February 03, 2005
I was reading Las Vegas Lite the other day.....hey, my mind needed a rest, and it was full of the BEST of this and that of whatever they were trying to sell advertising to that month. Then I got to thinkin' (and no, it didn't hurt, not much anyway).....Yeah I got to thinking what is all this Best Of baloney? I mean come on.....is one dry cleaner better than another? Or plumber, or charity? And what's with inventing categories like BEST TRANSITIONAL FURNITURE-just to curry favor or create a payback? And when it comes to creativity-or anything that can't be exactly measured-how can anyone be so arrogant to proclaim someone or something better than another?
Now I know I've fallen victim to the self-indulgence of naming certain restaurants, dishes and chefs THE BEST. Why you ask? Because it's easy and ego inflating... and because we restaurant critics are always being asked what's the BEST restaurant in town. So we answer, even while knowing it's an unfair question. We're never asked what our favorites are. On any given night my favorite restaurant might be anything from a sushi bar to a steakhouse. If we were honest with our audience, we'd tell them that the statement that something is "the BEST" simply means it's one of the best in a category...or that we simply prefer it to others. A great restaurant in a town of great restaurants (sorry Vegas, we're not there yet) can't be THE BEST, anymore than Rembrandt was better than Vermeer, or (to put it closer to home), one washed up torch singer is any better than another.
I'm not saying that standards don't exist-there's a right and numerous wrong ways to bake a muffin or filet a fish. But once the craftwork is adequate - artistic and personal taste take over. All critics can do is tell you if the craft has been mastered, and what artistic level (if any), the chef or architect or musician is operating at....and if they're hitting their marks. But saying that in a magazine or newspaper, doesn't dumb it down enough for the public-- who want to be spoon-fed everything from top ten lists to the Academy Awards.
Admitting there is no best of anything that doesn't have a finish line or scoreboard attached to it causes two additional problems: one: we admit our fallibility (something no critic wants to do); and two: we disappoint those upon whom we bestow our MAJOR AWARDS. Those folks want to be called BETTER (not just more preferable), than someone or something else. This helps them sell their product. DUH! So I guess all those kudos are good for the giver, the receiver, and the public and are a detriment only to good taste and common sense.
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