Food Informants is a week-in-the-life series profiling fascinating people in the food world. We hope it will give you a first-hand look at the many different corners of the food industry. Know someone who would make a great Food Informant? Tell us why.
Ryan Sutton wishes he were at a Russian bathhouse right now, steaming his face with a bowl of spicy Georgian lamb soup before hitting the banya for some 220F shvitzing. Instead, he's holed up in midtown Manhattan, fact checking an upcoming price increase at one of New York's most expensive restaurants. Such is the life of Bloomberg News' New York food critic and the founding editor of The Price Hike and The Bad Deal.
The 34-year-old Sutton started The Price Hike in early 2011 to inform the public when and why restaurants raise their prices. He founded The Bad Deal a few months later to criticize all the discount offers and coupons that were flooding the hospitality industry. As daily deals have receded from most good restaurants, Ryan now uses The Bad Deal to cover other gastronomic issues including Hurricane Sandy relief, culinary philanthropy, restaurant worker pay, culinary start ups, digital cookbooks, women chefs, and efforts to extricate so-called ethnic foods from the shackles of authenticity and the burden of being cheap.
In a previous life, Ryan was the Former Soviet Union Research coordinator for the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. He studied Russian at Moscow International University and The George Washington University, where he graduated magna cum laude in 2001. He also studied international affairs and human rights at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs, where he graduated with a lot of debt in 2005. He wrote a thesis paper on Belorussian opposition politics, in Russian, and he's sure no more than one person read it, if that. Ryan believes that data and statistics have the power to change lives. He is a third generation Sutton family speedskater. He thinks East Coast skiers are the best skiers. He splits his time between Long Beach and Manhattan and he dreams of traveling around the Caucuses, Central Asia, and Western China.
Read about how Ryan balances a huge feature with his regular food criticism duties.
Monday, August 26
8:00am: Wake up briefly, with every intention of actually getting up by at 8:30am. It's going to be a killer week as my haute vegetable feature is running on Bloomberg Pursuits this Thursday. "Gotta get up early and tear this week to shreds," I say to myself. Then I fall back asleep until 9:30am.
10:00am: Bike to work on my Felt II racer. I live just a mile away from The Bloomberg Building so it's pretty much an all-out sprint. This is my morning caffeine. Don't get me wrong I still have my caffeine, but this is my CAFFEINE if you know what I mean. I don't like when cars pass me and I sure as shinola don't like when bikers pass me. If my quads hurt by the time I get to work I know all is right in the world.
10:15am: Breakfast. Honey nut cheerios, with skim milk, and Rishi Jasmine Tea, with three sugars. I don't drink coffee. I appreciate it, I used to work as a barista, but it's not something I really consume for pleasure. I've been drinking jasmine tea since I started grad school in 2003 and haven't gone back. I love floral flavors: jasmine, lavender, orange blossom, and especially rose. I love it when I go out on a date and a lady is wearing nice perfume. Put on something floral and I'm like Toucan Sam.
10:15am-10:30am: Check Twitter, Eater, Grub Street, New York Times and Tumblr for food news. I start drinking the tea after ten minutes of steeping.
10:30am-1:00pm: Pedal to the metal. The vegetable piece was embargoed for publication weeks ago so that's out of the way. But I still have to do "the extras." Now here's the thing; the print piece focuses on Manresa, Meadowood, and Stone Barns, and I only had 1,700 words. Still, I have a ton of leftover material from eating and shooting (video + stills). So just as a chef doesn't like to throw out an unused cut of meat, I don't like letting any leftover journalism go to waste. I start working on a video package, a slideshow and a Bad Deal post.
1:00pm: Lunch, which is two Oreos, and a bag of Doritos. And a cup of skim milk.
1:30pm-3:30pm: Continued photo editing. When things get too monotonous, I transcribe parts of a Dan Barber interview I hope to run on The Bad Deal on Friday as another supplement [Spoiler Alert: it doesn't get done by Friday].
4:00pm-5:00pm: I taxi downtown to drop off a hard copy of my magazine piece to a producer at WNYC who might have me on air. I give the taxi cab driver the wrong address and he drops me off 20 blocks south of where I need to be. My phone dies. I take the subway to WNYC and the security guard thinks I'm a messenger (which at this point, I technically am), so he sends me around the corner to the freight elevator, which, as a bonus, is run by this guy who likes to talk a lot. A whole lot. We stop at some of the lower floors to load and unload equipment. Well, he does the loading and unloading, but I like to think I was helping out in spirit with the loading, by standing there, and not talking.
5:30pm: I get on the subway platform and notice a big deal chef waiting nearby so I walk in the opposite direction. I end up getting off at the wrong stop, and then I get back on the wrong train.
6:00pm: I get a slice of pizza from wherever and a Peach Snapple. Costs me like $5.50. That pizza joint apparently runs a "special" for two slices and a soda fountain drink for $5.13, which they didn't tell me about, so I imagine myself writing a Bad Deal post about the ignominy on my way back to the office. I never write that post.
6:30pm-7:30pm: I grab a quick drink at Le Cirque (downstairs from my office) with one of my closest friends, a mostly-vegetarian Israeli-American who works at a small hedge fund. We debate U.S. policy towards Syria and the painstaking minutiae of my social life.
7:30pm-9:00pm: I start cutting the in and out of a video interview I did with Meadowood's Christopher Kostow back in June. Kostow has this great line about how the price is justified on his $500 tasting, and then adds: "I'm not going to say it's a value the way a 99 cent burrito is, but it's worth the price."
9:30pm-Midnight: I have the $180 tasting menu at Juni. I hit this place early on in its tenure because I understood it was vegetable heavy and I needed another New York venue in my vegetable slideshow. Turns out I was right; the menu was vegetable-heavy. That's the good news. The bad news is that the food wasn't very good. And no matter how young your restaurant is, if you're gonna charge $180, which was the same opening price as Blanca, you have to at least be in the ballpark of where you need to be. This restaurant was not in that ballpark.
12:30am-2:00am: I unwind at home and let my food digest. You can't go to bed right after a long meal otherwise you're gonna wake up with a bad case of the meat sweats, or in this case, vegetable sweats. I watch X-MEN First Class until I fall asleep.
Tuesday, August 27
10:45am: Cab to work. I'll get my exercise tomorrow.
11:00am-6:30pm: Work. The slideshow photos are in pretty good shape, so I spend most of the day polishing up the Meadowood video interview, which means picking out some good music and laying on some b-roll like a BOSS. Lunch occurs around 1:00pm and it's delivered via Seamless, which I know is wrong because I don't like the transaction fees they charge restaurants, but I'm in the weeds and just need a bacon, egg, cheese on a roll without all the fuss of calling anyone up.
6:30-8:00pm: Dinner uptown as part of upcoming review/roundup.
8:15pm: Improptu dessert in front of Bloomberg Building.
8:30pm-2:30am: I spend most of the evening writing captions for the slideshow. This takes a lot longer than expected for two reasons. First of all, I can't stand redundant content so I don't typically allow myself to read my own story while writing the captions.
Second of all, I'm committed to price transparency, so I figure out the REAL COST after tax, tip, and wine pairing, of about almost all restaurants in the slideshow. I fact check all the different tax rates of the different restaurants in the different cities to get this right.
2:30am: Leave work.
2:45am-4:00am: Unwinding at home. I put on "The Hunt for Red October," a movie that I can pretty much quote line by line. The key here isn't cinematic edification I just want to take the edge off. I have some Barbancourt rum, neat, and set my alarm to 8:30am, then 9:30am, because who am I kidding?
Wednesday, August 28
10:45am: Cab to work. About thirteen hours until my story is released.
10:55am-5:00pm: My cards are in order, so this is an intense but manageable day. The first half is spent with a video editor, who cleans up my production and gives it a nice spit shine. Unfortunately, the interview runs too long so the video editor decides Christopher Kostow's brilliant burrito line has to go. I think about making a case for it, but really, this video guy is logging on extra hours for me, and it's tough to make a case for a burrito, even when the sailing is smooth. I don't even like burritos. I briefly consider writing a Bad Deal rant about burritos.
5:00pm-5:30pm: I realize that I screwed up about 60% of the REAL COST prices in my slideshow due to an Excel error. I let the slideshow editor know and he's cool with it. Better catch it before publication than after. The slideshow editor considers killing the Juni slide, because the photo is stylistically different than the others, but I convince him to keep it in, because it's really the only negative comment in the whole package, including the story, video and slideshow. You need that negative comment for credibility. And you need that negative comment because it's true.
5:30pm-9:45pm: Final checks on the video package and then I start polishing up my Bad Deal commentary, a good portion of which is a bunch of paragraphs that my editor cut from the print story for space reasons. This makes me very very happy, that what didn't work in the story is now living a second life on my blog.
10:00pm-11:00pm: Work dinner at an Ethiopian restaurant.
11:30pm-12:00am: I taxi back home and finish my Bad Deal commentary on vegetables, and release it around midnight, after the story hits the wire. I'm absolutely ecstatic at this point because I'm just about finished with this monster of a story that I started pitching back in late May.
Thursday, August 29
11:00am: Cab to work. Spend most of day doing social media stuff for article.
2:00pm: WNYC interview. This time I get to ride up the regular, non-freight elevator. And I don't get lost on the subway.
7:00pm: Dinner at some Indian joint with one of our legal team editors and a guy from our billionaires team. I'm exhausted and I'm certain the lamb vindaloo I'm eating is burning a whole in my duodenum.
9:00pm-11pm: I get back home and start editing a few more vegetable photos that I'll put up on my Tumblr tomorrow. Before I actually get any work done, my external hard drive fails. My computer makes this clear to me in plain language, but I spend two hours, restarting the computer, hoping that this proverbial milk will unspill itself. No dice. I have some ice cream to cut the burning sensation in my duodenum. And I take a few tums.
Midnight: I put on an old James Bond movie and fall asleep within minutes.
Friday, August 30
10:30am: Cab to Apple store, where I buy a new external hard drive. I rescue all the data (thousands of RAW photos) on my failed drive and all is well.
11:00am-5:00pm: I'm about to go on vacation, so I spend most of day writing a column in case they want to run it when I'm out. Honestly I'm exhausted, and writing the extra column is like I just ran a marathon and my coach is now telling me to do an extra mile, but hey, that's the gig, we all gotta work. I do another radio hit, this time in house at Bloomberg, and it goes smooth like foie gras terrine from Per Se. BOO-YA.
6:00pm: Start getting ready to leave. A certain LADY FRIEND has invited me over to her place to make dinner and watch a movie. I was supposed to make my world famous linguine with clam sauce, which is pretty much a plagiarized version of David Pasternack's linguine with clam sauce at Esca (though I throw in a little jalapeno for spice and cilantro because I'm all about floral notes). Unfortunately, I was too exhausted and things were running late so I said let's just get takeout. That was mistake number one. Mistake number two was the choice of movie. Lady Friend wanted to watch Silence of The Lambs, which I thought was a rather progressive choice of movie for a date, but we both love food, and there's admittedly a certain culinary aspect to Jonathan Demme's wonderful film. Sadly, Silence of the Lambs wasn't available. So I pick up "Seven," because I figured that's in the same class of things, because if someone suggests Silence of the Lambs, you don't show up with Blazing Saddles, right?
8:30pm-10:00pm: Arrive at Lady Friend's place. We have pizza and then start watching Seven.
10:30pm: Lady Friend says she's not feeling "Seven," after they show this dead guy who's been, well, you know what I'm talking about if you've seen the movie. She shuts it off halfway through and says she's calling it a night. I issue a brief but respectable defense of the film, which she tolerates. I consider blaming her for suggesting Silence of the Lambs in the first place, but I decide just to cut my losses. She kisses me on the cheek and I leave.
10:45pm-11:15pm: Self-loathing cab ride back to apartment.
11:20pm-11:45pm: Bike to Penn Station.
11:55pm-12:55pm: Train to Long Beach.
12:55pm-1:05am: Bike from station to home in Long Beach. Can smell the ocean air.
1:30am-2:45am: Home. I pour myself a Barbancourt and coke and heat up a slice of leftover pizza, which I shower with an obnoxious amount of sriracha. Smeagol, my cat, cuddles up next to me. By this time I've completely forgotten about my bad date. I put on "The World is Not Enough," a Bond flick that's more tolerable than I remember it. I have every intention of waking up early to get an egg, bacon and cheese on a roll at my local deli. Problem is they stop serving the sandwiches at 12pm, which means I have to wake up by 11:40am -- kind of aggressive all things considered. Still, I'm sure I can do it.
Saturday, August 31
12:05pm: Wake up. Make jasmine tea. Turn on television and check a bunch of restaurant websites for price moves. I fry my own damn eggs.
3:00pm: Biking on Long Beach boardwalk, 1000 meter intervals.
9:00pm: Lobster dinner. My parents and I buy them steamed from Jordan's in Island Park and take them home. Usually I get live lobsters but it's been a rough week and I don't feel like sticking a knife in anything right now. I hate clarified butter so I make an Old-Bay infused beurre fondu sauce by slowly cooking down butter and tossing in some warm water to stabilize the emulsion (a trick I learned half a decade ago from Tom Colicchio's "Think Like a Chef."). Turns out great but mom wants ghee and I tell her ghee ain't no good in the lobster 'hood but she's had a rough week too so I march back into the kitchen and make brown butter sauce and tell her this is a compromise butter sauce between ghee and beurre fondu. She likes it. Mission accomplished.
11:00pm: Drinks at Swingbelly's with my Cousin Diana, who's four years older than me and who's spent the last 17 years or so working as a diabetic private chef, usually for people in the financial community. She is one of my idols.
3:50am: Fall asleep.
Sunday, September 1
12:00pm: Wake up. My mother asks me if I'd like an egg on a roll with bacon and cheddar from that place around the block and I politely explain that her degenerate son can't have one because they stop making the lousy egg sandwiches at noon. Long Beach isn't the type of town where you go to a restaurant and "eggs" is a separate section on the dinner menu, like at North End Grill in Manhattan, if you catch my drift. Long Beach could really use a North End Grill.
3:00pm: Biking on boardwalk. More 1000 meter intervals.
6:00pm: Dinner at home. Dad grills porterhouse steaks. We watch, "Master and Commander" and "Dr. No." My parents fall asleep and I continue on with "From Russia With Love," which I believe ranks with Casino Royale as one of the best Bond films of all time. Peak levels of happiness right now.
3:30am: Fall asleep on the couch.
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