John Mariani, In His Own Words

mariani_headshot.jpgLast week, we aggregated a litany of complaints against Esquire's "food and travel correspondent" John Mariani. Commenters (mostly anonymous) criticized and supported Mariani, his editor spoke up, and now the writer himself gets a turn.

Below, a point-by-point rejoinder from John Mariani.

The headline “Why Does Everyone [in Chicago] Hate John Mariani?” seems a bit of a stretch even for blogs, at a time when even Dick Cheney gets a 20% approval rating, and I can assure you that my longtime friends in Chicago will be shocked to see me characterized me this way.

Bloggish exaggerations aside, the assertions on Menupages.com are so at odds with the truth that I need to de-mythologize them here. Had you only contacted me before writing such an accusatory article based on hearsay and retracted reports from four years ago—I am easily reached—I might have had an opportunity to set the record straight, but you did not. That others have thereupon accepted the blog as the truth of things is disturbing and gets to the dark heart of the matter. So, here goes:

1. I was in Chicago last Monday and Tuesday and dined at four restaurants—the Bristol, Sepia, Graham Elliott, and A Mano. In each and every one I paid for my dinner and for my guests'. In no case did I ask for a comp or make any “demands." You could have found out the truth of this simply by speaking with the restaurateurs and chefs.

2. I have been characterized wrongly as a “restaurant reviewer,” yet my title as Esquire is “food and travel correspondent,” under which I write features, not reviews. The annual article for which I am best known is “The Best New Restaurants of the Year,” which appears in the November issue, for which I visit as many as 20 cities to find 20 great restaurants. In every single case, at ANY restaurant under consideration, I pay for my meals, and two-thirds do not make the final cut.

3. I have never gone under the farcical rule of anonymity (and believe me, restaurants always know when a critic is in their midst) for the reason that I want very much to meet and interview the restaurateur, chef, and sommelier, see how they operate and what they are trying to achieve, and often ask the chef to cook for me—always from the menu—those dishes he thinks his most representative. That way I can tell a reader a great deal about the whole concept. Menupages.com charges that I hand out my business card with my favorite cocktail recipe on it, which indeed I often do: I wrote about this card in Esquire (you can find it at esquire.com). The reason for the recipe is simply that I like to have a cocktail made to my request but, more important, so the owner and chef know where to reach me, send me info, menus, announcements, jpegs, etc. I do not brandish it in an attempt to scare them into giving me free food.

4. Let me state this as clearly as I can: In more than 25 years of writing for Esquire, I NEVER, not once, ever called a restaurant or sent “demands” for a free meal or how I wished to be treated. NEVER.

5. This leads to the most damaging part of Menupages’ assertion that, four years ago, I was accused by Homaro Cantu, chef of Moto, of sending him a 5-7 page Xerox of demands that included flying me into Chicago, putting me up at a hotel of my choice, and sending a limo. This he told to the food editor of the Sun-Times, who called me and asked me about it. I told her it was absolutely, libelously false. And although she never asked Cantu for this notorious fax, she printed the accusation anyway. The next day the NY Post DID contact Moto’s owner, who admitted I had never sent such demands and apologized for Mr. Cantu’s accusation; Cantu also sent me an apology, and I sent both to the Sun-Times, which it never printed. These lies occasionally rear their ugly head in the unfettered land of blogs.

6. Menupages.com also prints the remarks of Dave Beran, who I believe is chef de cuisine at Alinea but seems also to be a gossipmonger. He sat at the table next to mine at the Bristol, eavesdropped on our private conversation, and published it online, referring to my supposed behavior in contemptible terms. Again, if you had spoken with the Bristol’s owner, John Ross, you would have heard quite a different story, as Graham Elliott has already attested.

7. Menupages.com also refers to food writer Michael Ruhlman, author of “The Soul of a Chef,” about Cleveland chef Michael Symon, of Lola. The only time I ever met Ruhlman was years ago at Lola after Symon invited me, the editor of Restaurant Hospitality, a local food consultant and p.r. rep, and his wife to dinner. We dined and there was no check, but I left a $100 tip. Ruhlman did not leave one penny, yet, while never informing me he was taking notes, later wrote I did not pay for the meal. He neglected to mention that he didn’t either.

8. A remark taken totally out of context by NYC restaurateur Danny Meyer, whom I consider a professional friend and with whom I have dined outside of his restaurants, was quoted as saying that he heard I demanded to be “hosted” or I would write a bad review. The fact is, over the last ten years or more, I have paid for every meal I have ever had at Danny’s restaurants, except once last year, when he invited me to check out the new chef at Gramercy Tavern. Again, had you called Danny he would have vouched for this.

9. Last and very much least, someone—who knows who?—says I demanded at a restaurant that I only be served by tall, beautiful waitresses. I do not remember ever saying anything so silly, but if I ever did, it should be obvious that it was—duh—a joke.

This last one would have been fun stuff in a blog but in fact, without any input from me and no contact with the accusers named in the blog, I have been set up as the poster boy for a freewheeling, demanding, corrupt and leering lout, when all the real evidence runs counter this characterization. Accusations from unnamed, unchecked sources are worthless and almost always baseless, as any reporter knows.

John Mariani

[Photo: Gayot]