I can see there are some questions out there about our new set up for dining reviews, and what it means now that I return to a role that requires more anonymity.
I’m going to survey the group and pick out a few questions. Feel free to ask any more in the space below.
Yes, you, skeptical-looking gray-haired man with the goatee in the back row.
Q: Kessler, your picture has been all over the paper. Can you really write an honest review when everyone knows your ugly mug?
A: Good question! I will tell you: this situation is not ideal. Obviously, recipes don’t change and waiters don’t learn better manners because they recognize me. But I get a much better sense of a restaurant’s ability to handle volume and prepare consistent food when I’m not dining as a known critic. That said, most reviewers are well recognized after a couple of years on the job. I’ll do what they do: make reservations in friends’ names, keep a low profile and pay with alias credit cards if I haven’t been spotted. At least, chefs will never know I’m coming and can’t plan on being in the kitchen or preparing extra-special specials. I’ll also pay close attention to other tables and see if their experiences differ.
Next question: You, dubious woman in the Wilma Flintstone pearls.
Q: Surely you’ve become friends with chefs after all those events and dinners you’ve gone to. Can we trust you to report on an industry where you’re a player?
A: Of course you can trust me, and don’t call me Shirley. I do have one close friend who is a chef, and so I will pass all coverage of his restaurant to other writers. I generally stay away from media dinners, parties and food events, though I have crossed paths with several Atlanta chefs at conferences. I like some of these people but that won’t stop me from being critical of their restaurants.
My duty is to readers of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and ajc.com, not to anyone in the food industry. I want to encourage you to visit restaurants that will make you happy, but also discourage you from wasting your money – whether it’s on a hamburger that isn’t worth no $14 or an anniversary dinner that will put you back $200. You can be certain that the more expensive a restaurant is, the more critical I’ll be.
Okay, you sir, in the Argyle sweater vest, straining your arm to be picked.
Q: Thank you. I have an important question to ask. I like to go out to eat as much as the next guy, but all you critics write about restaurants I can’t afford. Will you ever review anything for real people?
A: Absolutely. I’m a huge fan of exploring international cuisines, which is one of the great ways of dining on a budget in Atlanta. I also plan to show readers ways to share, split and order less, yet still leave satisfied in more expensive places. There’s nothing worse than paying too much for oversized portions of food and leaving with doggie bags.
Okay, one last question. You, miss, in the yoga pants.
Q: I’m sure the next hot new gastritis-pub or whatever it is you call it will open in Midtown, but that’s an hour drive from my house. Any chance you can find something for me closer to where I live that isn’t just another chain restaurant?
A: That will be one of my top priorities as I start this gig. I plan to find the best restaurants throughout greater Atlanta to write about. Some will be more special-occasion kinds of places, others more options for a weeknight meal out.
In the coming weeks as our team of dining critics comes on board, you can look for a renewed commitment to covering neighborhood dining throughout the metro area. We plan to cram as much information as we can into print and online about the many dining options we are so lucky to have in Atlanta. Whether that hot new place is a gastritis-pub or a gastropub, you can be sure we’ll have an opinion on it to share.