Queer, young, and woman of color seem to be the only terms people use to describe restaurant critic Soleil Ho. She’s all those things. But she’s also just one imperfect human trying to live out her values at work.
Last December, chef Soleil Ho got a new job, one that put a spotlight on her work. She was named restaurant critic at the San Francisco Chronicle, taking over for Michael Bauer, who retired after 32 years.
In just a few months on the job Soleil's gotten a lot of attention for breaking a lot of the old restaurant critic rules. One of her early columns was entitled, “Words you’ll never see me use in restaurant reviews.” She said she wouldn’t compare food to crack or call it addictive because those terms make light of really serious issues. She wouldn’t talk about guilt because you shouldn’t feel guilty for eating. And she wouldn’t call restaurants authentic, writing,
“I find that the impulse to use the word comes from a place of assumed expertise: I know that a rendition of a dish is authentic because I can differentiate the real stuff from fakery. But if we’re to assume that food is an art, can’t we allow it to change its shape?”
The changes don't stop there. Soleil is open about her inexperience with certain cuisines. She's dispensed of anonymity. And she's considering factors like resisting gentrification to rank the San Francisco area's Top 100 Restaurants. You can see that list here.
But what is it like to have so much scrutiny and responsibility on your shoulders? What if you fail to live up to people's expectations?
Interstitial music in this episode from Black Label Music:
- "Can You Dig It" by Cullen Fitzpatrick
- "Party Hop" by Jack Ventimiglia
- "Rooftop Instrumental" by Erick Anderson
Photo: Courtesy of Soleil Ho. Photo credit: Wendy Xu.