A question and answer session with Elizabeth Carter, Consultant Editor of The Good Food Guide, taken from an interview with fine dining guide. If you have any more questions for Elizabeth, feel free to send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tell us a little about your work background.
I was born to work in guides. I grew up in a family that relied exclusively on The Good Food Guide and from about the age of twelve I wanted to be the editor. So I’m doing my dream job.
The first position that whetted my appetite was working for the American Nancy Fielding, who, with her husband Temple, founded Fielding’s Travel Guide to Europe. But it was when I got a job with Egon Ronay’s Guides that my hardcore training in guide books really started. It was incredible – we would travel all over the country visiting hotels, restaurants, cafes and pubs. Apart from the ever present report writing I sometimes had to pinch myself that I was actually doing a job.
I met Tom Jaine, the then editor of The Good Food Guide, at the launch of my book, Majorcan Food and Cookery. When he asked me to come on board to edit Out to Eat – the budget Good Food Guide, it seemed a natural progression. During this stint I also wrote and inspected for The Good Food Guide. Eventually I built up my freelance career, going on to edit various guides, the AA Restaurant Guide among them. Then, quite out of the blue, I got a call asking me to be editor of The Good Food Guide. I had a big smile on my face when I got it.
And you’re only the seventh editor in the Guide’s history?
Yes and the first woman!
What was your immediate brief?
As well as addressing the modern needs of the consumer we wanted to pay respect to our roots – Raymond Postgate founded a consumer-led Guide in 1951 – and so we wanted to deliver reader-led awards, which we inaugurated in 2008. These are now held annually in June and help to promote our reader feedback online – we have tens of thousands of nominations every year!
And are the marks purely about food on a plate?
Good question. To a certain extent it has to be; service is very subjective, one person’s bad service is another’s walking out of the restaurant best friends with the maitre d’. And one style of décor or ambience may appeal to one demographic and not another. However, there is a slight softening on the stance about food on a plate from The Good Food Guide. For the general public the sum of the parts that make up the overall experience is important. We have a slight advantage with our guide in that we can write about all of these things and inform our readers accordingly.
Our trusted reader-reporters and inspectors are able to benchmark and compare restaurants and part of it is experience and instinct that allows them to say 'this restaurant is on a par with that restaurant' and so on. Should you become too analytical about the detail of the cooking then you lose sight of the overall dining experience.
Having said that our top inspectors have a lot of international experience, so when they are assessing the likes of Marcus Wareing, The Square, Ramsay or The Fat Duck they are making comparisons with the very best in the world.
Do you have a dual role of inspector and editor?
Yes I do. With the inspecting experience it just makes sense. I travel some long distances, especially to check out the top 50 list!
How often can an included restaurant expect to get inspected?
Between trusted reader feedback and inspectors every restaurant will be covered in the year. In terms of pure inspector visits there is a rotation system that ensures all entries and those with potential are visited within a fixed period of time.
How do you think restaurants are coping with the economic climate?
Something good or at least interesting for the restaurant scene has often come out of a recession – In the 1980s we had Marco Pierre White and modern British cooking, in the 1990s came the Gastropub (which subsequently became too expensive, leaving a hole in the mid-market). This time around price is a big factor – restaurants have to be seen to offer value for money. Not just food, good service has a higher priority, too. Reader reports on The Good Food Guide feedback system indicate that diners are taking account of every part of the experience when they weigh up their sense of a restaurant's value. Having shaken off their Gastropub mantle, many pubs are also rising to the challenge, offering flexible dining options, premium ingredients and local sourcing at a range of prices to suit all budgets.
What do you think of the rise of the internet and the amateur food critic?
I often do a quick google to help form some research and develop a consensus idea about a new recommendation from readers. It goes no further than that; the inspector has to make the decision entirely independent of discussion on the internet.
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