Young and Hungry

Why I’m Not Anonymous

Hi, I'm Jessica Sidman, your new Young & Hungry columnist. As you may have heard, I'm also the first person in this position not to attempt anonymity.

This fact has already caused quite the stir. The Washington Post devoted more than a thousand words to the subject, followed by a story in the Huffington Post (complete with a poll!) and a lengthy interview with WCP editor Mike Schaffer on Eater.com.

Now, it's my turn to talk.

My hope is to be less traditional critic and more reporter. Yes, you will occasionally get my opinions, but I plan to steer away from the straight-up reviews you might find from Post critic Tom Sietsema or Washingtonian critic Todd Kliman.

My goal is to make Y&H the first place you'll hear about restaurant openings and other breaking food and booze news. I also want to tell you stories beyond the dining room. Restaurants are much more than places where people eat; they're businesses, economic drivers, neighborhood transformers, home to insanely creative and occasionally wacky people as well as newsworthy examples of ambition, hubris, criminality, and cultural exchange.

The purpose of anonymity is to be able to relate the experience of the "average diner." But you don't need a professional critic for that anymore. There are thousands of "average diners" sharing their experiences every day on Yelp. What a good food writer can give you is hopefully something more: storytelling, analysis, context, and news.

The fact of the matter is that the role of the food writer has changed. We're expected to get scoops and deliver on details of all aspects of the industry. That requires face time. And the Zorro mask? Kind of weird in real life.

In my previous gig as editor of Dining Bisnow and in my time at Washingtonian before that, I made a point of doing most of my interviews in-person and attending as many industry events as possible. As a result, a substantial portion of the chefs, restaurateurs, and managers in D.C. know what I look like. I'm not going to bullshit you and pretend otherwise.

Even the big name critics in town who've gone to great lengths to conceal their identities by purging the internet of photos and using credit cards and reservations with false names are not nearly as anonymous as they might have you believe. Many restaurants, especially the top ones, know exactly what they look like.

In a few years, this whole conversation will likely be obsolete. The next generation of food writers will not have the option of anonymity. We've lived too much of our lives online and posted too many photos on blogs, Facebook, and a million other sites. While anonymity may be dying, the appetite for a good story never will.

Hope you're hungry.

Name tag photo via Shutterstock

  • http://www.texasobserver.org Jonathan McNamara

    A fistful of kudos to you, Jessica Sidman. The game is indeed changing and not just in food writing. I applaud you for not only adapting, but advocating for the adaption that our industry so desperately needs.

    If I could leave a frosty IPA in addition to this comment, rest assured I would.

  • I’m hungry!

    Can't wait for the new take on Young and hungry!

  • Pete

    Well done on this decision, WCP. There will always be a place for the Klimans and Sietsema's of the world, but food reporter plays to Jennifer's/Y&H's strengths and weaknesses.

  • http://www.TheCupcakeCritic.com thecupcakecritic

    Hi Jessica! Congrats on your new position! Kudos to you for bringing about a change in food critiquing as the democratization of press increases. It's this type of journalism and thinking that keeps WCP a fan-favorite. Good luck to you and all the best ;-)

    Steph,
    The Cupcake Critic

  • David

    OK, so you're going to be a reporter, not a critic. Fine. The main thing is that you write well -- as well, say, as Tom Sietsema, Jay Rayner, and Pete Wells, to name three writers I read for the pleasure of their prose.

  • JM

    Great Jessica - I'll look forward to your writing.

    My humble request is that the WCP occasionally cover fine wines as well as beer & cocktails. I don't think I've seen a wine-centric post in years. Given how much better Virginia wines have become, it would be shame to ignore this area.

  • Becki

    Looking forward to your scoops & perspective. It's a fabulous industry and the true creative scene in DC.

  • GM

    Welcome and congrats,

    Thanks for the transparent approach; every restaurant owner and chef in the city knows what Sietsema looks like and the pretend-we-don't-know you farce that ensues on his visits is truly theaterof the absurd.

    Look forward to hearing your fresh insights and commentaries!

    GM

  • Oh yeah

    I'm excited to see what you report, your ice cream blog is killer !! One thing I wish this blog did more of is go into detail with pics of the cooking process from kitchen or farm to table....

  • Martha Washington

    I am so happy to read your mission statement. I haven't read your previous work at Dining Biznow, but dream of a food business reporter that doesn't simply rehash press releases without fact checking or "original" reporting. Thank you in advance.

  • Jane

    Welcome indeed! One thing I liked about Chris Shott was his interest in covering attitudes about certain foods and the relationship between restaurants and local demographics. Hope you'll cover that as well too!

  • http://www.cookindineout.com CookInDineOut

    Welcome Jessica! I'm looking forward to reading what you have to say about the DC restaurant scene. I think your observation about the changing nature of restaurant criticism is interesting. I hope you keep up that theme.

  • alex

    clearly by revealing her face, she wants to promote herself, not necessarily the food writing. thus she can get recognized and advance her career, get invited to more exclusive events, etc....

    if you are truly wanting to be objective and honest, do it without promoting yourself and just talk about the food.

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