The New York Times Dining Critics on Assigning Stars, Going Incognito

Staff Writer
In this new feature from The Grey Lady, we get a look at what it means to be a critic
New York Times Dining Critics | Video Series
New York Times

The critics speak out on going incognito, what the stars mean, and the foods they won't eat.

In the newest features that potentially turn food critics into rock stars, The New York Times has rounded up four dining critic veterans (and current critic Pete Wells) to spill the beans on a couple of key questions that we're sure everyone asks.

The questions: What do the stars really mean? How do you go in disguise? What foods won't you eat? What are the most overused words in food writing? In short, tell us everything about your jobs (and how to get there).

There are five videos in total, and all of them include some gems of sorts. On the star system, William Grimes compares the evening to a night out after a movie. At one-star restaurants, you're still talking about the movie. Two stars? The conversation starts to split. Three stars, "You don't even remember the movie, you're just talking about the food," he says. And four? "You're almost in tears, you're ready to go on you knees and thank God that you're living in this place at this time and able to eat at this restaurant."

Of course, the star system isn't equal for all sorts of restaurants. As Ruth Reichl explains, "A very expensive restaurant that gets two stars is pretty prejorative. A very inexpensive restaurant that gets two stars is kind of a rave."

Other topics include disguise tricks from the pros (change the hairline a bit, change what you're wearing), whether or not you should be eating bugs (Reichl: a resounding yes. Wells: "Anything I would find in my basement I would probably not eat," although grasshopper is cool), and how they take notes while on the job (Sifton literally stole menus at the beginning).

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As for how many people get to accompany the critics on their dinners? Reviewers always switch it up, but Reichl notes that she almost always went alone. "A woman alone always gets treated differently... I think it's not so prevalent anymore," she said, "but in those days a woman alone was often treated very badly." Head on over to The Times for the full videos.