Culture

Jay Rayner: "Restaurant critics are driven by snobbery"

MasterChef muncher and food critic Jay Rayner says Britain’s restaurant revolution has left him wanting more

What did you have for breakfast?

It was very dull. I had granola with milk, that’s all.

I’ve never seen anyone prepare breakfast on MasterChef. Is it an overlooked meal?

It’s a very functional meal. The secret is in the name: you’re breaking the fast, simply giving yourself something after the longest gap without eating in your daily routine.

What is a day tasting food on MasterChef like?

You don’t do breakfast and you don’t plan to do dinner, for a start. We’re there at the table for about four or five hours. You need to pace yourself. We only taste the dishes – unless they’re bloody good, in which case we can’t help ourselves and finish them.

It seems like either the best job in the world or the worst.

Well, probably not the worst. But it’s not really about the food – it’s television. People cook some stuff and nobody dies. I’m aware that whatever I say better be phrased in a way that makes the cut, otherwise I’m spending hours sitting there and none of me will turn up on screen – and I don’t want that to happen.

Are you secretly delighted when the food stinks, as it gives you something to say?

People don’t really believe me but I’m not secretly thrilled.

You’re openly thrilled?

It’s not about thrill – I get angry. Savagely negative reviews are driven by anger more than anything else: “How bloody dare they!” I publish 50 reviews a year and I counted last year that 25 were positive, 14 or 15 were middling – only nine were negative.

How many of those nine are still operating?

We’re the doctor diagnosing the disease; bad restaurants fail all by themselves.

What’s the reaction of staff when you walk into a restaurant? Are a lot of plates dropped?

They can sometimes be clumsy, doing things like sending out dishes I didn’t order, which I send back. They say: “The chef wants you to try this.” I chose from his menu – either it is good or it isn’t. The stupidest one was a restaurant that sent out a bigger portion to me than anyone else. How stupid do you think I am?

Do restaurants know you’re coming?

The first you’ll know is when I walk up to the door, scratch my head and try to remember which pseudonym I booked under. My anonymity was blown years ago – within six months my photograph was on the walls of restaurants. I do think it’s remarkable the number of bad experiences I have, given the impact this lack of anonymity is supposed to have had. I should probably get over myself, but there you are.

Britain was never renowned for its food culture but has that changed over recent years?

You mustn’t overstate it. A lot of Britain is still very poor when it comes to eating out. It’s an uncompleted revolution, which is great because it means there is more to happen.

Are you good at taking criticism yourself?

Probably. It helps. The classic criticism of me is someone calling me a snob. Yeah, I’m a restaurant critic, that’s what we are. We’re driven by snobbery. If someone wants to call me pompous or condescending, they can go right ahead.

Jay Rayner is touring his spoken word show My Dining Hell across the UK. Follow @jayrayner1 for dates

Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
Jingoism of Rule, Britannia! has long felt shameful. Is it finally time for BBC Proms to axe it?
A 1990s BBC Proms in the Park concert
Music

Jingoism of Rule, Britannia! has long felt shameful. Is it finally time for BBC Proms to axe it?

Helen Lederer: 'There was no room for more women on TV in the 80s and 90s, the slots were taken'
Letter To My Younger Self

Helen Lederer: 'There was no room for more women on TV in the 80s and 90s, the slots were taken'

Blue Lights co-creator Declan Lawn on 'massive responsibility of telling Belfast's stories'
Martin McCann as Stevie Neil, Siân Brooke as Grace Ellis, Katherine Devlin as Annie Conlon, Nathan Braniff as Tommy Foster
TV

Blue Lights co-creator Declan Lawn on 'massive responsibility of telling Belfast's stories'

Top 5 books on future tech and video game fiction, chosen by star YA author Triona Campbell
Books

Top 5 books on future tech and video game fiction, chosen by star YA author Triona Campbell

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know