The world of food critique is a very small world indeed. Food blogs are slowly rising and may be competing with traditional media in some areas. Ed over at Tomato has discussed this topic quite a few time, here's one post. However, traditional media, and those wielding the pen behind them are still a major force to be reckoned with in the world of food critique.
Unlike movie reviewing, where a professional movie reviewer will still wield some power, food reviewing is another tale of power altogether. With a movie review, there are many more sources to choose from to begin with. There are a few reasons why movie reviewers opinions aren't as powerful.
1) There are only a certain number of movies released at one time. Your friends or family will most likely have seen it and can give you their opinion as well.
2) Movies are relatively cheap so you can go and even if it is bad, it's only a few dollars.
3) You can watch a trailer of a movie and get an idea of what it is roughly about. The trailer can sometimes give a false impression, but at least it's a guide.
Hence, a movie reviewers opinion is diluted. I know I still read their reviewers beforehand, but even if they write it is bad, I will still go watch sometimes.
A food reviewers power is totally undiluted. It will be rare that you can turn to a friend and say "Have you eaten at ....." and get a positive response. Therefore, it's hard to gauge whether a restaurant is good or not. With so many restaurants, the options are very hard to choose from when you have no idea about them at all.
A meal at a restaurant is usually a bit of an occasion, so you really want something good. A bad meal can ruin the whole occasion. It's usually not that cheap to eat at a fancy place, hence making the decision even more vital.
Previously, the only place to get an indication of what a restaurant is like is from reading restaurant reviews. What a reviewer says can literally make or break a restaurant. I know that before food blogs were more common, I really did take the advice of the reviwer and only go to places they liked. I realise that they are only one man/woman's opinion, but their opinion is one more than I have.
Hence, restaurant reviewers are held in the highest regards. They are the Anto Ego's (from Ratatouille) who command a restaurants undivided attention as one meal can change a restaurant's fortunes. Reviewers probably get preferential treatment more often than not, which must affect their judgement. Their task which they are getting paid to do, is to write something that will grab the readers attention. This either means a very glowing review, or a scathing one. Something in the middle of the road won't really retain people's interest. This is at odds with the usual dining experience, which is usually just average. The extremes of excellence and mediocrity are the minority rather than the majority. Therefore, I don't know how accurate their reviews will be, but still, it is an opinion that you can access.
Food reviewers are an enigma in that they are rarely seen by the general public. They are a powerful beast that you know of but don't really know. They are like the little man behind the Wizard in the Wizard of Oz. From the outside, they are all powerful, but really they are just normal people. They have their own opinions, as do all of us. This point was brought home when I read Adam of The Amateur Gourmet's post about meeting the New York Times food reviewer, Frank Bruni. Adam, with his blog, is starting to wield a lot of power in the food arena. However, he was still awestruck to meet Frank. Slowly though, he realised that Frank is just another person who likes to eat and gets to express his opinions to a larger audience. That's actually comforting to know, that food reviewers do enjoy their jobs and are doing it because they love it. If they are doing it purely for the money, then their review will be a lot less reliable for me personally. I have found that I turn to a lot of blogs nowadays for an "average" person's point of view. The "average" food blogger is a lot more knowledgeable about food but still, all write from the heart as we have nothing much to gain from it.
Finally, back on home turf, there was a sighting of a couple of Wizards recently by Ed and Neil.