New York’s Restaurant Critic Just Dropped the Pretense of Anonymity. Good for Him!

Slate's Culture Blog
Dec. 30 2013 3:55 PM

New York’s Restaurant Critic Just Dropped the Pretense of Anonymity. Good for Him!

1388436425
New York's current cover.

Every year around this time, New York magazine publishes its “Where to Eat” issue. Usually, the covers of these editions are heavy on text, with some silhouetted photographs of trendy food items sprinkled in for fun. This year, the cover looks very different. It features a headshot of a glum-looking, middle-aged, balding white man, his face propped against his right fist. The man is Adam Platt, New York’s restaurant critic, and in the teaser text beneath his visage, he tells us that he’s “abandoning my disguise”—in other words, abandoning the pretense that he dines anonymously.

In his introduction to the issue, Platt writes that he’s publishing his picture because “I would like readers to know what restaurateurs around town have known for years.” He lists the rules of the ridiculous psychological game that restaurateurs and critics play when critics pretend to be anonymous:

Do they know who you are? (Of course they do.) So why do you register under an assumed name? (Because chefs would otherwise prepare for my arrival.) Will they come up and say hello? (Probably not.) Why not? (Because they’re pretending I’m not here.) Why are they doing that? (Because they want to pretend I’m having a “normal” dining experience.)
Advertisement

Platt’s glamour shot is an ingenious way to draw attention to an otherwise formulaic annual restaurant guide. But it’s also an important moment in the Internet-era evolution of the professional restaurant critic. Ostensibly anonymous critics have had their photographs posted on food blogs (and the walls of restaurant offices) for years. As I wrote in July, when New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells acknowledged being repeatedly recognized in his review of Daniel, “In a social media age, you’d have to avoid having your picture taken your entire adult life to be an effectively anonymous critic.” (I’m hardly the first commentator to point out the pointlessness of critics’ efforts to conceal their identities.)

Platt, unsurprisingly, has a keen insight into “the myth of anonymity,” which he says serves mostly to bolster critics’ image: “It’s lent a sense of impartiality and Oz-like mystery to the dark art of restaurant criticism, and if members of the clubby fine-dining world didn’t always believe it, then at least the public sometimes did.” He adds that he’ll continue to use pseudonyms while making reservations to prevent restaurants from being able to plan ahead for his visit—a reasonable compromise when true anonymity is impossible.

It’s worth taking the time to read Platt’s entire explanation, which is short but packed with smart observations about food journalism. I wager that in 20 years (if any publications still have the budget for restaurant critics), media critics will wonder why Platt’s acknowledgment that he gets recognized was such a big deal. But for now, Platt’s candor puts him in the vanguard.

L.V. Anderson is a Slate assistant editor. She edits Slate's food and drink sections and writes Brow Beat's recipe column, You're Doing It Wrong. 

TODAY IN SLATE

Foreigners

More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

What Charles Barkley Gets Wrong About Corporal Punishment and Black Culture

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

Three Talented Actresses in Three Terrible New Shows

Why Do Some People See the Virgin Mary in Grilled Cheese?

The science that explains the human need to find meaning in coincidences.

Jurisprudence

Happy Constitution Day!

Too bad it’s almost certainly unconstitutional.

Is It Worth Paying Full Price for the iPhone 6 to Keep Your Unlimited Data Plan? We Crunch the Numbers.

What to Do if You Literally Get a Bug in Your Ear

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 16 2014 7:03 PM Kansas Secretary of State Loses Battle to Protect Senator From Tough Race
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 16 2014 2:35 PM Germany’s Nationwide Ban on Uber Lasted All of Two Weeks
  Life
The Vault
Sept. 16 2014 12:15 PM “Human Life Is Frightfully Cheap”: A 1900 Petition to Make Lynching a Federal Offense
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus Video
Sept. 16 2014 2:06 PM A Farewell From Emily Bazelon The former senior editor talks about her very first Slate pitch and says goodbye to the magazine.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 16 2014 8:43 PM This 17-Minute Tribute to David Fincher Is the Perfect Preparation for Gone Girl
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 16 2014 6:40 PM This iPhone 6 Feature Will Change Weather Forecasting
  Health & Science
Science
Sept. 16 2014 1:39 PM The Case of the Missing Cerebellum How did a Chinese woman live 24 years missing part of her brain?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 8:41 PM You’re Cut, Adrian Peterson Why fantasy football owners should release the Minnesota Vikings star.