CA Restaurant Critic Search Committee
California's two biggest metro papers are looking...
Almost as soon as Michael Bauer announced he would be stepping down from his role as restaurant critic at the San Francisco Chronicle in September, food media types started speculating as to who might replace him. Because food writing is a relatively small world, most didn’t want to hazard public guesses about their friends and colleagues’ careers, but were more than happy for a bit of the old off-the-record. Their anonymous conjecture is below. Obviously, Jonathan Gold’s recent passing removes another piece from this sliding tile puzzle, but his is a unique space, and I haven’t been able to bring myself to reach out to LA writers and editors to ask for their thoughts yet, so this list is unchanged by that news for now.
The name that came up most frequently was Tejal Rao (“TAY-jull with a hard j, as in jam. And rau, like the acrimonious quarrel”, FYI, SF PR). Folks noted she has basically everything the Chronicle could want (at least from an out-of-towner): A long resume of criticism at the Village Voice and Bloomberg News (with two James Beard awards for her trouble), and a solid mix of frivolous lists, deeply reported stories, profiles, and recipe writing at the New York Times.
Her website is an easy place to poke around her work, and includes a link to this interview in Tiffin if you want to get to know her better. “Born in London to Indian émigré parents, she grew up, variously, in London, Khartoum, Kuwait, Paris, and Atlanta, in between extended summer sojourns with grandparents in Nairobi and Pune.” There’s a lot to get to know…
BUT, several people noted that besides the personal pros and cons of a cross-country move, there’s the question of what’s going on at NYT Food. Pete Wells is coming up on seven years as head critic in November, longer than any of his recent predecessors Sam Sifton (two years), Frank Bruni (five), William Grimes (four), and Ruth Reichl (six). If Rao is next in line, how long will she have to wait, and will she?
(So many people suggested her that I actually forgot to reach out to her for her thoughts. Guessing it’ll be a polite “no comment”, but will let you know. UPDATE: It was a polite no comment.)
The second name that came up most was Soleil Ho of the Racist Sandwich podcast. Consensus is she has the restaurant chops and writing skill to write about all corners of the industry, but some wondered if the critic role would be too confining for someone who wants to write about broader issues. Twitter / Website.
Other current critics mentioned were:
Tim Carman at the Washington Post – someone said he might add a bit of a Jonathan Gold lens to the Bay Area – but Carman’s another white man, and that doesn’t seem to be where the conversation is at right now. (Ditto Tom Sietsema, though no one I heard from expects him to give up his spot in DC anytime soon.) Twitter / WaPo Bylines.
Bill Addison at Eater (and previously a critic at the Chronicle) has the same demographic strike against as Carman, and word is he might be happy to end his life on the road in Wells’ job too… Twitter / Eater Bylines / Newsletter
Stephen Satterfield – Another Bay Area favorite, but may want to keep his focus on Whetstone and other projects. Twitter / Whetstone / Google him because his writing is all over the place and I can’t find his website.
Besha Rodell – Now covering Australia for the NYT, after leaving LA Weekly for Melbourne. (Actually, I suggested Besha might be missing California, but someone told me they thought there was no way she’d make that move again.) Twitter / LA Weekly Bylines / NYT’s Australia beat.
Ligaya Mishan - Writes the Hungry City column at the NYT, reviewing “New York’s great unsung restaurants”. Obviously also in the what’s-going-to-happen-when-Wells-moves-on mix at the Times. Twitter / NYT Bylines.
Then there’s the in-house moves, but for reasons purely of inertia it’s hard for me to imagine anyone leaving their current roles. Esther Mobley (Twitter) just expanded her portfolio with the new Press section, and Jonathan Kauffman (Twitter / Website) seems to have a good gig moving his focus around wherever his interests take him. Not sure who else would make the move?
And more suggestions in no particular order:
Tunde Wey – Could he make the switch from performance art / activism / broader writing to restaurant criticism? Someone get this man a concentrated web presence (or help me find it)! Recent interview in GQ.
Patty Unterman – Bauer’s predecessor at the Chronicle, who went on to spend 20 years at the Examiner and co-owns the Hayes Street Grill. A homecoming? Website.
And that’s what I’ve got so far. It’s an incomplete list FOR SURE, and you’re right if you think it needs some editing. But I thought I’d put it out there and see what you think.
What do you think?