Chef John Tesar Told the Dallas Morning News' Food Critic "Fuck You," and Life Is Good

Categories: Food News

tesar_downes_cropped.jpg
Catherine Downes
Not pictured: Tesar's knife.
This week, John Tesar's new steakhouse, Knife, was reviewed by Leslie Brenner, the longtime critic at The Dallas Morning News. Brenner awarded three stars, an assessment that translates to "very good: a destination restaurant for this type of dining," according to the paper's review and listing policy. You might think an accomplished chef would be happy with such a rating, but Tesar let the entire Twitterverse know otherwise in a tweet that has food blogs across the country talking:

What was Tesar so upset about? Brenner's review was filled with the same sharp-edged prose the critic has come to be known for. She called a bacon tasting "as impressive as those new duds the emperor bought," and noted steaks came to the table overcooked, sometimes underseasoned. Brenner pecked at other dishes, too, including roast chicken and a few of the salads, but her overarching concern seemed to be Tesar's overarching reach. The menu at Knife is massive.

Meanwhile, here at the Observer, my review of the same restaurant was published the same week, and while we don't award stars, it's safe to say I wrote a wholly positive review. I noted the same unevenness in the steaks as Brenner did, and noted a few other minor quips, but generally found the restaurant to be a favorable place to dine.

So Brenner's wrong, right? Wrong. Stay with me.

Tesar's first restaurant Spoon was awarded four stars by Brenner when it opened early last year. After multiple dinners in both restaurants, I think it's clear that Knife in no way recreates the level of refinement and sophistication of its seafood-driven sister. Spoon is a tightly run ship on par with the best fine dining experiences in the city. Knife is more relaxed, but I think that's OK -- it's also a little less expensive. I don't know how many celestial bodies that equals, but three doesn't sound so far off.

The lingering questions are whether Brenner's criticism veers too far toward mean and "self-serving," as Tesar asserts, and whether or not he's a tad insane. My take? Yes and yes. And that's fine by me.

Through years of reviewing restaurants around Dallas, Brenner has become the quintessential critic-villain -- the sort of pundit we see in movies like Ratatouille and, more recently Chef, who dole out eviscerating zingers for the entertainment of readers that enjoy reading engaging restaurant criticism. Tesar, meanwhile, is living up to our expectations of Dallas' most hated chef. And while we should certainly expect his behavior to fall in line with some basic rules of conduct, it's hard not to think that the same quadrant of his brain that's responsible for his starting a fight with Nick Badovinus or launching F-bombs via Twitter is also responsible for his inventive, often elegant cooking. Without Tesar as he is, we wouldn't have Spoon or Knife.

We wouldn't have this story, either, and we wouldn't have Tesar telling Eater that he's banned Brenner from his restaurants, which will surely add more fuel to the fire.

It's also making this seem like more of a publicity stunt. In Chef the movie, Jon Favreau's character posted an angry late-night tweet at a critic and ended up largely successful. I mean, it worked in the movies, right?

Cast blame in either direction, but I'm going to hang onto mine and just enjoy the show.

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37 comments
robbieredphone
robbieredphone

Leslie Brenner tells it like it is.  Her reviews are not meant to be "advertisements" for the restaurants she reviews. If you can't stand the heat.....get out of the kitchen.  

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

In light of the fact that he named his restaurants "Spoon" and "Knife", respectively, his tweet would have been far funnier, more biting and less douchey if he'd tweeted "Fork you" at Brenner, instead.

Myrna.Minkoff-Katz
Myrna.Minkoff-Katz topcommenter

If he's going to charge $60 to $80 for a steak he'd better turn out a 5-star steak.  I don't believe LB did anything other than give her honest opinion. 

dtemplet3318
dtemplet3318

I do not read critics of food, movies, Broadway, or travel groups. I go, sample and decide if I will return or not. I do, however, enjoy reading food comment for the fun of it. Ratings are misleading in any field of public participation.

tb00
tb00

Enjoy your meal! Stay for the show!

hwy77
hwy77

At least these media food fights, truly first-world phenomena, are more fun to read about than the latest chicanery at city hall or commissioner's court. True chefs are artists, food critics are basically technical writers. These two camps aren't likely to see the world of food in the same way. Entertainment ensues.  

CitizenKane
CitizenKane

Who is Leslie Brenner and why would someone care what she thinks?


Oh right, diner Joe is a dumb shit who needs someone else to tell him where to go, what to order, and yes, what to think about what he ordered.


I can imagine the at home conversation:  Wifey says to Hubby Joe, "where shall we go to eat"...Hubby Joe says, "well not Knife, Leslie Brenner gave it 3 stars and says the table cloths weren't property starched."





razorwire
razorwire

That she could not find the ice cream stand at the Truckyard (the one right by the entrance) and then proceeded to say how "uncool" the place was should tell you all you need to know. Anthony Bourdain pointed out she couldn't make it in NYC or LA but that  the DMN picked her up is pretty telling as well.

Mervis
Mervis

Sommelier Sabrina Snodderley

Say that three times fast.

Greg820
Greg820

The whole star rating system is a lazy method for both critics and diners alike.  Brenner's problem with the stars is that there is no consistency in the ratings.  She is also a fawning, sickly sweet suckup to the those Chefs she considers worthy of her praise.  Some of her reviews are just nauseating in this regard.  Ultimately, her writings reveal that she does not like being here and I know of very few that would miss her.  That said, be careful what you wish for 'cause God knows what the DMN would hire in her place. 

JSSS
JSSS

Tesar is a complete jackass.  Brenner's review was generally positive -- indeed, glowing in some respects. That she pointed out issues she had with a few dishes, based upon multiple visits, does nothing in my mind but enhance the credibility of the overall review. Tesar simply thinks he is perfect in every way, and that's why I stopped going to his restaurants years ago. 

smartj
smartj

Tesar is correct that Brenner has screwed up the star system.  She never gives 5 stars and only super high end gourmet places can hope for 4 stars.  She routinely gives 1 or 2 stars to excellent restaurants because of some perceived defect in the wine list or because one appetizer wasn't cooked exactly to her liking.  She has no stars left to hand out to restaurants where normal people eat.  And her writing style seems meant to offend.  In short, she is a bitch and I applaud Tesar, my new favorite chef.

Threeboys
Threeboys

I haven't eaten at any of Tesar's stops, not because I have anything against him, just hasn't ever fallen in my wheelhouse.


I do know that any producer chef, winemaker, distiller, etc who gets less of a rating than they thought they deserved from newspaper critic/Wine Spectator/Int'l Sprits Review thinks that the reviewer doesn't know his/her shit, or has something personal against them.

MattDallas
MattDallas

I don't think I've ever thought of Brenner's writing as "sharp-edged prose."  Truth be told, I still wonder why Bill Addison had to forsake us and why we have to be saddled with Brenner, who does (to me) regularly seem unnecessarily mean-spirited and desperate to find criticism where maybe no reason to find any exists.  In short: I think she sucks.  

becoolerifyoudid
becoolerifyoudid

So I am guessing this Knife place is not in the Cheap Bastard budget.  That being the case screw em all.  Give me some good cheap food and some velvet Elvis.

iloveNOLA
iloveNOLA

Review aside, the interview in current edition is insifghtful and right on target, especially the part about food critics (Leslie and NN) who somehow feel compelled to tell Chefs what should be on or off the menu. Praising Kale one minute and six months later complaining about it being on the menu. EVERYTHING has to be new and "cutting edge" (overused term). They have a complete lack of understanding of the business side of menu development and the reasons why (fill in the blank here) is on the menu.He's right that you gotta call BS on that. Then the other comment about Trinity Graves, and the onerous contracts operators sell there soul to the devil for. If I'm an operator in the Groves and the landlord tells me he's putting eight more in the same development, I would be pissed. He's 100% right about both 'D" or DMN not mentioning or even researching what these operators are signing. I mean each of these publications has published at least 3 articles on all the great things Trinty Groves mean to Dallas.For who exactly? Keep speaking the truth my brother

kergo1spaceship
kergo1spaceship

In my life, my back hurts, my wife is complaining that the kids and I are CONTINUOUSLY getting the kitchen floor dirty, and I work sometimes 90+ hours in a week.......I could care less about some dude that looks like Buddy Holly, and fights with the Dallas Morning News. 


BTW, you did JT, so next on the topic wheel is a brewfest, or a foodtruck.   And please mix in a story from that lady that swears alot. 

primi_timpano
primi_timpano topcommenter

Nothing like a critic/restaurant food fight, except maybe a chef/chef or critic/critic food fight. I do not follow Brenner frequently, mainly because the DMN site is a mess. From what I have followed, she seems to be competent on traditional cuisines but a neophyte on local cuisines. I would never pay attention to her views on tacos, Tex Mex, and probably most esoteric ethnic foods. French, steakhouses, Italian (yes, ethnic but assimilated), I would listen.

I think Tesar's life, cuisine and success would be vastly improved if he listened more and ranted less. But we are all victims of our natures. I hope Tesar is happy with his, but it never seems to change.

anisht56
anisht56

@ChefJohnTesar Tesar is just another a douchebag Chef.  Went to Spoon within the first month it opened.  My friend order a surf and turf type of dish. When the plate came out we all remarked that the fish didn't smell good, kind of like it was not fresh and the steak was overcooked. We said something and the sous chef, even though we saw Tesar was in the back, came out and told us that Chef Tesar flies his fish in fresh everyday and walked away.  We couldn't believe that we were just smacked down by Tesars lacky.  I will never go back to this conceited jackasses restaurants....

WhatsOnMikesMind
WhatsOnMikesMind

I would had deducted a star just for the one-word restaurant name...

ScottsMerkin
ScottsMerkin topcommenter

The show is so much better than the minutiae of what makes a celestial being rating.  It seems that these "celebrity chefs" want all the spotlight but dont want the criticism or are just arrogant fucks.  Either way, I dont care, my life as a peasant would probably think all these places are 5 stars compared to what I can afford to eat regularly

CitizenKane
CitizenKane

Celebrity chefs and celebrity food critics = F-em both !

DavidRoot
DavidRoot

@WhatsOnMikesMind Tesar may be the one with the chip on his shoulder... Isn't Noma in Sweden considered the best in the world? Half the top ten on this list are one-word names... Knife fits right in  www.theworlds50best.com/

primi_timpano
primi_timpano topcommenter

@Scott R and everyone else: I know this is has been expressed ad nauseum, but the star system fails to take in to account the nature of the restaurant.

El Taquito is not trying to be Mesa Mayo, and vice versa. Maple and Motor does not want to be Knife. The Knife's of the world, with their finish out, ingredients and price points should be held to a different standard. I all too often encounter 5 star experience with 1 star value.

CitizenKane
CitizenKane

@primi_timpano El Taquito (on E. Grand) damn fine chicken soup on Tuesdays only.....NOT tortilla soup !


Reviewer/critic CK highly recommends.

ScottsMerkin
ScottsMerkin topcommenter

@primi_timpano so M& M is a 5 star fast food or 3 star fast casual or 1 star at the DMN because the shitter sucks?

BobLoblaw1721
BobLoblaw1721

@WhatsOnMikesMind @veruszetec Meh, I wouldn't put too much stock in those reviews unless you want your food critiqued by people who are put off that the menu would dare have a pig's head on it, or who think that the "new school" cuts of meat like tri-tip or flat iron are a bit too adventerous.

primi_timpano
primi_timpano topcommenter

I personally am partial to their menudo and caldo de res (not sure of non-weekend availability).

primi_timpano
primi_timpano topcommenter

@Scottm: if not exactly, immeasurably close. So what is a critic to do?

ScottsMerkin
ScottsMerkin topcommenter

@primi_timpano Have rating system for dinner types, i.e. top of the line, business casual, casual.  let the chef submit what category his restaurant is in and then have reviews on those levels.  If the Chef over reaches for that top level and fails, well it will show in the review for that level of dining

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