Pete Lee

Thursday, October 27, 2005

RANT: Willamette Week's Salt Debacle

Messrs. Meeker and Zusman,

I've been an avid reader of Willamette Week for many years. Despite the fact that my friends involved in journalism are periodically very critical of the quality of your publication, I've found the investigative reporting (e.g. Goldschmidt) and movie reviews (David Walker) to be insightful and useful.

That noted, the recent review on Castagna struck me as highly inappropriate on several levels.

First of all, I would assert that it's generally accepted that "appropriate" salt levels in food is, indeed, highly subjective. I am not aware of the travel habits of WWeek's food review staff, but the "salt debacle" is just one more issue that makes me question whether or not the staff of WWeek are qualified to review Italian (among other) culinary traditions.

In the last few years, I have spent over two months in Europe, primarily with the purpose of experiencing local cuisine. Almost half of that was spent in Italy. The level of salt does, indeed, differ regionally in Italy, from restaurants that were widely accepted by a local populace to be representative of their regional culinary traditions. In my opinion, if there is an error to be made, it would be to undersalt, rather than oversalt. In Ms. Clarke's response, not a single mention of the subjective nature of food reviewing was made. This subjectivity should be obvious to the public, but the sway that food reviews hold on the short-term success of restaurants demonstrate this otherwise.

Additionally, it should be apparent that commercial conflicts of interest have no place in culinary writing. I am sure you are well acquainted with Phil Stanford's recent article.
[Pete's note: my friend, a freelance food reviewer, pointed Phil's article out to me.]

Secondly, I should note that WWeek's review of Bewon as somehow representing authentic Korean food is highly specious. I was raised Korean, have visited Korea, and have made the study of Korean, as well as other Asian and European cuisines (and European enology/viticulture), a serious personal interest. I and many others I know (some of whom have lived in Korea for extended periods of time) are of the opinion that while Bewon's decor is certainly interesting, the food is overpriced, mediocre in quality, and unrepresentative of Korean cuisine in flavor. In the future, please avoid sending out writers who have little knowledge of a culinary tradition's background--or at least have them mention this in their review. There is nothing wrong with saying that one does not have much experience in a culinary tradition.

As an avid and loyal reader of WWeek, I believe that I am reasonable in my expectations that your paper be truly independent and subscribe to the highest standards in journalism, and am confident that your staff are capable of doing so.

-Pete Lee


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