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R.I.P. and Reflections on The Grumpy Gourmet, Doral Chenoweth

Posted by cmh gourmand on September 17, 2019

The King (of local food writers) is dead. The Grump is gone.

Doral Chenoweth, best known locally as the Grumpy Gourmet, missed his first deadline, when his passed away on Sunday (September 15th). I had not heard from him for a while so I checked in with him via Facebook earlier last week. I hope that if he did see my message, he knew he was in my thoughts.

The “Grump” was the “food critic” (a term we both detested) for the Columbus Dispatch from 1982 to 2000 as both the Grumpy Gourmet and Doral Chenoweth. His writing was engaging, authentic, personal and reflected his wry and sometimes subversive sense of humor. I miss him, he was a true free spirit, revolutionary, big thinker and old school journalist that shared countless stories of misadventures and mishaps he survived throughout his life. Before the Dispatch he wrote for the Columbus Citizen and the Columbus Star.

I first met him in the early 1990’s when he would invite readers to share a meal with him and assist in writing a review. We dined at Chef’s Place in Hilliard. At that time, I was fumbling for way to become a writer of some sort and because I enjoyed his style of writing so much, I jumped at the opportunity to eat with him. I was not disappointed. He was the curmudgeon I expected but also a caring person who offered me a lot of wisdom and some tip sheets on food writing. Later in life, I dined with him socially, instead of professionally, at Bono Pizza which was operated by his good friends Bill and Peggy Yerkes. I then visited the Grump at his home many times where I had the opportunity to sit in his office filled with countless stacks, piles and shelves of books, articles and archives galore. Peggy Yerkes was still in his life, this time, as a caregiver for his wife and later the Grump himself. He loved ham salad from the Hills Market so I would take a quart with me whenever I saw him as my tribute.

The mold, if Doral could ever be temporarily confined, was broken when the Grump was born, we don’t have writers or personalities like the Grump anymore. He did shape my style of writing in many ways. He did not compromise on using his own “voice” in his writing which mirrored how his spoke. His approach, at least later in his Grumpy Gourmet days was to visit a place several times before he wrote an actual review and where possible, if he could offer constructive feedback, he did so, with the goal of making the place better. We both were of the opinion, that a bad restaurant did not need a poor review as extra help in closing but only rated such a negative review if the owner(s) needed to be knocked down a notch or two or if they were resting on assumed laurels.

I have been reading a lot of old Grumpy Gourmet columns over the summer (you can too by reading through the Columbus Dispatch Archives via the Columbus Metropolitan Library) which has brought back memories of my own misspent youth when I always looked forward to what he had to share each week. Later in my writing life there were more than a few times I would receive a call from the Grump beginning… “Ellison, I have an idea……” He was never 100% sure about this blogging thing but I took some satisfaction in his statement that I “was one of the good ones, and did it for the right reasons.”

The Grumpy Gourmet is unlikely to Rest In Peace, my guess is that he is already Ranting, Inciting and Pranking wherever his soul may be.

Goodbye Grump, it was a good ride.

(If anyone has any memories of the Grumpy Gourmet, please post and share with the rest of us).

5 Responses to “R.I.P. and Reflections on The Grumpy Gourmet, Doral Chenoweth”

  1. Chris said

    I’m so glad The Grump had a good, long run. My only encounter with him was when I first arrived in Columbus and was co-host on a morning radio show. We did a segment in which I was to make homemade pasta using some Ron Popeil-invented pasta machine and The Grump would weigh-in on the merits of the device and the results.

    I’d decided on a nice Shrimp Scampi-LInquine riff. The Grump hovered as I fed the machine the ingredients. The machine was incredibly noisy as it melded the ingredients and then pushed the linguine noodles out of the extraction end. The sauce, shrimp and pasta were then simultaneously cooked on hot plates. The Grump’s skeptical oversight was nerve-wracking. It’s live radio. I knew and he knew he could (and would) say ANYTHING.

    As it turned out, the pasta was not the problem. It was al dente and fresh so no complaints. The sauce was well received – garlicky and flavorful. But he glared over the shrimp, which had shriveled into tiny, one-inch wide dials of rubber. I skimped on the size opting for a 24 – 30 count bag rather than a 16 – 20 AND it was from a FROZEN BAG, not fresh. He took a bite and I could tell something wicked this way was about to come.

    “Are these SEWER shrimp?” he snarled.

    I stepped back, all my best comic timing cowering in the corner.

    “WHERE did you GET these?!?”

    Forgetting that the ingredients were provided by an advertiser, I blurted out, “BIG BEAR! BIG BEAR! They’re Big Bear Shrimp, not Sewer Shrimp!”

    “Don’t make this again!” he snapped.

    I never have.

    He was a complete hoot and just looking for laughs that day (as we were). I would have it play out that way over and over again – he was an instigator of rough and tumble fun.

    I wish I’d had the pleasure of his company as you did, Jim, over meals and with the chance to hear his off-the-record musings about Columbus and restaurants. At least I got one good story out of my run-in. He knew how to leave you with something to talk about.

  2. Robin said

    What a beautiful tribute to old Grump and I must echo his sentiments – you are one is the good ones.

  3. I unfortunately have only read a few of his articles (time to dig into those library archives!) but I am sorry for your loss and the loss of this city. I love your statement that “a bad restaurant did not need a poor review as extra help in closing”. I don’t like being dishonest about a restaurant but I also will try to find something good to say, give it another chance, or offer constructive criticism if possible.

  4. Melissa said

    Thinking back, it was his reviews that led to my interest and love of eating and supporting local food establishments. I never had the pleasure to meet him, but he definitely made an impact on so many lives with his writing!

  5. Grump was one of a kind, that’s for sure! He will be missed.

    I remember that Grumpy hated sesame seeds. I don’t remember exactly why or how we ended up talking about them, but I was like dude, you can’t even taste them! He gave me a big container of them. Like a pound maybe.

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