In advance of Gretchen Kurtz's debut next week as the new Cafe critic, we asked some of our previous restaurant reviewers to weigh in -- and given their jobs, we do mean weigh in -- with advice for our newest critic. Kyle Wagner, now the travel editor at the Denver Post, served up her thoughts first; followed by Laura Shunk, who moved to New York City in June; and then John Kessler, now at the Atlanta Journal Constitution.
And finally, we have these words from Jason Sheehan, now at Philadelphia Magazine.
First off, congratulations. You now hold one of the greatest food writing gigs in the world. Writing about restaurants -- and, more specifically, writing about restaurants in Denver for Westword -- is one of the rarest and sweetest jobs out there. It's more fun than a sack full of monkeys and liquor. You're going to remember it forever as that high, golden time in your life when thinking hard about salami sandwiches while drinking at Club 404 constituted a reasonable day's work and when rolling into the office stinking of gin at noon with a black eye, a fistful of receipts and your pockets stuffed with tacos isn't cause for an intervention, but just a Thursday.
Everyone is giving you advice on how to handle yourself, and now it's my turn. To wit, I do have a couple small suggestions --not about how to do the job (I've seen your resume, you already know how to do the job), but how to do it for Westword.
1) Don't take anyone's advice about anything. That includes mine. Everyone is going to have an opinion on how best to handle yourself in the coming days, but they're all wrong. Best thing about the new job? You get to do it your way -- however you see fit -- and everyone else can just fuck off. If the well-wishers and would-be helpers get too numerous or pushy, buy a pistol.
2) Hate mail is good for the soul. It reminds you that people care enough to call you names in public.
3) Jesus and the Word Gods have blessed us with a wonderfully pliant and evocative language with which to write about foie gras, burritos and pie. And at Westword -- maybe for the first time -- you'll get to use the language the way it was meant to be used: as either a fine instrument for delicately convincing others of your wisdom or a blunt tool for bludgeoning the dumb. My guess is that, while writing for the august pages of the New York Times, you didn't get to use words like motherfucker or super-douche. Now you can. Choose wisely, stand your ground, and never let the motherfucking super-douches tell you to be nice.
4) It is perfectly acceptable to use your expense account to buy a sack full of monkeys and liquor. Provided, of course, the drunk monkeys are absolutely vital to the reporting of your story. And really, what story isn't improved by drunk monkeys?
5) It is also perfectly acceptable to burn 2,000 words writing about the weird little Asian restaurant in Aurora where you ate fish balls and got chased out for singing a drunken karaoke version of "Stand By Your Man." Why? Because those stories are the best and truest kinds of stories and there is no other publication anywhere that would run that kind of thing. Do it for Westword and maybe you'll win a James Beard award.
5a) On the other hand, if you get kicked out of the Palace Arms for singing a drunken karaoke version of "Stand By Your Man," save it for the blog. First, because you want to retain a little bit of class. Second, because you want to get your side of that story out there ahead of the police blotter report.
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6) Don't buy a wig. Why? Because you're gonna get caught. And then you're just the idiot sitting in the dining room in a wig.