To write a long winded critique of a restaurant takes time, effort and the ability to look at things objectively, but with one catch — to garner any type of credibility, one should have the ability to assess quality. Columbus' Will Kamesnsky has that. BY ROBERTO CALIGARIS
Food critics play an important role in analyzing food and restaurants and then publishing their findings with the world on a public forum. Will Kamensky, former Brookstone graduate, is a food critic for The Infatuation in San Francisco, CA. The Infatuation, founded by Chris Stang and Andrew Steinthal, is a website, app, newsletter, and recommendation platform designed to help you find the perfect restaurant for every situation. Their restaurant reviews and guides are all written by a small group of highly trained, highly opinionated writers and editors. SVM spoke to Will about his beginnings as a food writer, people's love for food, and the latest restaurants trends.
You are a writer in San Francisco for a successful restaurant discovery platform, The Infatuation. How did you get started as a food writer? Writing about restaurants is something I never imagined myself doing for a job, but I always loved food growing up thanks to my grandmother, Frances Kamensky, and my mom who are both incredible cooks. While I was at Tulane, a great chef took me under her wing, and taught me more than I could have ever wanted to know about food, cooking, and the restaurant world. Even then, food mostly remained a hobby until about a little over a year ago. I was living in San Francisco working in blockchain technology, and was looking for a different opportunity. The Infatuation was something I had used for years, starting with a vacation I took to New York City in college - a friend refused to give me restaurant recommendations and instead demanded I use this website, that at the time, I had never heard of. A few iPhones later, The Infatuation was one of the only apps that stayed with me aside from Words With Friends and Spotify, so when the application ended up in front of me, and experience as a food writer was not a necessity, I knew I needed to apply.
Has writing about food changed your relationship to it? Is there always a voice in your head critiquing what you’re eating now? No, I really don’t think writing about restaurants has changed my relationship with food. One of the things that I love the most about being at The Infatuation is that we’re not supposed to embody some kind of “food critic” character with a clipboard full of check boxes - we’re encouraged to write about restaurants the same way we would tell a friend about our experience. So much so that at the beginning of most reviews, things start off with my editor asking me, “Hey, how was dinner last night?” - the same way I would to someone who had just eaten somewhere cool - and then we go from there.
Restaurants had a lot riding on you as a food critic for The Infatuation. Have you ever felt bad about lowering the boom on a place? We write reviews like we’re helping our friends and families find places to eat they’re the ones who stand to gain or lose the most by eating at a restaurant they don’t know yet. If there’s a restaurant that someone would arguably go to that I don’t think they should spend their money at, it’s a no brainer to warn them of what they can expect to find.
You are a Brookstone graduate and now living in San Francisco. Does your siteblog only feature restaurants from the Bay Area or does it include other cities as well? The Infatuation actually started in New York, and we cover cities from Seattle to London and many in between. We also have travel guides in cities from Nashville to Sydney to Paris. That being said, we’re still expanding. Our most recent full city launches include Philadelphia, Boston, and Atlanta, so I’d highly recommend that if anyone is heading up to Atlanta they should download our app and check us out. People are getting really into food.
There are all these gastronomical blogs out there and people are watching from Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown, Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern, and Chef’s able on Netflix. What is going on? Way too many things to count, but I think people have always deeply loved food, otherwise we’d be sitting around eating unsalted porridge and wouldn’t think twice about it. Food gives people a way to to travel, connect with their past, build relationships, show where they’ve been, and so on. Technology and media have been great for people who love food because it’s created an outlet to tell their culinary stories to a wider audience, and give others the means to learn more about the world around them.
What restaurant trends are you noticing right now? Food trends change wherever you are in the country. Aside from being obsessed with fancy pastas, San Francisco restaurants love to highlight whatever’s in season right now, so when something like sugar peas are here, you can count on seeing a lot of sugar peas everywhere you go. One that has been picking up nationally is this kind of 1950’s nostalgia - people digging through their grandparents’ recipe boxes. Places that serve things like fancy burgers and pie are popping up everywhere.
For years, food critics were anonymous and went into restaurants unknown. Some still do that, some don’t. Some let restaurants know they are coming in and call ahead. What do you think is the best or most ethical way to review a restaurant? When we’re writing a review at The Infatuation, we use aliases to book tables and we pay for everything we eat. If we got special treatment and wrote about it as if that was what everyone could expect, our reviews wouldn’t translate to actual diners’ experiences. The aliases keep everyone honest. Plus, it’s fun to come up with fake names to use like Tyler Butler or Constantine McEnroe.
Where do you shop for food and do you cook at home? I pick root vegetables from my illustrious backyard plot on a daily basis with my dog Bentley at my side. Not really, but I absolutely do cook at home. Not as much as I used to because half my job is eating out, but I try to get people together every week or so to do something big and fun like frying chicken, making a huge pot of gumbo, or setting up a tortilla factory in my house for taco night. As for the shopping, I get most of what I need from places like Safeway, but if there’s anything specific I need, I’ll go to a butcher or the awesome farmers’ market in the San Francisco Ferry Building every Saturday.
When you visit Columbus, your favorite place to eat is: My parents’ kitchen table. Aside from that, Columbus has changed a lot since I graduated from high school in 2012. Every time I’m home I hear about what’s new and what’s changing, but you can still count on finding me at Dinglewood with my friends at some point, Chef Lee’s is always a go-to, and if I’m downtown running errands, I’m either at Uptown Vietnam Cuisine or picking up Smokey Pig with my brother and sister. There also aren’t any Waffle Houses in California, so it’s tough to not end up there once or twice.