Today is critic Jonathan Kauffman's last day on staff at SF Weekly, and as we learned a couple weeks back he'll be taking over as San Francisco editor of the daily newsletter Tasting Table starting on May 14. And so today Grub Street brings you the exclusive photo that every restaurant publicist and owner in town has wished they had for the past two years (and which also managed to stay out of the hands of any of Seattle's bloggers and journalists during his tenure as critic at Seattle Weekly before coming here). Yes, in this age of Facebook and cell phone cameras, Kauffman managed to remain anonymous throughout his career as a critic, which is no small feat. Even we (and some of the staff at the Weekly) didn't know what he looked like before today. But here he is, flesh and blood and a well-trimmed beard. And we had to ask Mr. Kauffman himself what he's feeling today as he finally gets unmasked.
Now that you're no longer anonymous, as of today, what are your thoughts on the continued importance of anonymity among critics? Do you feel like Jonathan Gold (who's now at the L.A. Times) is less effective for not being anonymous, for instance?
JK: I'm so glad that I was able to stay more or less anonymous throughout my tenure as a critic, and I valued that stance. I do think it's possible to have your picture out there and eat unrecognized in restaurants, especially when you're covering restaurants outside the media-hype-bubble, but it's increasingly hard to do. I know what it's like to work in the kitchen when there's a VIP in the room. It does change the experience and, it can change the quality of the food.
Keeping my face as far out of public as I could made the job easier. But I felt like it was even more important to keep a solid wall, socially, between me and restaurant people. By not interacting with restaurant folk on or off the job, I was able to focus on trying to write fair criticism without thinking about the impact of my words on relationships I had with chefs and restaurateurs. That's more important than demanding my friends untag a photo of me that they just posted on Facebook.
So, is it a relief?
Now that my last review visit has been made, a friend had me over for dinner this weekend with a bunch of restaurant people I'd avoided meeting before. It was a good reminder how much I like hanging out with people in this industry. I'm glad I get to get to do it again.
Kauffman's final review will appear in next week's issue of SF Weekly, and his writing will continue to appear on SFoodie through May 14.