Photo of Jonathan Gold: "City of Gold"
With a documentary about him about to debut at Sundance, Jonathan Gold announces in Saturday's LA Times that he will no longer shun being photographed or take extraordinary steps seeking to dine out anonymously. As he says, most of the restaurants where he goes have known who he is for a long time. "I have OpenTable accounts under many different names, a habit of paying bills — even large ones — in cash and a burner phone account, all in an attempt to keep my identity a secret from the chefs and staffs of restaurants I have reviewed," Gold writes. "But my identity is not secret."
The restaurant critics' dirty little secret is that restaurants have always known who we are, even before Instagram, even before our images were tweeted by the woman at the next table. Waiters, cooks and managers, after all, move from restaurant to restaurant. Photos are posted in kitchens (when I was outed at one restaurant early in my tenure as the New York restaurant critic at the old Gourmet magazine, I was effectively outed at all of them)….
In recent years, I have taken part in panel discussions, spoken at schools, judged cook-offs, delivered a commencement speech at my alma mater and attended festivals sponsored by The Times. I'm not Thomas Pynchon. My face is Googleable. My voice may be familiar from the radio. I am featured in Laura Gabbert's L.A. food documentary, "City of Gold," premiering at Sundance next week, and was trailed by camera crews to restaurants not under review over a period of several years. We live in a multiplatform world.
And in a way, the game of peekaboo is harmful both to critics and to the restaurants they write about. If chefs truly can cook better when they know a critic is in the house, then restaurants without an early warning system are at a permanent disadvantage. A critic who imagines himself invisible may find it easy to be cruel. At a moment when serious criticism has all but drowned in a tide of Yelpers, Instagram accounts, tweets, Facebook sneers and bloggers who feel compelled to review a restaurant before it even opens, the kabuki of the pose is a distraction.
Gold won't be going for full transparency or anything like that; he's just going to tone down the presumption of anonymity. "I still intend to reserve under odd names, to avoid press events, to sneak in after the rest of the party has been seated and to pay for every last scrap of food that makes its way to the table," he writes. "I'm just going to skip the strange pas de deux. "City of Gold" screens at Sundance starting Tuesday morning.
In his Times piece, posted Friday at LATimes.com, Gold says the "any real anonymity I may have once had ended in 2007 when an assistant at a publication I used to work for accidentally posted a photograph to the paper's website." I think he means this one, of Gold celebrating his Pulitzer Prize in commentary for the LA Weekly with his wife Laurie Ochoa, the editor of the Weekly at the time.