Dallas Morning News restaurant critic Leslie Brenner officially unveiled her identity on Thursday, introducing herself to readers via a video and an essay on the paper's website. The move has inspired commentary from seemingly just about everyone in Dallas that has internet access, but most interesting has been the response from Brenner's peers — the city's other food critics. While they all stop short (more or less) of outright decrying Brenner for her strategic reveal, words like "backtrack," "backflip," and "smoke screen" paint a pretty clear picture.
Frequent Brenner critic Nancy Nichols of D Magazine was surprisingly brief on the subject, writing just a single paragraph that included the sentiment "good for her." In the comments section, though, Nichols offers a few more thoughts:
I feel she backtracked on many of her methods and kicked herself in doing so. In the video, she talks about knowing that she was recognized and playing a game with the owners. If she knew she was recognized, I feel she should have disclosed that in her review. She wrote many times--quite pompously-- about her " success" at being anonymous. Now she says she knew all along.
Meanwhile, CultureMap's Teresa Gubbins — who has been writing restaurant reviews for various outlets including D and the Star-Telegram for two decades — raises questions about the intentions behind the reveal:
This sudden change in policy represents a backflip not only by Brenner, but also the Dallas Morning News ... Given her long-standing defense of anonymity, Leslie Brenner's reversal represents a major shift in her ethical stance. Up until now, she's championed anonymity as a defining characteristic of a "professional" food critic, one that separates the critic from mere bloggers ... Brenner and her employer can try all they want to spin this newfound notoriety into celebrity by splashing her photo in public, but their effort reeks of a smoke screen, a distraction designed to hide deeper issues within the culture and management of the newspaper that created this monster in the first place.
Dallas Observer critic Scott Reitz also harkens back to a time in 2009 when Brenner herself pontificated on the importance of anonymity. As Reitz's headline points out, Brenner will now likely be on the receiving end of the kind of the "special treatment" she once warned against. He concludes that while maintaining anonymity can be a challenge, it's still the best practice for critics:
...As a fellow critic who still does his best to maintain anonymity here in Dallas, I can attest that all the sneaking around can be a drag. But I'm staying in the shadows. I agree with the Association of Food Journalists, which still reviews be conducted as anonymously as possible -- that the goal of restaurant criticism is to experience the restaurant just as ordinary patrons do, whenever possible. Sure, many of them are outed at a percentage of the restaurants they cover, but the policy is still the same -- do your best with every review.
The Brenner debate rages on in the comments section over on the original unmasking feature, where the critic is currently fielding questions from readers — including, unsurprisingly, a barrage of them from her arch-nemesis John Tesar.