William Rice — Bill — came to prominence as a restaurant critic and dispenser of culinary common sense back in the days before anybody with a MasterCard and an iPhone could roil the restaurant scene with a nasty put-down or an uncritical rave. He approached the job of reviewing with a journalist's regard for accuracy and balance, remained immune to the seduction of trends, and somehow always seemed gentlemanly in his writing, even when he found things to dislike. He also, unlike many of his counterparts, was a good cook himself, with a firm understanding of the principles of cuisine.
Rice studied history at the University of Virginia and earned a master's degree from Columbia University journalism school, then went to work for the Washington Post as a reporter and the paper's first restaurant critic. He returned later, after a sabbatical at the Cordon Bleu cooking school in Paris, to become its executive food editor. In the early 1980s he moved to New York to edit Food & Wine magazine. He moved to Chicago in 1986 with his wife, Chicagoan Jill Van Cleave, and — with the help of the legendary New York Times reporter and sometime food writer R. W. "Johnny" Apple — assumed the post of executive food editor at the Chicago Tribune, which he held until his retirement in 2003.
He was the author of two books, Steak Lover's Cookbook and Feasts of Wine and Food, and edited three editions of a national restaurant guide called Where to Eat in America. His affection for steak was such that the classic Chicago steakhouse Gibson's named one after him — a 22-ounce bone-in ribeye, dubbed "W.R.'s Chicago Cut." For years, Rice was also chairman of the Restaurant Awards committee for the James Beard Foundation.
In her book Food Jobs, writer Irene Chalmers quotes Rice as saying “A restaurant critic is a consumer advocate. His role is to provide the reader with a second-hand experience before going for a first-hand one." He added (sorry, Yelpers) that "Restaurant reputations are too important to be left to the impressions of the uninformed.”
Rice succumbed on Sunday, April 3, to Lewy body dementia, a progressive neurodegenerative disease related to Parkinson's disease.