Los Angeles Times critic Jonathan Gold, who was the first food writer to win a Pulitzer Prize in criticism for his work at L.A. Weekly in 2007, has gone more or less public with his identity, writing an essay stating that “the pretense of anonymity ends today.” Though his Twitter avatar remains a silhouette of a porkpie-hatted gentleman, Gold says that he is sick of the social claptrap that comes along with the role.
“I have become adept at pretending not to notice that a restaurant staff is pretending not to notice me noticing them noticing me,” he writes in an essay that echoes the thoughts of other, non-anonymous food critics. There are several dozen photographs of Gold already online, some disguised, most not, but little of this has to do with the nature of the internet, he says.
But the restaurant critics’ dirty little secret is that restaurants have always known who we are, even before Instagram, even before our images were tweeted by the woman at the next table. Waiters, cooks and managers, after all, move from restaurant to restaurant. Photos are posted in kitchens (when I was outed at one restaurant early in my tenure as the New York restaurant critic at the old Gourmet magazine, I was effectively outed at all of them).
Further along, Gold notes that the move of unmasking himself — though he’s done a bunch of public speaking as himself, the term is apt [because] he does like a good mask — boils down, in a way, to staving off the increased stakes represented by competitive chefs, and rising tide of insta-takes and social media reviews.
And in a way, the game of peekaboo is harmful both to critics and to the restaurants they write about. If chefs truly can cook better when they know a critic is in the house, then restaurants without an early warning system are at a permanent disadvantage. A critic who imagines himself invisible may find it easy to be cruel. At a moment when serious criticism has all but drowned in a tide of Yelpers, Instagram accounts, tweets, Facebook sneers and bloggers who feel compelled to review a restaurant before it even opens, the kabuki of the pose is a distraction.
New York’s Adam Platt went public with his undisguised self in 2013, writing, in part, “I would like readers to know what restaurateurs around town have known for years.” Late last year, Dallas Morning News critic Leslie Brenner also threw up her hands at anonymity — literally. In his self-outing, Gold acknowledges both. “Their criticism hasn’t suffered a bit,” he writes.