by Joanna Shaw Flamm
Sam Sifton announced he was moving on from his job as the New York Times restaurant critic with a Tweet:
@SamSifton: I’m stepping down as restaurant critic to the be national editor of The Times #checkplease
Doesn’t sound too sad, does he? Sure, he’s moving on to a prestigious new position at the Gray Lady, but is it possible that being a full time restaurant critic isn’t all its cracked up to be?
Robert Sietsema, esteemed food critic at the Village Voice, shed some light on a job that, as it turns out, is more than eating a few great meals and waving a wand to assign a few stars. Times critics, he says, spend 40 hours or more per week just eating, not to mention the time it takes to write 1100-1200 word reviews. And for a modern-day food writer, that’s just the beginning.
“Nowadays,” Sietsema writes, “in addition, the critic must blog extensively, answer reader questions, write best-of lists, tweet, and see to other social media concerns, as well as write extensive features that require him to travel quite literally around the globe. Plus spending time with editors, fact checkers, copyeditors, etc., as all this prose is processed into print. Given all this, you can easily see why someone could burn out in two years, and come to the conclusion that all the glamor and good food has to be weighed against a monomaniacal existence in which you don’t have time for family or friends, and life is just one giant Vegas-style buffet.”
Oh, the woe! Sietsma’s point is understandable, but let’s be real here. A Times food critic works hard, but he or she works hard at a job that is almost entirely about covering the pursuit of pleasure. That’s not to say it isn’t hard work, and it can obviously mess with a person’s physical health, but compared to the truly dangerous reporting other Times writers are doing, 40 hours per week in restaurants doesn’t seem so bad.
Being the best and most respected in any field requires giving up a lot. That’s true whether you’re a restaurant critic, a line cook, a farmer or a hedgefund manager. It’s virtually impossible to be the best and have a balanced life. Many of the food artisans and restauranteurs we write about at Nona make similar sacrifices: working late into the night, weekends, sleeping little, and putting the work above everything else. So to all you local growers, makers, purveyors and chefs, we say, “Thank you! Your hard work gives us pleasure. We appreciate what you do, what you contribute to Brooklyn, and what you contribute to our enjoyment of this place.”
And to Sam Sifton, we say, “Thanks you, good luck…and give your editors our contact info.”