For some reason, Chicago has a tradition of dueling critics: Siskel & Ebert, and later Siskel & Roeper on movies. Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot took that example and ran with it for music criticism on their WBEZ rock ’n’ roll talk show “Sound Opinions.” Which is funny, because, here in Illinois, we’re supposed to be Midwestern nice. A state of propriety is a rare place to find honest reflection. And yet, Chicago is an origin point for first-rate critical dialogue.
Being a critic requires a healthy dose of egotism. Which is to say, it takes a certain level of hubris to believe that you have the authority and knowledge to dissect the work of others. That egotism doesn’t generally lend itself well to collaboration.
Chicagoans are somewhat modest. It is not that we are particularly humble, but that for so long we have been humbled in various ways, by Lake Michigan–effect blizzards, political corruption, and a 107-year-old Chicago Cubs championship drought (thank God that’s over). We are of course, not that I subscribe to this, known as the second city. We understand this reckoning is not truth, and, so while our egos are in check, we have always known there is a dialogue to be had about our many first-rate city virtues.
This is especially true in the food world. Even though we may well be the best food city in North America at this point, we are still often derided as a meat-and-potatoes town by outsiders. As such, there is a sort of kinship between our critics and chefs. While we don’t pull our punches, we do realize we’re in this together. Our criticism is often the first word, but it is never the last. Penny and I encourage chefs to tell us when we’re wrong or talk about what we might have missed.
In that spirit, we launch a dueling restaurant critics’ podcast, called Dining Out Loud. It is an idea that springs from those earlier brave combatants in cinema and music, but also something that has a genesis in our admiration for our own differences. Penny Pollack has forgotten more than I’ll ever know about restaurants. She is acerbic, witty, and has a low-tolerance for fluff. I admired her even before I knew what food writing ever was. She is tough, sometimes, unintentionally, inspiring fear in her fellow journalists. If she didn’t break a story for Chicago magazine, she called you and intimidated you until she could discover how such a rare thing might happen.
That’s actually how we met in 2005. Penny called and asked why chef Paul Kahan told (lowly) me the news about the Publican? At first I was like “OMG, It’s Penny Pollack!” Then I realized I was facing an inquisition and had to acquit myself quickly. I think I did, because eventually this led me to producing a podcast for Chicago magazine.
Like Penny, I’m also tough and no nonsense. I have more patience for the trendy, and the tendency toward choice, aka the Chipotle-ization DIY-ethic of restaurants that’s happening right now. I’m also more likely to compare a dish to a random pop star. (This may be a fatal flaw.)
But what Penny and I do share is a strong set of ethics. For most of her career, Penny was anonymous, as I still am. Penny, or her publications, always paid her way for meals as do I. For our reviews here, we will continue to do the same. Because Penny is in “semi-retirement” she will attend media previews with respect to some features, and she is no longer anonymous. But her lack of anonymity and the existence of mine should give a great contrasting perspective in our reviews.
In addition to our reviews, we will interview top food personalities, talk about trending dining topics, and do features on where Penny eats or where I chow in my constant travels around America.
We are creating Dining Out Loud with a world-class team including producers John McCartney, Dane Neal of WGN, and our PR team of Laurie Cairns and Amanda Onyon. We hope you enjoy the ride. Welcome to Dining Out Loud!