1 May 2017

The gospel according to Jay

From Nine To Noon, 11:29 am on 1 May 2017

He has chefs quaking in their boots - and is the master of skewering all manner of heinous crimes against food and good taste.

Jay Rayner is a restaurant critic, feature writer and award-winning food journalist, and his brutally honest review of Le Cinq restaurant in Paris earlier this month made headlines around the world.

It was applauded as the "funniest, bitchiest food review" in a long time.

But speaking to RNZ’s Kathryn Ryan, Rayner says he didn’t go into the restaurant preparing to take it down.

“I don’t go looking for bad meals, they’re like colds and car crashes – they sort of happen to me.”

He had intended to write about the peak luxury food experience – which at Le Cinq cost roughly €300 a head – but was thoroughly disappointed.

Since the review he says he’s now hated by the French but loved around the rest of the world.

“I think that’s better than the other way around.”

Rayner says while some people won’t think twice about dropping hundreds of dollars on a sports game, a case often has to be made for expensive meals.

“Because we need food for nutrition, some people get a bit uncomfortable with the idea of the expensive restaurant… I see no problem with that, it’s just where you see your memories coming from.”

He says it’s his job to sell newspapers – or the digital equivalent – but not restaurants.

“The job of a writer is to keep being read, but you’ve got to do that with authority and with passion and without making it look like it’s a put up job.”

Rayner says he’s a writer first and foremost and during his career has covered almost everything, bar sport.

Writing about food allows him to reach into almost every aspect of people’s lives.

“Emotion and passion and pleasure, but it’s also about politics and the environment and who we are.

“It is a subject that as a writer takes you anywhere and everywhere.”

Rayner will be talking about his book, The Ten (Food) Commandments to a New Zealand audience at the Auckland Writers Festival.

One of the commandments he mentions in the book is ‘Food shall not mistake food for pharmaceuticals’, in response to the use of pseudo-science used in food writing.

“The uses and abuses of scientific research by people who are trying to make a point are truly terrible.”

He says the way humans are formed and the technology of food fascinates him.

Another of his commandments, “Thou shall choose thy dining companions bloody carefully” is based on his experiences of being a restaurant critic for some time.

“Every now and then you find yourself in the company of someone you wish you weren’t.

“I’m a man of 50, moving into grouchy old man status, so basically that one’s a rant about the slow eaters and the people who take ages to order and the ones who eat with their mouths open.”

Rayner’s negative reviews make up less than a fifth of his work, he says, but those are the ones people remember.

Jay Rayner will be speaking at the Auckland Writer’s Festival on 19 May.