John Tesar certainly dropped a few jaws when he publicly slammed Dallas Morning News critic Leslie Brenner on Twitter after she dropped a three-star review on his newest restaurant venture Knife, but the chef insists that he's doing it for the greater good.
Friction between Tesar and Brenner certainly isn't anything new; in an interview with The Braiser last June, he stated, "Leslie Brenner is probably one of the worst food critics I've ever seen in my entire life, because she's destroying star structure, and she doesn't have a lot of respect in Dallas." Reached by telephone this morning, the chef stood behind this morning's Twitter rant, saying, "With [Brenner] and I, it's become personal. It's so obvious from the writing. And that's why I'm reacting this way this morning, because her viewpoint — she's entitled to it, but her story to her readership is not what everyone else is experiencing."
While Tesar was certainly miffed enough to utter that "fuck you" tweet, he claims he's not that concerned over the effect the review will have on Knife's business. " It's not about Knife getting three stars — it'll survive," he says. "Trust me. We have a good thing going there, I'm not worried about it." He also points to the overwhelmingly favorable review that was just filed by Dallas Observer critic Scott Reitz, saying, "Unless a restaurant is terrible, the experience just doesn't change that much from night to night."
Tesar insists he's not calling for Brenner's head: "I don't want to start a movement, but I want to start an honest conversation. Is Leslie Brenner a good food critic? That's all I'm asking." He hopes that his outspoken comments will encourage anyone else who's dissatisfied with the Morning News critic's performance to speak up: "If we took a vote… if this were Parliament, I think we could vote Leslie Brenner out of office. I'm asking people, if you think it's time for a change, speak up."
Of course, Tesar certainly isn't the first person to publicly decry Brenner and her reviews; D critic Nancy Nichols wrote a blog post last fall declaring her a "mean-spirited," "ineffectual dining critic." She went on to state, "Her criticism is not constructive; it's based on the-world-according-to-Leslie."
"This type of shit makes me want to pack my bag and go back to New York, like after I left the Mansion," Tesar continued. "Leslie Brenner makes me want to stop cooking in Dallas, because if she's the voice, I don't want to deal with it. I feel like Jon Favreau in Chef today. It makes me want to work harder but at the same time, I'm not going to sit down and take this from her because it's not true. She was there for five hours one night, she had a great time. So it's not all about this review, this is just the trigger. I've had enough of her."
He harkens back to Brenner's review of Spoon that was published last year; although it carried a four-star rating, he felt the review was "kind of back-handed." "Everybody in the city thought Spoon was a five-star review except Leslie Brenner," Tesar says. He emphasizes that he doesn't immediately dispute all of Brenner's negative comments, admitting that the two-star review she gave The Commissary back in 2011 was probably deserved.
An anti-Brenner t-shirt that was sent to Tesar after the Spoon review. [Photo via John Tesar]
He maintains that the star rating system is "outdated" and means very little at this point. "I really like Lisa Garza and I don't want to create any conflict here, but you're trying to tell me that Sissy's, Tei-An and The Mansion are all at the same level, they're all 4-star restaurants?" he questions. "The only two five-star restaurants in town are Lucia and FT33? That's pretty sad."
Tesar went so far as to declare Brenner banned from his restaurants. "I will never let her into another one of my restaurants again. If she comes in and tries to review it, we will just politely ask her to leave. There are enough other critics and people in this city… I cook for them. I don't need to cook for Leslie Brenner. Let her take her expense account and her opinions somewhere else."
Of course, Tesar isn't the first outspoken chef to declare a ban on a particular critic; Houston restaurant Liberty Kitchen & Oyster Bar banned Houston Chronicle food critic Alison Cook before they even opened, apparently miffed by a less-than-favorable review the critic had filed on one of the owners' other restaurants. A Miami chef also banned a local critic from her restaurant after being included in a "worst restaurant names" listicle.
UPDATE: Reached for comment via email, Leslie Brenner had only this to say: "I'm happy with my review of Knife. I put a lot of thought into it, and I stand by it. Our readers will form their own opinions once they read it, and I look forward, as always, to reading their comments."
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