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New York Eater's Chief Critic Isn't Ready To Eat Out. Here's Why


Ryan Sutton is chief food critic for New York Eater, and he says he's not going to dine out - inside at tables while apart from each other, outside in the open air, anywhere under any circumstance at all. And he says you shouldn't either. Ryan Sutton joins us now from Long Island, N.Y.

Welcome to the program.

RYAN SUTTON: Thanks for having me, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So tell us why you're taking this position to stick with takeout exclusively. You know, servers, bussers, overnight cleaning services - isn't it good to give the restaurants that employ them the business they need to stay afloat so that these people have jobs and income for their households?

SUTTON: There's no denying that we're all in a very difficult situation right now. However, given that we have over, you know, 50,000 new cases, often every day, throughout the country, just from an individual moral standpoint, I simply can't bring myself to eat at a restaurant and put one of these workers at risk. And that's all the more true given that a lot of workers in the food service industry are now receiving pandemic unemployment assistance - you know, around $600 a week in addition to regular state unemployment, which pretty much brings their new salary, for lack of a better term, up to what they would've been making had they been working at restaurants. And so that's what I support.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What has been the reaction to you saying that? Obviously, you have a pretty prominent position in the food world.

SUTTON: I won't lie. Food critics typically aren't in the business of making...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Being loved (laughter).

SUTTON: Are not in the business of being loved - that's right. Chefs are not happy. But I've received some positive feedback from restaurant workers. And I should note that Tejal Rao, the California critic from The New York Times, isn't eating out either. Soleil Ho from the San Francisco Chronicle - she's still dining at home. So it's not just a guy with an opinion who happens to write for a website.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You had COVID-19 back in March. How are you feeling now?

SUTTON: Thanks for asking, Lulu. I feel great. But it was without question one of the most traumatic health experiences I ever underwent - horrible nausea, a dry cough that lasted for nearly a month. We have to remember that this is a disease that has profound health consequences, possibly long-term, possibly lifelong.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Are you worried about the future of the restaurant industry? I mean, do you think it will look anything like what it resembled before the pandemic?

SUTTON: I don't think anyone knows what the restaurant industry is going to look like in the coming months, never mind the coming year or so. We can only agree - is dining out in the future won't look anything like it did in the before times. We're going to continue to see a lot more takeout, and we're going to continue to see, I think, a lot of people continue to eat at home rather than treating restaurants like extensions of their dining rooms. It's not going to be a nightly fare anymore. And that's going to cost a lot of jobs, and that's going to close a lot of restaurants. And that's just a terrible thing for everyone.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And there is, I suppose, something to be said for this new restaurant landscape.

SUTTON: There certainly is. I think there's going to be a certain leveling of the playing field in that a lot of smaller-scale operators are going to get a lot more attention, and rightly so. I think it's going to be an amazing thing to see, you know, taco vendors and tamale vendors and small pizzerias get both write-ups and lots of consumer attention.

I've always rejected the notion as a food critic that a tamale on the street isn't as intellectually or socially important as a French sauce that's been strained 20 times and that, you know, tastes like silk or butter. And I think that's going to be a good thing. We're going to start paying a lot more attention to smaller-scale venues that have been overlooked for so long. And I really hope that's the case.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Viva tamales. Ryan Sutton is chief food critic for New York Eater.

Thank you very much.

SUTTON: Thank you, Lulu. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.