'Million Dollar Critic' Coren helps restaurants cope with success
By George Dickie
April 21, 2016 at 2:35 a.m.
On Cooking Channel's Tuesday series "Million Dollar Critic," British food critic Giles Coren shows up unannounced at restaurants around the U.S. and Canada to get an unvarnished look at their overall dining experience. If he likes what he sees, tastes and experiences, he'll render a review that can change an eatery's fortunes literally overnight.
Regardless of whether they're ready for it.
"When I give a great review to somewhere and they don't know they're going to get it," says Coren, whose print reviews appear in the Times of London, "they're not prepared for it. And then a lot of people come and then they're run off their feet and they run out of ingredients and they don't have the staff and people have a bad experience and it backfires on them. So it isn't enough to just get the review. You've got to be able to cope with the increased (traffic). ... It's possibly as difficult as coping with failure.
"When I started out doing this and I'd written a great review," he continues, "I used to sometimes phone a place. I'd call them the night before and say, 'Listen, you're going to get a great review tomorrow. You'll probably get a lot of people through the door. You should prepare yourself for it.' But then that suddenly sounds a bit arrogant, as if I'm assuming some sort of Godlike position, so I just leave it. But I know of places that had a very difficult time and they don't know what to do."
In the show's first season, Coren has dropped in on restaurants in Philadelphia, Toronto, Charleston, Newfoundland and the site of this week's episode, Providence, R.I. Coming with him are a camera crew, which can often unnerve wait and kitchen staffs and thus affect service, so Coren has his own way of putting employees at ease.
"Drink helps," he says. "For example, there's one in St. John's, Newfoundland, where a lot of drinking generally goes on and I just arrive and start doing shots with the head waiter and we get pretty drunk pretty quickly — for real — and then everybody forgets that there's a camera there and it can all be real.
"The main thing (is) for them to pretend the cameras aren't there and to help, in the space of a two-hour meal, turn them into broadcasters. ... I'll unclip my mike and talk to them and I'll say, 'You don't want to pay attention to the crew. They're a bunch of losers.' And I'm getting them on my side. And then say, 'Look, I know I'm here to give you this million dollar review but really, we're all on the television. And if you want people to come to your restaurant, you give a good show for 10 minutes on the TV, it doesn't really matter what I think.' And that seems to help them relax."
Q: What book are you currently reading?
A: "It's by Peter Frankopan. It's called 'The Silk Roads.' It's a history book just out this year. ... The history of the world has always been about the West and this is repositioning it along the silk road and saying it's all in Persia. It's a very good thing for an English public school boy to read history written from a different perspective."
Q: What did you have for dinner last night?
A: "Honestly, truthfully, I had one of my own sheep. I have a place outside London in the Gloucestershire countryside ... and I have a small number of sheep and we have them for food. ..."
Q: What is your next project?
A: "It's (an unscripted TV series) called 'Back in Time for Brixton,' and Brixton is a very black suburb of South London. ... It's through food, telling the story of black immigration in the 20th century in Britain."
Q: When was the last vacation you took, where and why?
A: "It was about a month ago and I went to Dubai with my daughter, Kitty, who's 5 years old."