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Ask the Critic: S. Irene Virbila

Question: What qualifications does one need to become a food critic other than the desire to be paid to eat at fancy restaurants?

Tom Gibson

Redondo Beach

Virbila: I think you have to have a curiosity about all kinds of foods. It would be hard to be a restaurant critic if you were a vegetarian, say, or someone who didn’t like organ meats or anything spicy. You have to find restaurants endlessly interesting and entertaining. You have to be able to write. And in L.A., you have to not mind driving an hour or two to check out something that sounds interesting.

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It definitely helps to have traveled and tasted Thai or Viennese or Provencal cooking firsthand. I’ve traveled all over Europe and Asia, hanging out in markets, asking a zillion questions, following cooks back to their kitchens.

Someone who cooks can often be a better critic than someone who doesn’t, because he or she has the tools to identify what went wrong -- or right.

I have to say, though, that of all the dozens of restaurant critics I know, nobody set out to be one. I’ve been a cook, cookbook editor, freelance writer and editor. I studied to be a sommelier in Paris, but decided I’d rather write.

Got a question? Go to calendarlive.com/askthecritic to e-mail The Times’ experts on pop music, movies, TV and restaurants, or to browse a free archive of responses.

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