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A Critic in the North
A column announcement and call for submissions
Good morning and welcome to Vittles.
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Some of you may have already heard of the shit sandwich – it’s a technique normally used in performance reviews to deliver a piece of bad news in between two other pieces of good news, to soften the blow of a negative assessment or a particularly emotionally devastating bit of criticism. I’ve never been quite convinced by the universal application of this technique; some sandwiches are vehicles for the filling, stacked with layers upon layers of mortadella; some are doorstop slabs of bread with butter inside.
Apropos of that, I have some good news: the new season of Vittles is imminent. It’s taken a little longer than anticipated to organise, but season five on food producers and production is starting to find its shape, with the next month or so of articles pretty much done. I will be taking a week’s break from today to dot some i’s and remove some em-dashes, but the season opener will go out on Monday 17th January. Put it in your diary – I think it’s going to be a belter.
As I announced last year, the start of season five will also coincide with a new series of columns on Fridays; this includes one on eclectic supermarket produce by Feroz Gajia and one on Black British foodways by Yvonne Maxwell. Unfortunately, due to a scheduling conflict, Ruby Tandoh will no longer be able to write the third column on Incidental Eating – something I know many of you were looking forward to. It’s still my hope that we’ll be able to bring the idea back at some point in the future, but if anyone signed up for a paid subscription to read that column, please get in touch with me on email@example.com or reply to this email and I will be happy to issue a refund.
A Critic in the North
So here’s the other good news: there will be a new Friday column at Vittles, one which I am extremely excited about as both an editor and a reader. In the last few years, the London restaurant scene has been covered in a much more expansive, inclusive way that reflects the reality of how people actually eat here; first in Eater London, with its Five to Try column and area maps, and also of late in this newsletter, particularly with the South Asian Guide. This is fine and dandy for people who actually live in London, but for those in other parts of the country it’s deepened the already chasmic divide between coverage of the capital and everywhere else.
Since I started writing about restaurants, the most asked question I’ve received, often worded more like a demand, is ‘when are you going to come to *insert city here*?’ accompanied by a list of restaurants to check out in the same frantic tone as Paul Mason asking Stoya to come to Athens to witness the revolution. I’ve been asked to come to Glasgow, to Newcastle, to Bristol, to Belfast, to Liverpool to Cornwall, all with the implication that restaurant coverage in these places is minimal, and that I should write about it.
I have two conflicting views on this: the first is that I would absolutely love to, that I’m sick of my London bubble, of hearing about the same type of restaurants all the time. That my idea of a good day trip would be getting on a Avanti bullet train, being shown around Bradford and eating halwa puri until I collapse. I still hope this will happen. But I don’t believe that I’m the person who should be covering it. I write about London because I have lived here all my life and I know it like the back of my hand (by which I mean I don’t know it at all but I at least have some emotional connection to it). I don’t want to become a newspaper critic parachuting myself into cities for a day trip and pretending to be an authority on something I know nothing about. The writing I would really like to read about restaurants outside London is informed, contextualised, both personal and about place, about people, and about the unexpected. And a bit about the food too.
This is why for the third column I would like to install a rotating ‘Critic in the North’ to cover food and restaurant culture in the north of England. Why the north particularly? My outings outside of London this year have mainly been to the north of England and I’ve been struck at how the discrepancy between the narrative of the Red Wall – of a homogenous white working-class – and the reality of northern cities and towns plays out in its food culture. In Wigan, I was struck at how the discourse around the ‘smack barm pey wet’, which inadvertently or purposely portrayed local food culture as one-dimensional and stuck in the past, taped over the fact that the exact same chippy was doing a roaring trade in homemade zinger burgers recognisable to anyone in Karachi. In Wakefield, I had good, solid Yorkshire fish and chips with a potato scallop on the side, but the most memorable thing I ate was a doner calzone from a South Asian takeaway. Andrew Twentyman could never.
The difference between London and the north is that London is frequently lied about and misportrayed by the people who live here; in the north it is the outsiders doing the misrepresenting. Interesting writing about the diversity of the north’s food culture exists, but it never makes it into mainstream publications because it doesn’t fit a predetermined narrative imposed from outside. This is why I would like a rotating group of columnists covering every city and town, from Liverpool to Newcastle, from Carlisle down to wherever the Midlands technically starts, to tell the stories of their own cities. I hope having a northern critic(s) will do two things: first of all, it will disrupt the London focus of Vittles, which has always been its inevitable weakness, and secondly, I think it will be a good test case to see if this kind of coverage could later be expanded to other areas in the UK. A Gujarati food guide to Leicester? A Somali café guide to Bristol? The possibilities are endless.
Pitches are open from right now. Please send me your ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org stating which city you would like to cover and what you would like to write about. I am particularly looking for new or young writers to cover things outside the remit of a traditional restaurant review – a focus on a particular neighbourhood perhaps, or a special dish, or a profile of a person or a community. Articles will be roughly 1,000 words, paid at a rate of £400 per piece, and they will be published behind a paywall.
As I mentioned, I will be on a break for the next week so the next Vittles in your inbox will be the season five opener. See you then, and happy new year!