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POST SIFTON: What’s Next?

Being the restaurant critic for the New York Times brings with it the great burden of having to fill huge culinary shoes. Sam Sifton, the most recent Times restaurant critic, was recently promoted to National Editor. It remains to be seen who will fill Sifton’s shoes (or perhaps we’re still trying to find someone who will fill Bruni’s shoes). Frank Bruni, Sifton’s predecessor, wrote outrageous critiques of restaurants and was perhaps best-known for his negative reviews of restaurants. He wrote that the lamb kebabs at Charles “should be called tartare” and that the chicken Kiev at the Russian Tea Room was a “rubbery impersonation of airline food.” While Sifton was perhaps not quite as mean, he does leave the New York Times canon of restaurant reviews with some memorable lines. He warned readers that the Vitello tonnato at Nellow “tastes like sliced shoe” and that a veal cutlet at Kenmare is “essentially a breaded and fried laptop case.”

Among the sarcastic zingers and the lavish praises, New York Times restaurant critics are perhaps some of the most influential figures of the food world. They are the tastemakers of restaurant culture in New York, which by default dictates how food works in the rest of the world (not that I have any bias at all). As the Times is at this crossroads, we decided to highlight some of the most important Times restaurant critics throughout the paper’s culinary history:

Ruth Reichl

After serving as the Times’s restaurant critic, Reichl became the editor-in-chief of Gourmet magazine until it went out of print. As restaurant critic, Reichl became known for her detailed restaurant reviews and her elaborate disguises at restaurants. Her objective became to present her readers with how restaurants were when serving to a seemingly ordinary diner. Since her stint at the Times and at Gourmet, Reichl has judged for Top Chef Masters and has been involved with GiltTaste.com.

Craig Claiborne

Craig Claiborne, a lifelong friend of Jacques Pepin’s and a culinary innovator, was perhaps the most influential of the Times restaurant critics. Claiborne was a socialite and a prolific food writer, and he popularized the idea of restaurant reviews being a weekly feature in the Times. Claiborne was also at the helm of the nouvelle cuisine movement, along with the aforementioned Pepin and Julia Child, among others.

Mimi Sheraton

Sheraton was perhaps the first restaurant critic at the Times to emphasize the importance of disguises for restaurant reviewing. Despite having left the Times in 1983, Sheraton still holds an important place in the culinary scene. She openly questions David Chang’s importance as a chef and Sam Sifton’s ability to write well about food, rather than about the “experience and the theater” of dining out.

Damanpreet Pelia

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