October 3, 2018

A note of thanks to The Taster

I fell in love with food through words printed on a page.

Growing up, we lived a humble life; our meals, cooked at home every day, were simple and tied to a tight budget. We went to restaurants four times a year, to celebrate family birthdays, and even then, the roster of establishments was confined to Nando’s, Mr. Greek, and when we felt like splurging, Red Lobster.

I did not fall in love with food, with dining, with the culinary arts because I had access to fine dining, but instead because I had access to the library. I would read the reviews of Ruth Reichl and Craig Claiborne and would be transported to restaurants in far away cities, dinners that were so far out of my experience that they seemed imaginary. I fell in love with food, and dining, by reading.

Good criticism, whether in food or any other domain, is an incredibly difficult art. While I now have the means to experience some memorable meals, my experience with food and dining is still shaped by the critics who write about the domain, by those whose life calling is to describe the act of eating at a restaurant through sentences that, when written well, are akin to poetry.

That’s why I was quick to sign up for The Taster when it first launched. After reading food criticism for over thirty years, I knew that Chris Nuttal-Smith was among the best food writers in the country, and even when I didn’t agree with everything he wrote, I knew that I would be transported to new and different places though his words. I subscribed to The Taster because I believed in the power of prose to help me experience food, and believed that Chris was the right person to shepherd me in that experience.

While I subscribed to The Taster because of Chris, I became enamored with the entire slate of writers on the site. Because of Joshna Maharaj, my trips to the farmers markets around southwestern Ontario became so much more exciting; because of Eric Vellend, I drank better this spring and summer than I ever have. The Taster reminded me of why I love food writing so much: because it opens me up to delights that I would never experience had I not first journeyed through them through words.

The closing of The Taster was sad, not just because I miss the excellent writing, the delight that it brought me, but because it reminded me that criticism of any kind—and especially food criticism—is a hard market in today’s connected society. In a world where everyone can be a critic, even the best of the best can struggle to stand out. The Taster was that best of the best; I am sad to see it go.

I am also infinitely thankful, to Chris, his writers, and everyone that took a chance, a big leap to bring The Taster to life. In its short life, it did more than just delight me with prose, but reminded me that, with a well-written word, I can explore the world.