The First Restaurant Critic

May 22, 2012 in Daily Bulletin

Pete Wells, the current restaurant critic for The New York Times paused for a moment to reflect upon the inspiration for him and every other critic today: Craig Claiborne. Highlights of the mini-biography include:

  • The first in a series of restaurant reviews written by Claiborne appeared 50 years ago in May 1962.
  • Within a few years every major newspaper had its own food critic.
  • Wells argues that Claiborne elevated the status of food in American society. Chefs now grace magazine covers and are invited to the White House in part because of the efforts of Claiborne.
  • A year later, in May 1963, Claiborne added a 3-star ranking scale. A year after that it became a 4-star scale and it has remained the same ever since.
  • Claiborne had very strict policies about the way he reviewed restaurants. He tried to eat anonymously, have the paper pay for the meal rather than the restaurant, and would eat at least three meals before reviewing the restaurant.
  • Claiborne was one of the first critics to focus on the food offered by the restaurant rather than other qualities such as the social status of the customers.
  • Claiborne grew to hate his job, increasingly turning to alcohol to cope with the stress of constantly dining out.

To read many more details and find out how Claiborne compared to his contemporaries, how he was one of the first to seriously consider food from other countries, his association with the White House, the $4,000 dinner in Paris, the restaurant where he could hear gunfire, and his experiences with moose liver, click here.

Source: The New York Times