All masks off: Another critic shows his pretty face

Categories: Sheehan (RIP)

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The traditional disguise of a restaurant critic in the wild

Robb Walsh, restaurant critic for our sister paper, the Houston Press, book author and genial man-about-town, has followed what has now become a well-trod path among the rapidly decreasing ranks of full-time restaurant critics: He has blown his own cover and chosen to face the world as a non-anonymous critic. His reason? Strikingly similar to mine -- a book jacket with his un-masked mug on it.

I wrote about my own entrance into the overt world a few months back, and have since come to the conclusion that having my face out there has had little or no effect whatsoever on the daily operations of my job. I've been recognized once or twice, but never in a situation where it could've done anyone on the other side of the swinging doors a lick of good. As a matter of fact, I've probably had more bad meals served to me in the three or four months since having my cover blown by the publication of my book, Cooking Dirty, than I did in the year leading up to it. I haven't done the math, but that's certainly the way it's felt to me.

And while I'll admit that the picture of me grinning like a dope on the back flap of my memoir is one of those miracles of modern photography -- making me look passably human and even cheerful -- it's not exactly a fair representation. On any normal day (meaning one where I'm not sitting for a professional portrait and having 500 pictures taken in the hopes that, in one of them, I don't look ready to bite someone), I look like death and am about as pleasant as ten miles of bad road. That might be giving me some kind of unfair view of this debate, but I'm not sure.

Walsh puts it rather simply in his piece: "I didn't decide to ditch my anonymity just because everybody else was doing it. The fact is, my job is changing. I was hired as a newspaper restaurant critic and feature writer. Today I am, first and foremost, a blogger. It's a little ludicrous to try and maintain your anonymity while you are photographing your plate. And sometimes you need to identify yourself to get a interview. The time has come to adjust to fit my new job description."

Funny thing? I saw Walsh at the Texas Book Festival over the weekend and was shocked--shocked!--to find that he, too, looks nothing like the new pictures of him. I mean, this is a man I've known since my first months on this job. I've shaken his hand, sat with him at awards ceremonies, eaten his dessert. How was it that I never once noticed that he was a 98-pound Filipino transvestite?

It's weird how fame affects some people.

You can check out Walsh's piece in its entirety (which you should do: first, because it's an interesting meditation on modern restaurant criticism and second, because Walsh really knows his stuff) on the Houston Press food blog. And while you're at it, you might also want to click over to The New Yorker's website, where another one of our now-non-anonymous ilk -- Jonathan Gold, (the only restaurant critic to EVER win a Pulitzer) -- is finally getting his big-time profile. It's in the issue that comes out Monday, but if you can't wait that long, the link above is to some kind of bizarre abstract of the story and ought to hold you for a couple days.

As for me, I have to go and get my ascots dry cleaned, my false moustache re-waxed and then eat half a cow for lunch. After all, Walsh ain't the only pretty girl in this industry. I have to keep up somehow...


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