As word got out that I would be ending my work as Westword restaurant critic at the end of December 2015, all anyone could ask was “Why?” Friends who know me best put it another way: “Are you crazy? You’re being PAID to eat out, and you’re choosing to leave?” The decision is bittersweet, but I know it’s the right one, even if it means I’ll be cooking more in the next few months than I have in the past few years. So why do it? Why leave a job I’ve loved?
Some critics approach their reviews as compilations of details. How was the steak cooked? Did the soup need more salt? Was the server attentive? I’ve approached my reviews as something else, something more meaningful and, I hope, more interesting to read: as profiles. This term is normally applied to people – celebrity profiles, chef profiles, etc. – but when you’ve been around restaurants as long as I have, you begin to understand that restaurants are living, breathing institutions, and that they have personalities, too. Every review I wrote, then, became a story. Who is this restaurant? What is it trying to be? In search of answers, I ate out. A lot. But I did more than that. I listened. I watched. I interviewed restaurant owners and executive chefs and asked them what they were aiming for, tried to uncover their hopes and dreams. Then I assessed how well those hopes and dreams were being translated to the food, to the servers, to the dining room, to the overall experience.
But all of that took time. And after more than three years of telling restaurants’ stories, it’s time for me to be a main character in my own family’s story. It’s time for me to focus on understanding my children’s hopes and dreams, time for me to be around more so I can help them achieve them.
Before anyone quotes Sheryl Sandberg and tells me to lean in, I’ll add that this decision is more of a calculated risk than any I’ve ever taken, and that includes hopping a flight to Paris after graduation with no job, no place to stay, and no return ticket. In her thought-provoking book, Sandberg stresses the importance of being bold and accepting stretch assignments. Deciding to scale back my career in favor of my family is nothing if not a stretch assignment. Work is where the comfort is; being home more feels like the risk. But it’s the assignment that also feels right at this juncture, with one kid entering high school and two others not far behind. Besides, I’ll still be doing what I love, writing food stories for Westword — just not in the role of restaurant critic, with its heavy demands on nighttime hours.
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Thanks for letting me share these stories with you over the past three years. It’s been a privilege. Cheers!
We're nearing the end of our search for Gretchen Kurtz's replacement, but it's not too late to apply — fast! Find all the details here. Fair warning: We're looking for a reviewer who can work anonymously — as Gretchen did, and will again, which is why we're not including her photo here — so if you're well-known on the local dining scene, this is not the job for you!