By the time you read this article I am hoping that many of us will have been vaccinated and hopefully COVID-19 is on its way out for good.
In my last article I was telling about how I developed my great love of cooking and always looking for a new restaurant to try out. I also had said that moving to Naples in 1973 was a real food adventure considering there were only two restaurants to dine in back then. St. George & the Dragon and Piccadilly Pub were the choices. I’m talking about fine dining and they were both good places to eat. Now you have to remember back then everyone in Naples knew when a new business opened and if it was a restaurant it always generated some excitement.
I can remember as if it were yesterday when a new restaurant opened on Fifth Avenue South by two restaurateurs, Tony Ridgway and Beirne Brown. I was so excited when I looked at their menu and because it was only my former wife and myself dining, we ordered two complete entrees for each of us. We weren’t disappointed, the food was spectacular. I can remember the first Italian, French, Asian, and every other
ethnic type of restaurant that came to Naples. As Naples grew so did our dining population. Although I’m primarily talking about restaurants in the City of Naples, I’m not leaving Collier County out of the mix because it was the same in the County.
I’ll fast forward to the mid 80’s. One night my wife Chris and I were dining in a tiny little restaurant located in a cute courtyard on Third Street South. It just so happened that Alan Horton who was the editor of the Naples Daily News was dining at the next table. We exchanged pleasantries and I asked him when the newspaper was going to get a food critic. He said to me it’s funny you mentioned that because we have been discussing that very issue because Naples is ready for one. I immediately asked him if I could apply because I was sure I had the qualifications. He said to pick a restaurant, write a review, and bring it to him at the newspaper.
I did and stood there as he read it. He finished the article and said to me “You do know your material, but you need to be able to capture the taste, smell, and a better description of what you’re seeing so the readers can picture what you’re writing”. He asked me if I could rewrite it and I said I could and would bring the
corrected version back the next day. He said that would be fine.
I hurried home, picked up the phone and called my daughter Lisa who was a journalism major at Syracuse University. I told her my predicament and she laughed, and she rewrote it with me, sentence by sentence. I brought the article back the next day and watched as it was read. Alan put the article down and with a smile said to me “Who helped you do that; I know you didn’t write it?” I laughed, told him, and he smiled and said
that’s exactly what he wanted and to keep working with her until I had it mastered, which I did. Hence Jacques Gourmand aka Bill Barnett became the Naples Daily News first food critic. I was never identified and for two years had a great time doing reviews, one a week. The deal was I would be reimbursed for my meal period.
The only thing I asked him for was that if he received any complaints from a subscriber that he would stick by me, and he did because as you can imagine not all of my reviews were glowing! After two years someone kind of caught on, they weren’t sure but I resigned because I didn’t want it to be known. I did love the job, and it was a wonderful experience.
Today we are a cutting-edge restaurant community with top shelf award winning restaurants. If you are here on vacation, I strongly advise you to make a reservation or you will be disappointed! Starting next month, I will mention a few of my favorite restaurants. e-mail me at email@example.com