Dining With Denise Neil

Dining with Denise: This 7-year-old food critic is after my job

Lots of people want my job, and why wouldn’t they? Getting paid to eat is pretty much a dream gig.

But I haven't really felt threatened until recently.

The latest writer gunning for my spot has a sophisticated palate, a family history in the food business and an unfair advantage in the adorableness category.

Recently, Reverie Coffee owner Andy Gough called to ask me a favor. His preciously precocious eldest son — 7-year-old Weston — had announced at dinner the night before that he wanted to be a food critic when he grew up. The family had been dining at Chiang Mai, the Thai restaurant at 3141 S. Hillside, and Weston had been chowing on fried rice and appetizers. Andy wondered if I'd be willing to talk with his son about his new career aspiration.

Weston had been an adventurous eater when he was younger, Andy said, but when his little brother, Sully, arrived, they both started to prefer what their dad called "beige" foods.

Lately, though, as he's grown into a worldly soon-to-be second grader at Earhart Elementary, Weston has expanded his food horizons again. He loves sushi —especially barbecue eel — and he never met a bowl of pho he wouldn't slurp. He even enjoys an occasional cup of Joe.

"He's slowly in the last year become more adventurous, more willing to say yes," Andy said. "And now, even in the last month, he's coming up with his own ideas."

I decided to meet with Weston on his turf — the big new Reverie Coffee Roasters/Founders Bakery that his dad recently opened at 2202 E. Douglas. Weston, who says he hopes to take over the shop for his dad someday, was familiar with the menu but almost always has a croissant when he's there. He's such a croissant expert, he complained to his dad when he changed the recipe shortly after opening. Dad changed it back.

My breakfast with this critic-in-training was delightful, and Andy brought us five dishes to sample — starting with that croissant. Weston loved it and commented on its smooth appearance. His only criticism: It was perhaps TOO buttery, but I quickly corrected him: There's no such thing.

We also tried Reverie's ricotta pancakes, and Weston would like to assure other 7-year-olds that ricotta is not weird. We sampled the restaurant's take on a ham-and-cheese sandwich, topped with a fried egg, and we gobbled down some creme brulee, a treat Weston said he'd never encountered but would love to encounter again as soon as possible.

I learned a few things from Weston, too. When I complained that our sandwich was made on "beet surprise bread" he reminded me that if you're a food critic, you have to try everything. (The bread was great, and I didn't taste a single beet.)

Go to Dining with Dense on Facebook, where you can watch a sweet video that our visuals editor Jaime Green made of our breakfast. You'll be surprised by this aspiring writer's insight and palate.

And I'm resting a little easier. During our breakfast, I asked Weston where he'd like to work when he becomes a food critic.

"Probably at a TV tower," he said.


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