Food Critics Swallow Pounds and Punishment

Food Critics Fight Weight Gain

Gina Mallet, a restaurant critic for Canada's National Post, said the job's "real peril" was putting on weight. "I gained 10 pounds."

"Now I don't go out five days a week, I go out twice a week, so I take people with me and share plates," said Mallet, author of "Last Chance to Eat: The Fate of Taste in a Fast Food World," which won the 2005 James Beard Award.

She doesn't rely on disguises but always books under someone else's name. "I write it all down without being obvious because they've got my photo pasted in the waiting station," she told ABCNews.com. "But, if I am recognized, so what?"

As a critic, the first thing she looks for is the welcome. "Is it discreet, but agreeable?" One cheaper restaurant asked her where she would like to sit. "I immediately liked it."

Next she checks out what is on the menu, "whether it's original and not the same old, same old," then watches the service carefully.

"It all builds to the food," said Mallet. "If all things are going well and I am feeling good – if I am asked if I want a glass of water or an aperitif – I feel great and I am ready to order."

"If I leave in a very good mood, I am also in a forgiving mood," she noted.

New Orleans food critic Tom Fitzmorris has written a weekly restaurant review for 37 years and has expanded his work into a daily newsletter - "The New Orleans Menu" - and a three-hour, six-day-a-week radio talk show.

"I'm lucky in that I live in a city which was full of foodies a century before the word 'foodie' was invented," he told ABCNews.com. "There's no limit to the interest New Orleanians have in eating."

Fitzmorris admits, "it's a great job," except for a few things. In 2008 without an expense account, he spent $41,000 of his own money on eating out. He also struggles with keeping his weight "under control" and finding dining partners who can pay their own tabs.

"I dine alone a lot," he said, noting that he's out until 10 or 11 each night. "Being a restaurant critic doesn't dovetail very well with being a father, since I'm out most evenings. Fortunately, my two children have turned out fine."

Like the Globe's Arnett, he deals with another threat: "having people hate you."

"You wouldn't believe the spleen people work up when you say that their favorite restaurants are not very good," Fitzmorris said. "I have two Web sites devoted entirely to relentless personal attacks on me. They even attack my wife and kids."

He's also been banned from restaurants – even some he gave 3 out of 5 star ratings. "They all thought they should have four."

And according to Fitzmorris, the food critic who's recognized in the restaurant can strike the deepest fear in a waiter. "When I asked [the waiter] to recommend between two dishes, he lost it and literally peed in his pants."

But both Fitzmorris and the Globe's Arnett agree that befriending the restaurateurs is one of the great rewards of being a food critic.

And some, according to Arnett, come around, even after a bad review.

"One of the owners talked to me years later and said he was upset with my review at first, but then he looked through what I had said, and it saved their business."

"You're writing for your readers," she reminded, but still, it felt good.

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