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I've been a food critic all my life, if only in the way everyone is.

I remember sitting in the cafeteria in middle school, picking at the lunch-line scalloped potatoes, thinking that they weren't really "scalloped" potatoes, because they were cut all wrong. I didn't think that wax was a legitimate ingredient in anything proclaiming to be edible, really, and particularly as a substitute for cheese. And as best I could tell, that was what they were using.

In more practical terms, I've been a food critic for six years. I have blogged about restaurant visits around the country. That's a hobby, and it was the rare instance in which I was negative, largely because I was often writing about landmark restaurants. Most of them were really good. That makes it easier.

But I didn't love them all. Sometimes I talked about it - like the mealy skate wing with a burned butter sauce in Boston at a restaurant I wanted to love - and sometimes I just kept it to myself.

The majority of my posts were about high-end joints around the country, but that's not to imply a narrow focus. I was as excited about finally going to Central Grocery in New Orleans for a muffuletta as I was about going to the French Laundry in California. And Central Grocery wasn't all that much easier to get into.

Another part of this hobby has been re-creating things I liked. Although I have no formal culinary training, and have never worked in food service, I can taste a dish and develop a pretty good plan for making it at home. Often successfully, sometimes in a way that I like more than the original. And I dabble as an amateur caterer, feeding as many as 100 people at a time. It isn't the same thing restaurants face, but it helps me understand the pressure that kitchens encounter every night. So I'm sympathetic. But I determine my success or failure based on whether the guests enjoy themselves. That's the same standard I would have for any restaurant.

Now, in professional terms, I am a food critic. In many ways, it is an extension of what I have been doing for years. I'm going to go out to eat, and then I'm going to tell you about it. Often you will read about places I liked. Sometimes you'll read about places I didn't. There are no guarantees that you'll like the places that I liked, and I'm sure that any place I don't like will have a legion of fans. That's okay. Ultimately, my job is to tell readers about my experience. After I have done that a few times, you'll know how my opinion jibes with yours. And if that gets some conversations started along the way, all the better.

Jim Webster can be reached at or (727) 893-8746. Read his blog at