Everyone wants to be a restaurant critic, right? But not everyone thinks about the trick to eating anonymously, the pressure of the star rating system, and having to eat foods you simply abhor. Rick Berke, a senior editor at The Times, spoke with five critics, past and present—Ruth Reichl, William Grimes, Frank Bruni, Sam Sifton, and Pete Wells—about what it’s really like to do the job.

ON ASSIGNING THE STARS

(Watch the video below.)

Frank Bruni: “Assigning stars is less a scientific process, I think, at the end of the day then it is a gut reaction.”

Sam Sifton: “You spend a depressing amount of time thinking about these things.”

William Grimes: “At a four star restaurant, you’re almost in tears, you’re ready to go on your knees and thank god that you live in this place at this time and are able to eat at this restaurant.”

Frank Bruni: “The kind of effect your review can have on a restaurant—especially if you’re writing a negative review—weighs on you very heavily. And it should, because people’s livelihoods are involved. But you always have to remind yourself, when you’re feeling conflicted about that, that you’re primary obligation is to the consumer, the reader.”

GOING INCOGNITO

(Watch the video here.)

Ruth Reichl: “Without any question, my most effective disguise was Betty The Bag Lady. Nobody thinks that you’re going to dress up like a fat old lady.”

Frank Bruni: “I employed a disguise for every visit to one restaurant because the restauranteur had publicly stated that if he caught me in his restaurant, he would throw me out and the employee who spotted me would get a free trip to the Caribbean.”

Sam Sifton: “Bald white guy in NYC known for wearing button down shirts and a tie. Change to a black dress shirt, put on a chain or something. Then you couldn’t possibly be that guy.”

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THE FOODS THEY WON’T EAT

(Watch the video here.)

Sam Sifton: “In St Louis, I once had a large brain—a cow brain—and it was a little challenging.”

William Grimes: “I used to be prejudiced against sea urchin.”

Pete Wells: “I like sea urchin. I like sea urchin a lot.”

William Grimes: “Canned asparagus is just an awful, awful thing.”

Pete Wells: “Animals that are moving do give me pause.”

Ruth Reichl: “We should all be eating insects, and we should be eating insects. They’re a perfectly reasonable source of protein.”

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Plus: Watch the critics talk about overused adjectives and trade secrets.