The Origin of Food Criticism

On May 18, 1962 Craig Claiborne prefaced an article he wrote with a short note: “The following is a listing of New York restaurants that are recommended on the basis of varying merits. Such a listing will be published every Friday in The New York Times.” And so, on that day, the food critic was born (or at least, the contemporary version of it). This New York Times article provides the detail of the growing trend. Claiborne’s Directory to Dining, which celebrates a 50 year anniversary this month, marks the day when the country began paying attention to restaurant reviews in the newspaper.

The column’s most easily recognized field mark, the starred ranking, made its debut on May 24, 1963, with a three-star scale. A fourth star, still the newspaper’s top grade, was placed on the top of the tree a year later. The arguments about what it all means have been going on ever since.

Most influential of all were the rules Claiborne set for himself, which became the industry ideal. He was independent of advertising, tried to dine anonymously, and before passing judgment would eat at least two meals (later three) that were paid for by The Times, not the restaurants. Claiborne’s guidelines sent a message that he wasn’t an overprivileged and overfed man about town. He was a critic with a job to do.

Claiborne’s dedication to his job, I would argue, is unrivaled to this day:

Most influential of all were the rules Claiborne set for himself, which became the industry ideal. He was independent of advertising, tried to dine anonymously, and before passing judgment would eat at least two meals (later three) that were paid for by The Times, not the restaurants. Claiborne’s guidelines sent a message that he wasn’t an overprivileged and overfed man about town. He was a critic with a job to do.

Definitely some great trivia for all the foodies out there.

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