Being the New York Times restaurant critic is one sick gig. You get paid to eat some of the best food in the world using a secret identity; it’s like being a culinary James Bond with a license to bill it to work. But there’s more to reviewing than ordering everything on the menu and opining on it later.
In a recent New York Times interview, Pete Wells dishes on the nitty gritty of restaurant criticism. Here are some of the insights that came out of it.
1. Although his one-star review of Guy’s American Kitchen written entirely in question form will go down in review history, Wells doesn’t think negative write ups are all that great:
“I would rather tell people where they should go than tell them where they shouldn’t go. If you walk out the door of your building, turn left and walk for five minutes, you’ll pass at least one mediocre restaurant. Pointing them out doesn’t strike me as very useful.”
2. He couldn’t do his job without a gang of hungry friends to help him out:
“If there’s a normal menu, not a tasting menu, I’ll probably taste 30 to 40 dishes… I go at least three [times] for a starred review, and with a typical à la carte menu I may bring as many as four or five people with me, and I’ll ask them not to get anything that anybody has ordered that night—no overlaps allowed.”
3. When you take on a new identity, you really have to commit (although that doesn’t necessarily mean wearing a wig):
“When you invite guests to go out with you, give them a name to call you. If you forget to do it when you’re making the plan, do it as soon as you sit down. And get used to answering to anything.”
4. While he probably eats out more than most New Yorkers, he also eats at home more than most New Yorkers. Here’s his reply when asked if he ever dines at home:
“Sure, I do. Breakfast every day (usually oatmeal), lots of lunches and an occasional dinner.”
5. The sole downside to The Best Job in The World is that you’ll inevitably put on weight, right? Wrong:
“For the first six months or so, I lost weight. I’d been working in the office every day, and the only time I wasn’t sitting at my desk was when I was on the way to or from the cafeteria… So in the beginning, when I started writing at home and all of that was out of my sight, I lost a few pounds. I’ve probably gained them back, but it’s still the case that I snacked much, much more when I worked in the office.”