People | 20 QUESTIONS

Entertainment entrepreneur Steve Plotnicki: 'Learn how to analyze what you're eating'

by Melinda Joe

Special To The Japan Times

Name: Steve Plotnicki
Age: 63
Nationality: American
Occupation: Entertainment entrepreneur and founder of the food survey Opinionated about Dining
Likes: Music, food, debate
Dislikes: “Healthy” eating


1. You started your career as a musician, before going into the entertainment industry and then the food world. What instrument did you play? I was a blues and rock ‘n’ roll guitar player.

2. The record company you co-founded, Profile Records, produced the rap group Run DMC’s first album. How did that happen? Rap music wasn’t popular at the time, and smaller independent companies were taking advantage of that opportunity. We signed them after they were turned down by 20 other places.

3. Do you still listen to hip-hop? No. I spend most of my time listening to jazz from the 1950s and ’60s.

4. How did you become so passionate about dining? My father was a butcher but I never thought of working with food in a serious way. When I closed down my recording company in 2002, I got involved in (the online food forum) E-gullet.

5. Is there any overlap between food and music? Both are things that someone can master by doing it on their own.

6. Opinionated about Dining started as a blog and has become an influential restaurant guide, alongside Michelin and Restaurant Magazine’s World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. What sets OAD apart? Our single reviewing panel. I found that the biggest inconsistency in other guides was in the reviewing panels — for example, the panels that review restaurants for Michelin are different from country to country. With OAD, the same people who review restaurants in, say, the U.K. are also reviewing restaurants in Japan, and that makes the results more stable.

7. There are currently around 5,500 OAD contributors. Can anyone become a reviewer? Yes. The idea is to have a completely democratic process on input. We have an algorithm that organizes the results based on the knowledge of the reviewers.

8. How does the algorithm work? Restaurants are assigned a certain “weight,” and your input as a reviewer is based on the weight of those restaurants. For example, if you eat at the top 100 fine-dining restaurants in Tokyo, your weight will be higher than if you’ve eaten at the top 100 hamburger restaurants in the United States. Diners that go to every type of restaurant around the world are the most valuable reviewers.

9. What’s the business model for OAD? Lose money until we figure out how to make it! I have been very cautious about bringing in sponsors because I don’t want to interrupt the casual, friendly vibe we have.

10. This year, you launched a list of the best restaurants in Asia, but previously you had focused solely on Japan. Why the change? This year we got a lot of good reviewers from Singapore, Bangkok, Taiwan and Hong Kong.

11. Sushi Saito ranked #1 on the Asian list. What was your personal pick for top restaurant in the region? No, my No. 1 in Japan was Ogata in Kyoto. But Sushi Saito has the highest score in the world.

12. In recent years, Japan has had a significant influence on top chefs around the world. Do you think it will continue to do so? Japan has a fundamental advantage over other countries that stems from how the restaurants are set up because they serve smaller numbers of guests.

13. What’s the general state of fine dining in 2017? Much of fine dining was designed to appeal to an audience at a time when class was much more important than today. As new generations of diners come in, fine dining restaurants struggle because they have not figured out a way to tease the craft of what they do from the class aspect in the experience.

14. What makes a really good restaurant critic? I’m looking for facts more than opinions. Rather than, “The steak was delicious,” what I’m interested in knowing is where the steak came from, how old the cow was, what the cow ate and how long they aged the meat.

15. Which restaurants would you consider essential eating for fine-dining newbies? People are better off starting with top examples of casual food — really good tapas bars in Spain such as El Quim, some of the new wave restaurants in Paris such as Les Deserteurs.

16. How do you become a better taster? Learn how to analyze what you’re eating.

17. Which chefs are you really excited about now? All the chefs on my best new restaurant list (laughs). I think there’s something going on with the new generation of chefs in northern Italy.

18. What would you want for your last meal? I’m a meat eater so I want a perfectly aged steak.

19. What else is new at OAD? We’re releasing a list of gourmet casual restaurants in Europe and I’m planning to turn all of the lists into a guide book.

20. Any advice for budding food bloggers? Get as many details about what you’re eating as possible.

For more information on Opinionated About Dining, visit http://www.opinionatedaboutdining.com/2017/2017_index.html.