2008年1月25日 星期五

Zagat Survey :Tim and Nina's excellent culinary adventure

Zagat Survey was established by Tim and Nina Zagat in 1979 as a way to collect and correlate the ratings of restaurants by diners. For their first guide, covering New York City, the Zagats surveyed their friends. As of 2005, the Zagat Survey included 70 cities, with reviews based on the input of 250,000 individuals reporting over the years. In addition to restaurants, Zagat guides rate hotels, nightlife and shopping, music, movies, theater and golf. The guides are sold in book form, as software for personal digital assistants and mobile phones, and by paid subscription on the Web. Car manufacturer Honda included Zagat information in the GPS-based navigation systems in some of their models available in the United States, including the Acura MDX and Honda Accord.

在紐約,哪本書最暢銷?不是聖經,而是另本美食「聖經」:「查加餐廳指南」(Zagat NYC Restaurant Survey)。

提姆‧查加(Tim Zagat)和他太太妮娜(Nina Zagat)微笑中帶著驕傲,對幾十名各國記者說,他們出版的查加指南,過去一年在紐約賣了六十五萬本,過去十年紐約最暢銷的書「查加指南年年第一」。


提姆說,他與妮娜都是紐約客,常在紐約吃美食,純粹因著嗜好,想評鑑餐廳好壞,而在一九七九年創立「查加調查」(Zagat Survey),但不同於其他美食評鑑,查加強調「食客民主」,他們是請常上餐廳的成百上千名食客(現在多達數萬食客),一起來評比,統計每人意見後,依食物、裝潢、服務三項打分數,每項最高三十分,而不是由某一、二名美食專家說了算。





查加最大競爭者是米其林,提姆自認就全球銷售量而言,查加「遠高於米其林」,僅在法國落居其後;更要緊的是評鑑內容,提姆認為,「米其林指南」未提供餐廳 食物、裝潢、服務等評比,僅是籠統的一星、二星、三星;查加則在三評鑑項目每項內再列一分至三十分,使消費者得到最完整的評鑑,「高下立判」。

查加仍有美中不足之處。譬如對中國菜就顯然功夫不夠。在2007年紐約餐廳評鑑中,最頂級餐廳共選出廿五家,法國餐廳占九家,日本餐廳占六家,唯獨沒有中 餐廳。固然,全北美最好中餐在溫哥華、洛杉磯、多倫多等地,紐約還排不上前三名;但中餐在紐約畢竟仍有一席之地,連前廿五名都擠不上,遠遜於日本料理,有 些說不過去,查加的「多數民主票決」,還是令華人不大服氣。

ザガット・サーベイ(Zagat Survey)は、1979年にアメリカ合衆国で創刊されたレストラン・ガイド。

ニューヨークに住むティム・ザガット(Tim Zagat)、ニーナ・ザガット(Nina Zagat)夫婦によって創刊された。現在では、米国を中心に世界の70都市のガイドが発行されている。日本では、1996年に横川潤により「ザガット ニューヨーク」が初めて日本語に翻訳された。その後、CHINTAIによって1999年に日本版の発行が開始され、現在は東京版と関西版が出版されている。


Weekend Beat: Tim and Nina's excellent culinary adventure



The Zagats--Tim and Nina--have a little test they like to spring on guests to their table: a salver piled with fruits--among them a mango, a persimmon, strawberries, peach, pear and a Japanese tangerine.

"Now consider carefully," Tim says, "and tell us which is the best."

If you've ever had recourse to the Zagat Survey--the "burgundy bible" among restaurant guides--then the answer is easy.

"That's right," Tim says. "There is no one best--they all are. It's the variety and chance to choose that's important."

Lounging over espresso after a long lunch, the Zagats take in the view from their top floor suite at the newly built Peninsula Tokyo hotel. It's their eighth visit to Tokyo and the skyline ought to look more or less the same--save for a handful of new towers. Yet on the ground--culinarily speaking--Tokyo is new terrain.

The Zagats are here to pitch the 2008 Tokyo edition of their survey. The first Tokyo edition was published in 1999. But now Tokyo is in a buzz--or in shock--from the recent arrival of a competitor--a certain French restaurant guide that the couple throughout the course of this interview refers to only as "them."

"Them," of course, is the Tokyo edition of the Michelin Guide. The first 120,000 copies of the Japanese edition appeared last November and sold out almost immediately. Filled with glossy photos and superlatives, the guide anointed Tokyo as the world's capital of fine dining. It awarded a record 191 stars to 150 restaurants here, compared to 65 stars given out in Paris and 39 issued to eateries in New York.

Trained lawyers, the Zagats are reluctant to comment on the publication until Tim finally lets the cat out of the bag.

"I have just one question,'' he says. "How can their reviewers ever show their faces in Paris again?"

"Now enough about them," Nina cuts in. "And let's talk about us."

Tim is 67 and Nina 65, and both are New Yorkers--but not the abrasive type. There's a newlywed air about them, although they've been together for 42 years.

They met and married at Yale Law School, where Nina "had more fun studying with him than dating other men," and where Tim fell in love when he "discovered that she knew how to cook."

Nina worked at a powerhouse Wall Street law firm for 24 years and learned her kitchen moves at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. Tim once chaired New York's marketing and tourism promotion arm. When he was stabbed a few years ago on the way to a play, he kept the incident out of the papers--to avoid bad PR for the city. He once wanted to be a politician, but judged himself "too thin-skinned for it."

Their name rhymes with "hat" and their dining and leisure Zagat Survey to 88 cities, corporate tie-ups and subscription Web sites could be worth $200 million--according to stories published last week about their desire to sell. It used to be a hobby, and they don't actually write the surveys themselves.

"The idea behind the survey is the same as the one behind democracy,'' explains Tim, the talkative one. He compares the surveys to a vote-counting machine. "It's the same as letting a country be run by the people who like to participate in it."

The story goes back a 1979 dinner party. The couple came up with the idea of listing and rating New York restaurants they liked and asked their friends to do the same--who asked their friends to do likewise. The Zagats stapled the results together for everyone to share, and it became a Wall Street hit. It grew, and when it started costing them money, they tried selling the idea to a publisher. No one bit. They decided to do it themselves, and started raking in $500,000 a month within three years.

Today, there are 300,000 participants in the survey, Tim says, so that it really is a populist manifesto. Yet the survey respondents are overwhelmingly white-collar omnivores who eat an average of 60 percent of their meals outside the home. In Tokyo alone, he says, diners have identified 54 types of international cuisine and 24 Japanese varieties. The top scorer for food in the Tokyo guide is a yakiniku grilled beef restaurant called Jumbo.

"There is another guide reporting on a paradigm of the ideal restaurant,'' Tim says, lapsing back to "them." "But we believe diners can make that decision themselves.

"The idea that one or two anonymous people--or however many they are--can come and tell the people who live here what the best restaurants out of 100,000 is frankly ..."

He catches himself.

Paris will always be special to the pair, Nina says, because it was there they first sampled fresh foods, such as white asparagus in season. That was back in the late 1960s, when they managed to stretch a six-month work stint into two years.

"Like a lot of kids I knew, I had the sort of mother who thought no food was safe unless it was frozen first," Tim says. "I remember that she took pride in serving the 1950 ham with the 1957 turkey. And dining out wasn't much better. Italian food was red sauce and Chinese food was chop suey and probably came out of a can. And raw fish? That was some kind of fraternity prank."

The revolution, they say, came when immigration laws were loosened and air travel finally became viable. With new people came new techniques; animals fats gave way to lighter vegetable oils, and new world of flavors opened up. Today, it's a phenomenon the old guard still needs to get its head around.

"You'll die if you eat fancy all the time; it's just too rich,'' Tim says. "Maybe we were the lucky ones. Our side of the Atlantic didn't like our food enough."(IHT/Asahi: January 26,2008)