One of my first memories is of running behind the bar and through the kitchens of my father’s restaurant, Martell’s, on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Combining speakeasy atmospherics, elevated American fare, and European flourishes, it was a warm, unpretentious place. Along with neighborhood regulars, New York newsmen, and late night barflies, it regularly attracted celebs like the Beatles, Jim Henson, and Telly Savalas (aka Kojak). My favorite item on the menu were the signature fries that looked like potato chips, but were just thick enough so that their insides were soft and moist. It was a simple dish, but it taught me two valuable rules. One: Even something as quotidian as a French fry can be reinvented into something exciting and unexpected. Two: Good food is good food, no matter how basic it may seem.
         For the next three decades, I honed my love and knowledge of food with self-guided tutorials at least three times a day (Sometimes four or five times if a mid-afternoon snack was required or I got the late night munchies). My confidence artificially inflated by a DVR full of No Reservations episodes, two shelves full of cook books, and a subscription to Bon Appetit, I thought I knew a lot about food. In the past year–after a creatively unsatisfying stint in television development that made me cancel my cable–I decided to combine my longtime love of writing with my passion for eating by becoming a food critic. And that’s when I realized how little I knew. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t a gustatory ignoramus, but I quickly found out that there are some rules you should be aware of when you wade into to food writing fray. You can thank me for sharing them later, preferably over an expensive meal on your tab.

1. Get used to the martyrs.

When I tell people what I do for a living, the conversation usually goes like this:

Random Cocktail Party Person: So, you get paid to write about eating?

Me: Pretty much.

RCPP: Lucky bastard. I billed 94 hours last week, haven’t seen my kids in five days, and have high blood pressure [Deep sigh].

Me: You should try to relax more. When was the last time you treated yourself to a really good meal?

RCPP: I wanted to get one of the lobster rolls from that new food truck, but the line was too long. I had a Value Meal back in my office instead. I’m getting another drink. This conversation depresses me.

2. Big brother is always watching.

I recently ate a whole meal with its creator staring at me across the table, constantly prompting me with leading questions like, “It’s good, yes?” and “You like it?” While most of the meal was fantastic, there was one stutter step that I found literally hard to swallow since it was far too sweet and too fatty for my taste. Since the chef was right there, I couldn’t pull the old “spit it in the napkin” trick, so I had to excuse myself and go to the bathroom. Luckily, the next course came while I was in there, so I had a graceful exit from the offending dish. Thank God the rabbit done two ways arrived when it did.

3. Learn to just say ‘no.’

Does nine dishes sound like a lot of food for lunch? Roberto Donna at D.C.’s Galileo III doesn’t do tiny tasting plates–he does full-sized entrées in the Italian tradition. If I had eaten everything, I would have ingested three days worth of calories and a small bucket of fat. You don’t have to eat everything that’s put in front of you. Pace yourself and know when to say enough is enough. There’s no need to habitually punish your digestive system or to develop an addiction to Tums.
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