Eats.com is excited to introduce a new feature to Foodie News, Behind The Reviewers.
We've contacted restaurant reviewers from across the country to learn
more about different cities' food scenes, as well as what it is like to
review restaurants for a living. Hope you enjoy!
This week: S. Irene Virbila, Los Angeles Times
What path did you take to get into food journalism and restaurant reviewing?
I was part-owner of a café in the years after college where I did just about everything—kept the books, baked mornings, bussed tables, and when we got a wine license, bought the wines. Also, cooked. Later I was hired as one of the opening cooks for a more ambitious restaurant. When I hurt my back lifting a heavy stockpot, I had to give that up and decided to concentrate on wine.
I went to the culinary school in San Francisco, then to Paris to do a sommelier training for junior sommeliers already working in Paris restaurants. During that time I traveled through the wine country in France and Italy. Once I realized I didn’t really want to stand around a restaurant with a tastevin around my neck, or start looking for a job when I returned to San Francisco, I wrote a book proposal—by hand (I didn’t have a typewriter). Three publishers wanted it and so that’s how I started writing. At that point, I was writing articles for New West, then California magazines, San Francisco magazine, the San Francisco Chronicle, etc.
When the San Francisco Chronicle critic took maternity leave, she asked me to substitute for her writing the restaurant reviews. It was never my intention to become a restaurant critic. But I did pinch hit for her from time to time while I freelanced all over the world, writing articles on food, wine and travel for the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Wine Spectator, Food & Wine, etc. for 15 years.
In 1994, the Los Angeles Times called and asked if I wanted to interview for the position of restaurant critic. My first instinct was to say no. But I did, in the end, go for the interview and got the job.
What do you enjoy most about your profession? Least?
I enjoy discovering wonderful little restaurants and/or talented young chefs and bringing them to the attention of readers. I don’t like writing bad reviews.