After no shortage of recent controversy and mudslinging from chefs and diners alike surrounding Dallas Morning News food critic Leslie Brenner, the paper has finally decided to change the way that it conducts reviews. Instead of continuing her futile attempts to maintain anonymity during restaurant visits, this afternoon the critic decided to step out from behind her wine-sipping avatar, and show her face to the Dallas public for the first time — willfully, at least — since beginning her tenure at the News in 2009.
In a video posted to Eats Blog earlier today, Brenner chats with Dallas Morning News film critic Chris Vognar about why she chose to shed her anonymity. "I feel like people who work in restaurants have really started to figure out who I am, and I feel at this point that I want to have a relationship with our readers." Brenner argues that if restaurant workers and chefs know who she is, the readers should also know the person behind them.
"I'm dropping the ritual. It's dated. And it's a distraction."
In an essay that accompanies the video, Brenner explains the decision more in-depth. "After several years of engaging with increasing frequency in the ridiculous ritual of pretending not to be recognized by chefs and restaurateurs who are pretending not to recognize me, I'm dropping the ritual," she writes. "It's dated. And it's a distraction." She also points to the ubiquity of social media as a hindrance to anonymous critics, as a photo snapped during dinner service can quickly go viral.
Still, Brenner plans to continue making reservations at restaurants that she plans to review under a pseudonym, and insists that the restaurant review process will not change in any other way. She will still visit restaurants twice before writing a review, and the Dallas Morning News will continue to foot the bill for what she and her guests consume.
Interestingly, Brenner did not acknowledge the elephant in the room — whether or not she would be reviewing Proof + Pantry, the restaurant that initially refused to accept her payment for dinner in the incident that, in all likelihood, ultimately prompted the paper to end the anonymity policy. Owners Michael Martensen and Sal Jafar II made the case that Brenner was no longer anonymous in Dallas, and that the star system employed by the paper to rate restaurants was both flawed and outdated. Though it appears as if the paper's much-maligned star system is still very much in place, perhaps Brenner's coming forward will help smooth over her rocky relationship with chefs and restaurant owners.
"This is pure damage control," says John Tesar.
Or perhaps not: Ever-vocal Brenner detractor John Tesar, for one, is less than impressed by Brenner's move, saying, "This is pure damage control. After countless meetings in the wake of the Proof + Pantry debacle, the paper has decided to reinvent her by outing her. Now she gets to sound like it’s her idea and she’s the innovator. Which is false. Her picture was publicized by people in the restaurant community long ago, and now she’s going to try and take credit for what other people have already done."
In regards to Leslie’s declaration that she wants to play a "more active role in [the] dining community," Tesar voices his skepticism, proclaiming that she hasn’t exactly been supportive of the Dallas food scene in many instances in the past — a sentiment that’s been echoed by D critic Nancy Nichols. "Is the change sincere, or is she just changing to save face?" the chef asks.
On Monday, Brenner will host a live online Q&A session to field questions from readers about the shakeup, so head on over if you've got a pressing question for the officially unanonymous critic.