Some Thoughts Upon TripAdvisor

Trip Advisor bullies


I often consider myself accursed to live in our present era. Off the top of my head, I would say that airport security, the ubiquity of corporate fare and slurry, the tragedy of the Kadashian industry and the rise of the punditcracy where everyone imagines themselves to be Rhadamanthys, would mark a low point in human history.

As for the latter, there is nothing wrong with having opinions -I have plenty of them- but we now live in an era where some really ill-informed ideas and observations are being passed off as wisdom, ones that are having far-reaching and seemingly permanent consequences. Thus far, this new oracular center of power has been only moderately successful in exercising any restraint, sense of responsibility, or creating a consumer's paradise.

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One of the great tragedies of recent history has to be that we have ceased to make things. I’ll quote a passage by the much maligned Karl Marx, who understood ‘that man found satisfaction in the mastery and transformation of nature through his individual skills, and by his intelligence and creativity in fabricating a finished product. When mass production deskilled the workforce, it robbed workers of something very important, that could not be compensated for with higher wages’.

In our post-dignifying-work era, a large proportion of our day is spent on experiences, ones usually purchased as a service. To be visible, relevant and maybe in an effort to rediscover some of that 'satisfaction' stardust that Marx spoke of, one has to experience lots of things, and to prove that we really partook in the event we are encouraged to have a strong opinion on that aforementioned experience. In the mind-numbingly-stupid language of the new priesthood of ‘The Self’, we must ‘take ownership of our experiences!’
All this dovetails perfectly with other regressions in our societies; one being that in the absence of a manufacturing industry, services are king, so ‘experiences’ in the guise of its grubbier and less-elevated sibling: consumerism, is what actually drives our economies. The pauperization of post-manufacturing societies mean we are increasingly reliant upon services and consumerism to pay for all the goods that politicians shamelessly slope out the electoral trough with at every election in a pitiful attempt to remain in office whilst they negotiate their post-office consultancies with unsavoury leaders from less-than-democratic nations. 
Sorry, I digress. Back to sharing our opinions, which now assumes a patriotic duty as we drive our friends, or at least the Facebook version of friend down to the shops to replicate our ‘amazing’ experience.
The tiresome modern obsession with statistics and numbers as a reference for both quality and economic efficiency will ensure that all available data will be wrung from even the most mundane trip to the convenience store, thus allowing corporations to harvest greater profits with which their upper management can use to spend on cocaine orgies with prostitutes and expensive divorces for the executives whose wives have always despised them and were only hanging in there until the share price of the company was duplicitously driven to new stellar heights by exploiting or sacking more and more staff. Such a brutal vivisection of our every waking moment, our every banal activity must be the leitmotif of our generation, though seemingly inevitable since Der Letzte Mensch made the Faustian pact of ‘sausages and security’ in return for compliance and moral anesthetization.
Anyway, advertisers, not to mention political parties, will slavishly follow products, or people (commoditization is blurring the distinction) who manage to attract the largest following or generate the most 'Likes' -ones probably birthed in 'Like-farms' in India. With vast funds from merchandising lining up behind the most popular 'stuff', creative types have had to become celebrities to remain visible. As Jaron Lanier beautifully expressed the idea, "funding a civilization through advertising is like trying to get nutrition by connecting a tube from one's anus to one's mouth."
I suppose the loathsome TV reality shows of the Nineties are to blame. Those heady days, when exercising one's 'choice' by voting for whichever excruciatingly inept knucklehead Simon Cowell had created in a petri-dish that week, was heralded as the citizens most inviolable and important right, nay duty. It was happily ignored that the ideal was somewhat grubbier, having more to do with profits of the communications companies, or simply confusing the consumer like Buridan's Ass, dazzled so that they might buy 'lots' rather than what he actually needed.
 
Utter scum. a.k.a. The sinister nonce-looking Jacobi Cody Babchuk
Yet the spectacular success of these Coliseum-format Reality shows was duly noted, especially the fact that they were both highly addictive and perfect vehicles upon which myriad products could be hung, thus allowing vast profits to be created. The public were assigned an additional role other than that of the dupe who received the gargantuan telephone bill, they were cast as the baying, partisan crowd who were instructed in the catechisms of nastiness and schadenfreude. Through a complicit media, a new tribalism was fabricated where the public were encouraged to identify and follow particular contestants whilst maligning others. All, like early Christians, were brought into the arena to entertain us before they were mauled and annihilated by the judges, who whilst aesthetically inferior to lions, were equal to them in savagery.

The subsequent tragedy is that the X- Factor generation, like dogs having tasted human blood, quickly developed a taste for their opinions be heard on all manner of subjects as the profits from soliciting opinions was so fantastical. This is doing immeasurable harm to so many creative fields as the new Rhadymanthuses are becoming, through no discernible merit other than weight of numbers, the arbitrators of good taste.

This new punditcracy, this new era of scrutiny, examination and over-analysis is ruining whatever enjoyment there once was in creative fields. One unfortunate ramification being a breakdown in trust between the creator and the purchaser, as the former view new faces with suspicion who might be purchasing the product, or experience only to pass judgment rather enjoy, especially since ritual humiliation is so watchable –think Cowell and Michael Winner’s spectacularly cruel Sunday Times diatribes. Mediocre people have taken notice that you can achieve unmerited success by being the rudest and most destructive. How enlightened!
Other regrettable consequences include bland, sanitized and soulless products that are being callously dumped on the consumer, as such 'stuff' is perfectly calibrated to cause minimum offense, is uncontentious and therefore manages to attract the least 'thumbs-down' numbers. 
Deep breath. After all this ranting, this brings me to how my beloved gastronomy has been high-jacked by the 'scrutineers', the people who are too busy frowning, making notes, passing forkfuls of their food to their equally solemn companion to actually enjoy themselves.

Another brief digression.
I spent my formative years working for Joel Robuchon in Paris at his iconic restaurant Jamin. It was the most privileged education a young English cook could receive, both working for this great man -actually the greatest according to Michelin, Gault Millau, his peers, as well as every serious periodical, missing only the endorsement of people who almost voted Princess Diana 'Greatest Ever Britain'- as well as the privilege of being in Paris, capital of the country that invented notions of 'savoir-vivre' and epithets such as 'bon vivant'. It was literally my Pauline moment.

I would spend my entire meager salary on dining out and would sit in restaurants watching sophisticated Parisians take part in the age-old ritual of being 'å table'. There would be laughter, animated, grown-up conversation, visible expressions of delight as great wines and gustatory delectations were brought before them, served by authentic, passionate artisans. It seemed to be the apotheosis of good living and what distinguished the participants from lower beasts.

I often see this same wonderful ritual take place in my own restaurant. Set in a beautiful garden, surrounded by antiques from my girlfriends shop, it really is an earthly paradise. I am also privileged to have a lot of regulars, and on most evenings the garden and my assigned aisle will resemble a club, one full of regular faces, where everyone plays their role in the theater of living well. There will be laughter, air-kissing, chinking of glasses, audible sounds of appreciation. In return every one of the staff, including myself, will make the greatest effort to ensure the evening has been a pleasure for all concerned. It is a decent and noble thing to devote a life to.

Such an observation brings me to my present gripe. Just when did the 'tryers' and 'testers' take over this wonderful and rarefied world? When did goofy people with bad haircuts, dog-vomit-patterned shirts and no sense of aesthetics get to mark my homework?  In recent months, I've had the misfortune to entertain some really marginal types in my home, those who probably considered food as sustenance, company as net-working, and oenophilia as an exotic ailment, at least until discovering that by describing oneself as a 'foodie' one acquired all sorts of useful social kudos.

The loathsome Jacobi Cody Babchuk is an exemplary case of an angry, resentful nonentity who has discovered the blissful, cathartic pleasure -akin to a post-coital cigarette- of trashing people who do something better than him in life. Existence must be a terrible ordeal for poor Cody.
And Milo' knows more about food than Cody!
 
I love our security cameras! They have the advantage of recording history with greater accuracy and impartiality than many TripAdvisor commentators. So watching Cody and his half-baked wife eating is not only of anthropological interest as we can see how lower primates once used stone tools for the first time, the cameras can also record his actual behavior rather than the fictional account he wrote later.
Having broken a rib laughing so much as we watched him slouched over his dishes, seemingly unable to master the use of a knife, or watching him hold his wine glass like a tankard, you can actually see three completely empty starter plates, followed by two empty main course plates as well as his desserts. The cameras record this, it is a fact, and transcends foul opinion. He did mumble something to Alex about one dish 'not being to his taste.' It is my Roasted Duck dish with Cannelloni of Confit Leg and Red Wine Sauce finished with a knob of unsweetened chocolate. It has been on the menu for six years, and I consider it a classic. It has been consumed thousands of times and is re-ordered by our regulars with alacrity. Surely on such an occasion, the majority decision is right. That he didn't appreciate what so many people consider to be a great dish begs the question, 'at what point does subjectivity lurch into senselessness?
Loathsome Cody, conforming to the stereotypic small-minded person made some fatuous comment about cost and value, though is probably ignorant of both. We actually work on 50% food cost, another fact he would not have been able to comprehend, as his cretinous mindset would be to 'cut-costs', probably using produce found in skips, stuff I imagine he is more familiar with eating. Additionally, I am extraordinarily proud to employ nine full time staff for a twenty seat restaurant who have salaries well above the national average, another fact (oh those nasty facts) reflected in our costs. Happily, my girlfriend and I are not ‘rational utility maximizers’, but aspire to have a ‘good life’. The business of Park Cafe is actually selling antiques, whilst my little table was meant to be a thing for my girlfriend and I to enjoy in this wonderful country. It really was until scum such as Cody discovered us.
I suspect the behaviour of his sycophantic wife bothered him more than it did me. She kept on waving to us as we served the plates on other tables, giving me thumbs-up signs as though dinner was a game-show. Maybe he isn’t a very happy person and couldn’t bare to see a full restaurant where my girlfriend and the staff are chatting warmly with the customers, whilst he is starved of such amiable delectations. Maybe he’s not very good at anything in life, never experiences the satisfaction of creative work (earlier Marx quote) and therefore wants to break things, or maybe he just hated me and thought I needed to be taught a lesson.  
For having safely left the restaurant he proceeded to write the most hateful, calumnious piece imaginable. If 'review' alludes to a point of view that might be considered informative, he failed miserably. It was simply a visceral and frenzied attack upon someone whom he hated. That TripAdvisor provides a platform for this kind of vindictiveness is truly shocking.
Not according to them. In modern parlance, the 'mission' of Trip Advisor is to offer 'real' insights into hotels and restaurants that are unsullied by loathsome PRs manipulating public perceptions. Yet their ubiquity and omnipotence require a degree of responsibility and TripAdvisor appears oblivious/indifferent to the fact that their site is the vehicle of choice for people such as Babchuk to pursue personal vendettas against individuals and businesses who otherwise have (i) reputations (ii) financial responsibilities (iii) …… er, feelings. In times gone by, a review was something informative, yet many of the pieces written about me are brutal assassinations. Babchuk's piece was on TripAdvisor by nine o'clock the next morning. Maybe it was written before his visit, or maybe he wrote it in the car on his way back to the hotel, either way, his nasty opinions were something he was in a terrific hurry to share. This sort of thing simply erodes the trust that should exist between chef and customer.

Rather than the aforementioned 'savoir-vivre' I suspect this tosser believes that dining out means sitting on a panel as plates are placed before him by supplicant cooks for him 'to test' before he passes Solomonic judgment on such servants for the entertainment of his family. I don't watch the TV chef programmes, but I understand the formula is something along the lines of the chef having to break down in tears at his initial humiliation and accept his culinary redemption through the chastisement of his judges. Incidentally, Cody has submitted four reviews for TripAdvisor (all with dreadful prose style) and all four are 'Terrible' rated, a fact that makes you wonder whether he uses the site as a place of flagellation?

He concluded his 'piece' with the illuminating statement that "I was no star chef", which made me wonder whether his 'foodie' apprenticeship was served scoffing TV dinners in front of Dinner Impossible, or Iron Chef, a faux-education that distorted his understanding as to what dining our should actually entail. Sorry to disillusion him, but I and many people like me, don't aspire to be his 'star' personalities, a face to follow before eventually tiring of. Instead, I remain what I've always been, a creatively minded perfectionist, one who has a work ethic superior to such breathtakingly mediocre people such as Babchuk. That despite these recent calumnies, I continue to love the whole extravaganza of eating, being in company, meeting interesting, good people. I just wish scum as Babchuk would keep their infantile celebrity, 'star' world to their sycophantic selves.

To conclude my vernal misery, the night before my Easter hols brought the equally foul Jean-Philipe Pare and Stephene Ahern to my doorstep. That they arrived for dinner at 5h30 is rather illustrative, for despite their protestations and unedifying boasts of travelling the world, they were not 'bon vivants', as anyone with a love of life, food, companionship or aesthetics would not shoe-horn dinner into an hour slot before rushing off to visit some of the insalubrious venues of the town? They told me they had 'tried' all the other top restaurants on the dreaded Trip Advisor, as though they were competency badges to be collected, rather than as experiences to be enjoyed. Ahern was particularly bovine with his Hapsburg jaw, two-dollar haircut, cheap T-shirt and table manners that my Doberman and Rottie would be embarrassed to display. Cher Stephene informed me that he was "a really critical guy" but couldn't elucidate as to what his banal criticisms were actually in service to. He also described himself as a rationalist with a scientific mind....I thought he was simply a bully who likes to break and destroy as he doesn't have the ability or courage (Nietzsche’s notion of ‘greatest risks are run’) to create. Such a dunderhead would be oblivious to the importance of Simone Weil's observation: "work in which we can have interest, creative work -even if badly paid- does not degrade life."
Meathead mentioned en passant, that his favourite food back in Toronto was chips smothered in melted cheese. Gosh, you’re such an aesthete Stephene.

That TripAdvisor is so influential is an utter tragedy as it is used more often by such bullies. Recently we had to turn away a girl accompanied by her lobotomized boyfriend who was dressed for dinner in balloon shorts, wife-beater vest top and sneakers usually worn by that nonce-clown Ronald MacDonald. Her immediate retort; "We'll see what TripAdvisor has to say."
Four cage-fighters (again dressed in sports clothing so we would have refused them anyway) whom we had tried to contact at their hotel on five occasions (telephone records) to reconfirm their reservation all without success. We eventually sold their table and were punished with a fictitious account of events.
Two reviews from a group of boneheads who upon being asked to reconfirm their table hissed, "this is becoming an unpleasant experience" even before arrival. They were surprised that I cancelled their table in the afternoon. I have also been maligned (anonymously of course) by the particularly thuggish SANFRANCISCOBRONX, who came for dinner in his baseball cap, football shirt and gormless expression, accompanied by two 'ladies', one was the vile CesarLeo (do look at her profile picture) who imagined the height of good eating was well-done Steak without blood. Bless her.
The middle-aged lady with the pudding bowl haircut upon being told that we were full and couldn't accommodate her, whined that she was a 'Senior TripAdvisor Reviewer'. A what?
The dangerously psychotic Mauricio Gil Casadiego, who turned up at the restaurant without a reservation demanding a table. The waiter explained that we were full and unfortunately there was no space available, to which the narcissist replied .......congratulations? No, of course he didn't congratulate us, instead he screamed 'he would ruin us' and as if to prove his point wrote six witless pieces on various sites denouncing us for being.....popular? Surely any reasonable, sane person would agree that not only should Mauricio be sectioned or at least vaccinated for rabies, but such behaviour is gauche and totally unacceptable.  

Personally, if we were going to go the charade of objective truths, I must confess that I prefer experts such as Lord Clark, Sir David Attenborough or Fay Maschler, especially when compared with today's cognoscenti who are often indistinguishable from Ellesworth Toohey!
To anyone who wonders, scrutiny is not the issue. At the age of twenty-two, I was Sauce Chef for Robuchon and worked one meter across a table from the great man. There was nothing during my seventy hour work week that escaped the scrutiny of this fanatical perfectionist (he later performed his first parrinage for me when I opened my own restaurant in Cannes) After two years with the master, I returned to London at the age of twenty-five to open my first restaurant and had Michelin inspectors visit us a half dozen times as they gave me a star after just eleven months, We also had all the major food critics visit in the first two weeks at a time when London was considered 'the food capital of the world'. Later Gault Millau and Figaro from France. Today, I still cook every dish at Park Cafe, still apply identical standards that drove me in London and France. There never has been any hiding place, I simply regret this development where "I'll write on Trip Advisor" has become the anguished cry of every disgruntled bully.

For all the people who have enjoyed my restaurants over the years, maybe even gone and written about the experience, I thank you, and you should know I probably enjoyed cooking for you as much as you did consuming it. I actually contribute to TripAdvisor myself as we travel three months of the year and experience many restaurants and hotels, though I have made a blood pledge to only write about places that have genuinely touched me. Of course we've had many anticlimactic or disappointing dinners but there is something profoundly cruel about the denunciatory on-line forums and bear-pits that are the
new stocks in which we can throw rotten cabbages at miscreants. The restaurants I didn't enjoy I simply withdrew my custom from.
I love meeting people, especially those with a passion for life and things such as gastronomy, conversation and company that offer a brief respite from (Schopenhauer's) 'boredom and misery' of existence. Appreciation is crucial in how we interact with one another, more so today with the emergence of faceless corporations who cynically process customers and offer perfectly crafted corporate platitudes to those who are dissatisfied. I hope we can reclaim the pleasure of dining from the loathsome foodies.
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Our restaurant set amongst my girlfriend`s antiques store
 
Some particular favourites.......

Snails rolled in Powered Morilles with Asparagus Tagliatelle and Mushroom Sauce

Tian of Skate and Crab with Cucumber Veloute

Smoked Foie Gras with Caramelized Onion Puree and Mushroom Vinaigrette

Tartare of Red Mullet with Cauliflower puree and salad of calamar.

Tagine of Quail with Dates and Almond Jus

Cannelloni of Curried Sea Bass with carpaccio of sea bass

Darne of Red Mullet filled with Crab, Aniseed Jus

Roasted Teal with Galette of Fig, Game Jus with Tea Infusion

Deep fired squid filled with paella, Aioli sauce

Caramelized Skate wing with Fondant potato and Broccoli puree

Soul Fillet with Vichyssoise Soup and Langoustine Tails

Deep-fried Oysters with Olive Oil Hollandaise and Red wine Sauce

Soup of Broad Beans with Rabbit Offal and crispy Leg

Ballotine of Lambs Sweetbreads with white bean truffle casserole.

Brochette of Scallops on a smoked eel skewer with Provencal vegetables and Pesto Sauce

Smoked Whiting with poached egg and hollandaise Sauce

Salad of Duck 'Ham' Foie Gras, Confited Leg and Romaine Leaves

Braised Foie Gras with Choucroute, saucisson and Lentil Sauce

Roasted Langoustie Tails with Asparagus cappuccino, shredded spears and Wild Mushrooms.

Roasted Scallops wrapped in Smoked Salmon with Vegetable Ravioli and Carrot Jus

Cannelloni of Oxtail, Confited Celeriac and Red wine Dressing

Rillette of Red Mullet with Prune puree and Almond Sauce

Caramelized Lamb's offal with Broad Bean soup and pottao galette
-->Fillet of Tuna and Marinated Red Snapper with Aubergine puree and Tomato confit


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Breast of Duck with Chicken parfait, rolled in a Roesti Potato with Buttered Lentils

Fillets of Sole with Truffled Potato puree, Roasted Crayfish Tails and jus

Roasted Squab Pigeon with confited neck sausage and Celeriac fondant and white bean Gnocchi

John Dory fillets with Peas in Foie gras butter Sauce, galette potato

Monkfish tail wrapped in Parma Ham with Saffron Risotto

Pave of Cod, larded with Smoked Salmon with Crab Sabayon

Fillet of Turbot with Parsley puree, lasagna of Shrimp and Mushroom bouillon

Roasted Duck Breast with Cannelloni of Confit Leg and Chocolate Sauce

Fillet of Sea Bream with Almond Crust and Provencal vegetables

Rabbit Saddle with Green Olive puree and Tortellini of confited leg

Fillet of Hare "en croute" with Horseradish puree and roasted vegetables

Fillet of Halibut dusted with Juniper powder, Boulangere Potato and Watercress Jus

Fillet of Pargo ‘en Papiotte’ with Fresh Vanilla, Roasted Artichoke,
Asparagus and White Wine Sauce

Lamb Cutlet, Ballotine of offal with Pea Veloute

Smoked Chicken with Celeriac and Romaine Salad tossed in Chicken Liver Dressing

Grilled Calves Liver with Cannelloni of Pea and Ham

Roasted Skate wing with poached egg, potato salad and Anchovy mayonnaise

Veal Sweetbread wrapped in Parma Ham with Turnip confit and Parsley Sauce

Filet of Red Mullet with potato scales and Oyster jus

Lobster Tail with Grilled Advocado and Almond Sauce

Braised Pig's Head with Truffle and Celeriac Puree

Rabbit Saddle with Tatin of Pear and Ham of Rabbit Leg

Darne of Sea Bass filled with Red Pepper, Sardine Vinaigrette

Guinea Fowl with confited Cabbage and Sweetcorn puree

Pastilla of Monkfish with Apple puree

Couscous of Red Mullet with Parsley Sauce and cinnamon confited Onions

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