Taking Anonymity Off The Menu

Long-time New York restaurant critic finally reveals to readers his identity: Adam Platt. He calls the pretense of anonymity a “dated charade” since restaurants typically know who the “anonymous” food critics are:

Why do I (with the prodding and endorsement of my editors) choose this particular moment to come lumbering into public view? A better question might be “What took you so goddamned long?” Dining critics in London began running their photos above their columns some time ago, and several of New York City’s most reputable critics have been out of the proverbial closet for years. Craig Claiborne, who helped invent the myth of the discreetly “anonymous” critic at the Times, used to have promising chefs, like Daniel Boulud, come and cook for him outside of their restaurants. During my lunch with [former New York magazine critic] Gael [Greene], Alain Ducasse emerged from his kitchen to give her a warm greeting, a dramatic gesture that did not prevent her from gleefully slamming his restaurant in a blistering cover-story review.

Over the years, this myth of anonymity has served many useful purposes. It’s worked, in practice, for the mysterious Michelin inspectors, who return to dining establishments year after year to take away or bestow their stars. It can work, also, for local critics whose publications attempt to cultivate a similar illusion of omniscience, although it’s been my experience that the handful of grand restaurants that actually have stars to lose will make it their business to spot you. Mostly, though, anonymity has been a powerful marketing tool. 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.

Even though Platt has gone public, he will “continue to book restaurant tables at odd hours, under a string of ridiculously random made-up names, because more than a wig or a set of false whiskers, the art of surprise has always been the critic’s most useful tool.”