Bill Keller on Restaurant Critics and Anonymity



Interesting interview piece. It sounds like Mr Keller knows of the situation (problem?) and already has a plan but eschews discussions about. Let’s hear from the readers sounds to me as a change of subject. New York Times does not have to brag about their abilities (platic surgeons). He sounds confident everything is under control no matter how bad things are or can get.


August 5, 2009, 5:40 PM

Tony Cenicola/The New York Times
Bill Keller is executive editor of The New York Times.
Bill Keller, executive editor of the New York Times, answers several readers’ questions about anonymity in the modern age and how it will affect the paper’s next restaurant critic, Sam Sifton:

Sam – Can’t wait to read your reviews. But I always thought that an important part of being a restaurant critic was for one’s face to be unknown among the general — or at least the restaurant-going — public. I remember hearing stories of the lengths to which Ruth Reichl would go in order to remain undetected. But I remember seeing your picture on one of the Ask the Editors features on So… that a problem? Or have you recently undergone facial transplant surgery? Or did I just unwittingly provide a lot of chefs and restaurant owners with an inside track to getting a better review in the Times? — David

Mr. Sifton’s picture is everywhere–-how can the Times seriously claim any sort of objectivity in its reviews? — Ryan

I too would like to know if Mr. Sifton intends to disguise himself or will take a different, more “recognizable” approach a la Amanda Hesser. — Peter Steinberg

I’m interested in hearing the thoughts of readers on this subject as we pack Sam’s bag of tricks. But it’s worth noting that anonymity has long been less than perfect. Read Ruth Reichl’s book about her long stint as the Times restaurant critic, and you learn that despite all her theatrical dress-ups she was often made by the maitre d’hotel. I’ve dined with Frank Bruni in places where it was clear — from the trying-too-hard service, or the clusters of whispering waiters, or some other tell — that they were on to us.

Some restaurants care desperately about critics, and keep the equivalent of a TSA watch list at the reservation desk. Others, probably most, are not on the lookout for critics because they are plenty busy doing their jobs. A review is almost always based on multiple, unannounced visits at different meals, and a reviewer’s own experience can be cross-checked with intelligence from others. So, while we don’t intend to put Sam’s face on sides of MTA buses, I’m not going to lose a lot of sleep over this. And, don’t forget, New York has some of the world’s best cosmetic surgeons.

Tags: , , , ,


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s