It's almost going to be a year now since the Orange County Register hired James Beard-award winning food critic Brad A. Johnson to be their first full-time food critic in years, and he's been everything we expected him to be: thoughtful, bitchy, skewing toward Newport Beach and South County tastes at the expense of ethnic restaurants, but ultimately a welcome, essential voice to OC that still couldn't beat Edwin at the Orange County Press Club. Seriously: we like his stuff.
So color us surprised when foodie website The Daily Meal released its annual poll of the best and worst food critics in the United States as voted on by chefs–and Johnson placed dead last. Just as he did last year. WHAAAA???
The poll is here, along with their methodology, rankings of what they call the nation's 20 most prominent reviewers (unsurprisingly, Jonathan Gold tops nearly every category). Daily Meal also enlivens their poll by sharing comments from those who participated–anonymous, of course. “We wrote a long letter to the editor about Brad and how disparaging his reviews have been in Orange County, but they didn't publish it,” one wrote. “Let's just say he's not my favorite and I'm in good company on that one.”
That wasn't all. OC's chefs also deemed Johnson America's dullest food critic, one with the worst prose style (one of the quotes Daily Meal excerpted was that Johnson is “obsessed with tearing apart everyone's french fries”–HAHAHAHAHA! IT'S TRUE!), the third-worst when it comes to integrity (i.e., not accepting free meals, which isn't my idea of Johnson), and the critic they'd least like to share a meal with (“I invited Brad to share a cup of coffee with me, but he declined,” wrote one anonymous chef, and DUH, diva: Johnson values his anonymity. Should we tell you how many meals Edwin has declined over the years and will continue to do so?).
Yes: instead of delighting in Johnson's evisceration by OC's chefs (I wonder who was polled..), we're going to defend him. We actually have exchanged pleasantries for years, even though Johnson told me the last time we ate (at El Borrego Sagrado in SanTana–where's that review, Brad?) that he didn't trust me, a comment that still mystifies. Johnson knows his high dining and even the dives, so OC's chefs need to accept the pain with the pleasure–that's what food critics are supposed to do. Of course, that's what Edwin and I don't do in our dead-tree edition–I'm still of the opinion that we'd rather tell people where to go eat instead of where not to go eat–but then again, that must be why Edwin is America's least-appreciated food voice.
Anyhoo, carry on, Brad. And have you heard of a place called SanTana? Lot of good Mexican restaurants there, Mexican restaurants you've never reviewed in place of lame-ass El Farolito in Placentia…