mr. Wells enjoys attention and the notoriety of walking into a restaurant as a critic. I am curious as to whether the Telegram subsidizes his meals. That would explain reviewing restaurants more than 1 time. A couple of weeks ago, his article about the young actor was very weak and had very little to do with the food at the restaurant. If many people enjoy the column, maybe they should rename it, A Night Out With Karl or something like that.

  37. The Bottom Line.

    Karl Wells’ meteorologist skills are just as unreliable.

    Anyone receiving a bad review should work on it anyway.

    Rants like this have effects both positive and negative, anyone writing anything like this is best to stay anonymous.. Simply because reputation is EVERYTHING in this case.

    That being said, those of us who read it probably know who you are anyway.

    Cheers mate, until our paths cross again.