Hi, I'm Adam Platt, your restaurant critic.


 

 

 

 

I'm probably not the only one, but in periods like this, when a phase has finished too recently for it to have been put behind and another started too recently to have been fully entered, I happen to think about past experiences in the perennial illusion, I guess, of acquiring a lesson for the future.

 
Another thing which happens to me is that I start reflecting as if on command, but that the command does not come from me. It's normally triggered by meeting someone, my gaze being drawn to an object, reading something.
In this case "reading something" is responsible for a reflection that is undoubtedly not new and nor do I think it contains original traits in its approach, but that I cannot none the less avoid making.
 
The "reading something" is a piece by Adam Platt published on December 29th and entitled:
 
“Hi, I’m Adam Platt, your restaurant critic. Why am I abandoning my disguise?”
 
I will start by saying that the article is interesting (and I will immediately clarify that I like Adam Platt's column) and I recommend reading it. Adam Platt is the restaurant critic of the New York Magazine, where he has been a writer more or less since 2005, and up until today, until the 29th of December 29th 2013, his face had never been published out of respect for the sacred rite of anonymity.
It was then that he published "Hi, I'm Adam Platt" and his photo. As if to say: blasphemy. He obviously does it justifying it, the reflection that has led to the blasphemy, but it's a blasphemy none the less.
 

 

While talking about the "Kabuki dance" that takes place between chef/restaurateurs and critics, Adam Platt wonders: 
 
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.) So ordering the entire menu in one sitting is a “normal” dining experience?
 
He then continues:
 
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.
 
And he goes on to say:
 
These days, of course, much of this old magic is gone. The mannered world of Eurocentric restaurateurs that Gael and Craig grew up in has been replaced by a riotous democracy of chattering TV judges, glorified restaurant bars, and tattooed comfort-food cooks. In the old days, critics would wait months to anoint the latest hot restaurant, and now the food blogs will have that news for you in 24 seconds. In this crowdsourced age, no one’s really anonymous anymore and thanks to Instagram and Yelp, anyone can be a member of the critic’s formerly exclusive dining club.
 
And then:
 
So is there still room for the… voice of the professional in a world where everyone’s a critic? Of course there is. This is especially true in the theatrical realm of restaurants, where the quality and enjoyment of your dinner can vary dramatically depending on where you sit, what time of day you eat, how long the restaurant has been open, and what you happened to order. Anonymity would be nice, but it’s always been less important than a sturdy gut and a settled palate. Most important of all, however, is a healthy expense account, because if a critic’s employer allows for enough paid visits to a particular restaurant, even the most elaborately simpering treatment won’t change his or her point of view.
 
I have recently been discussing anonymity and ways to approach restaurants and chef/restaurateurs with people I think highly of.
These experts whose long and admirable careers have for some time placed in them in a condition of "lack of anonymity" at any Italian table.
The simultaneous  emergence on the very same glimpse of the end of the year of this recent discussion and Adam Platt has re-ignited my incessant questioning on how to earn the certainty of having behaved correctly in the process that transforms my personal gastronomic experience into public opinion. In this process I am comforted  by the repeated experience of the absolute irrelevance of my opinion in the field, although the questioning is fuelled, unfortunately, not by the ideas of others, but by my personal certainty regarding my correctness.
This however does not mean that for me the question of anonymity can simply be bypassed, but it needs to be tackled. Is it essential or not essential?
 
I'll give you my opinion. Mine in this moment, with the serenity given by the certainty of being able to change a wrong idea.
I agree with Adam Platt: a sturdy gut and a settled palate is more important. The most important thing of all, however, is a healthy expense account.
 
I will overlook the part regarding the editor that allows a critic to visit a restaurant more than once, because if we laugh it off we will end-up unable to make a serious discussion.

Tags: adam platt / giulio francesco bagnale / anonimity / new york magazine /

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