Sophie Gayot and the Good Life!
Sophie Gayot world-renowned food critic began her culinary career the moment she was old enough to eat, sleep and ride in an airplane. “I was always with my father! I grew up in this milieu. My mother also cooks very well… and she secretly confides ” I cannot help but always compare the food with my mother’s cooking which has a lot of soul .”
I could tell Sophie Gayot is a woman on a mission.“I do not “eat” at restaurants,” she told me right away as we met, “I only go to the restaurant to work!”
Sophie & I met up at a restaurant one wonderful evening. You can read more about it on “My Dinner with Sophie Gayot”. Throughout the evening, I got to catch a rare glimpse into this fascinating woman’s world. It wasn’t at all a traditional interview with questions and answers, but rather an on the spot culinary human encounter that flowed as we got acquainted in between bites.
What stroke me the most about Sophie was her surprisingly casual down-to-earth attitude and no-nonsense manner. From the waiters to the head of the establishment, each person she greeted with a beautiful smile and delightful sense of humor. She clearly made people at ease and had instant rapport “Why be stand-offish… I like to treat people nicely and with respect from the dishwashers to the chef! I enjoy talking to everyone. It’s so much more pleasant to be nice. Plus I have a lot of respect for this profession and empathy. People don’t realize how hot and noisy it can get in the kitchen!”
Growing up, Sophie experienced a rare glimpse of the best the world had to offer while discovering her natural talent as a food and lifestyle critic. The apple did not fall far from the tree and Sophie naturally followed in her father’s footsteps, the acclaimed medal of honor recipient French restaurant critic André Gayot who coined and promoted the term “Nouvelle Cuisine” in the early 1970s with his friends Henri Gault and Christian Millau. In 1981 The Gayot Guides were first published using a 20-point scale rating system based on the French school grading system to score the restaurants compared to the Michelin Guide star system.
The Gayot Guide focuses on the top 40 restaurants and each year Gayot publishes its list of the “Top 40 Restaurants in the U.S.”highlighting the nation’s best restaurants. Today you can find more than 20,000 restaurant reviews published on the GAYOT website along with Top 10 Lists for international hotel and spa reviews, wine, and culinary event listings, travel guides and much more!
Sophie Gayot is one busy woman and when we met she had just returned from an extensive Florida assignment followed by a visit to Tahiti. “It’s not always easy, it’s almost a 7 days-a-week work schedule.” Sophie explained, “Each restaurant review is about 30 hours of work, between getting ready and made-up, driving there, eating, writing the review, writing the blog which is a different format from the review, editing the photos and the video, then emailing the chef, Twitter and Facebook”. She eats out for reviews on average 4 times a week all year round.
It naturally followed in the conversation that I inquire about how Sophie manages to keep her beautiful figure with this rigorous eating-out regimen, “I workout and power walk with my weights every day for half-hour and 2 hours on the weekend.” When she finds spare time, she loves to listen to classical music — and stays away from restaurants. “I could listen to Mozart all day during my days off, I enjoy the opera, ballet, museums but absolutely no restaurants!”
Sophie is well-known for her witty, straight forward and discerning attitude, which influences the distinct voice of her family’s international website, “GAYOT.com” started in 2002. The popular online guidebook is well-respected for its comprehensive reviews and sets the standard for restaurant ratings for a vast audience of passionate foodies seeking cutting edge lifestyle experiences. On the Gayot Blog you can also enjoy all of Sophie’s intimate video interviews with chefs and celebrities.
With her extensive experience in the food, wine and travel industry for many years, Sophie is on a first-name basis with the best chefs in the world, from the celebrity gourmet chefs such as Joël Robuchon, Thomas Keller, Alain Ducasse, and Nobu Matsuhisa, to the best food stand vendors around the world.
I asked Sophie how she graded the food of course and how she portrayed herself as a food critic and her answer was candid and straight to the point “It’s all about the flavor and the taste ‘ in the mouth”. The chef that makes me vibrate incorporates creativity and fun, it’s the mixture and combination of tastes on the palette… in the mouth” and she added “The Chef has to be in love with the food or it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t come across… it’s like a puzzle that has to be put together.”
Of course, I couldn’t resist asking what are her favorite food and restaurant. She refuses to answer. “Nobody knows. I don’t tell anyone. That is a rule that I have. I can just tell you that my personal taste does not influence my professional write-ups” And she went on adding “You can’t eat Robuchon or foie gras every night! “…” Here’s a note of caution and Chefs beware, Sophie loves all ingredients, except one: ”I do not like cinnamon!” You’ve been warned!
Another thing you may already know about Sophie is that she likes to live dangerously and always carries her saber! “Sabraging Champagne has become my signature move! Only the chef de cave at Dom Perignon refused to have his bottles sabraged!” When traveling and she does not have her saber, she goes in the kitchen and just grabs a knife. You can watch Sophie in action sabraging a champagne bottle here!
While dining at a restaurant Sophie never orders from the menu, “I like to discover the chef’s dishes and enjoy the surprise that’s in my plate.” One thing is for sure Sophie will only interview the Chef if and only if she enjoyed the dishes, she doesn’t like to give negative reviews and prefers to keep the golden rule of silence: “Words don’t come out if the food was not up to par and my silence means everything! There’s something in me… I simply can’t talk to the chef if the food is not good.” She admits confronting the chef in the kitchen but in the end, be forewarned, ”If the food was not good, there’s no video interview.”
Sophie was featured on popular TV morning shows in the US, on LA radios, and on French TV. She was a judge on “Hell’s Kitchen” season 4 and 8 and named “one of America’s finest food critics” by star-chef Gordon Ramsay. On the nationally syndicated CBS TV show “The Insider”, Sophie was presented as “one of the most feared food critics” She also served four times as judge at the prestigious Nestlé Waters North America “Almost Famous Chef” competition, evaluating young cooking talents along with top chefs including Michel Richard.
if that wasn’t enough, Sophie is also involved in a variety of philanthropic organizations. She was Mistress of Ceremonies, six years in a row, at the elegant “Flavors” of Los Angeles Culinary Gala for the “American Liver Foundation”, and at “March of Dimes LA Gala” in 2010. She is a dedicated supporter of the “Concern Foundation” as well as the “Cystic Fibrosis Foundation” which raise funds for cancer research scientists.
What has Sophie not tackled, yet?! Clearly, she is living life passionately. Can we expect other surprises?, I asked her: “…a TV show…” she hints, could be on the horizon. It’s always interesting and inspiring to ask an inspired person who and what inspires them, for Sophie it is: “People who are innovators, people who are revolutionizing cuisine, creative people who use the same ingredients in innovative ways.”
One of my last question of the evening to Sophie was how she herself defined the “Good Life”? “The Good Life to me is to live the quality of the present moment. To live life to the fullest. It doesn’t have to be a life of luxury. It’s not about eating haute cuisine every night, but if you can, why not choose to eat the very best sandwich or hamburger and milkshake? In the end, the Good Life really is all about Healthy Living!”
Thank you Sophie Gayot! It’s been a real treat meeting you and many cheers to The Good Life!