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Hi, I’m Jessica Sidman, your new Young & Hungry columnist. As you may have heard, I’m also the first person in this position not to attempt anonymity.
This fact has already caused quite the stir. The Washington Post devoted more than a thousand words to the subject, followed by a story in the Huffington Post (complete with a poll!) and a lengthy interview with WCP editor Mike Schaffer on Eater.com.
Now, it’s my turn to talk.
My hope is to be less traditional critic and more reporter. Yes, you will occasionally get my opinions, but I plan to steer away from the straight-up reviews you might find from Post critic Tom Sietsema or Washingtonian critic Todd Kliman.
My goal is to make Y&H the first place you’ll hear about restaurant openings and other breaking food and booze news. I also want to tell you stories beyond the dining room. Restaurants are much more than places where people eat; they’re businesses, economic drivers, neighborhood transformers, home to insanely creative and occasionally wacky people as well as newsworthy examples of ambition, hubris, criminality, and cultural exchange.
The purpose of anonymity is to be able to relate the experience of the “average diner.” But you don’t need a professional critic for that anymore. There are thousands of “average diners” sharing their experiences every day on Yelp. What a good food writer can give you is hopefully something more: storytelling, analysis, context, and news.
The fact of the matter is that the role of the food writer has changed. We’re expected to get scoops and deliver on details of all aspects of the industry. That requires face time. And the Zorro mask? Kind of weird in real life.
In my previous gig as editor of Dining Bisnow and in my time at Washingtonian before that, I made a point of doing most of my interviews in-person and attending as many industry events as possible. As a result, a substantial portion of the chefs, restaurateurs, and managers in D.C. know what I look like. I’m not going to bullshit you and pretend otherwise.
Even the big name critics in town who’ve gone to great lengths to conceal their identities by purging the internet of photos and using credit cards and reservations with false names are not nearly as anonymous as they might have you believe. Many restaurants, especially the top ones, know exactly what they look like.
In a few years, this whole conversation will likely be obsolete. The next generation of food writers will not have the option of anonymity. We’ve lived too much of our lives online and posted too many photos on blogs, Facebook, and a million other sites. While anonymity may be dying, the appetite for a good story never will.
Hope you’re hungry.