After five years of pseudo-anonymity, The Oregonian's restaurant critic, Michael Russell, came out of the shadows this morning, revealing his image in an article and a video for the first time, and asking the question: What is the modern role of the food critic? Meet the true Michael Russell:
In the article, Russell confesses to scrubbing away online photos and upping online security settings—all in the name of offering unbiased restaurant reviews, 'ostensibly' free from preferential treatment at restaurants that had "made" him.
"I enjoyed the game," writes Russell. "The fake names; the fake glasses (really); growing woolly beards then shaving them, 'Zelig' style; avoiding cameras as zealously as a Kardashian might seek them."
But even Russell's colleague Mark Katches lets on that the cat was already out of the bag:
I have one personal anecdote to share: Russell and I went to dinner at a South Waterfront restaurant a few months back. I paid the tab. The next day, the owner sent me a note thanking me for bringing our dining critic to his establishment. I hadn't said a word about anything to anybody about Michael Russell.
Russell elaborates that remaining anonymous was difficult due to his "hybrid" role at The O, "writing reviews but also profiles and feature stories that require in-person interviews." Reviewing pop-ups in their intimate settings posed a serious challenge, and the straw that seems to have broken the camel's back: not being a part of the Portland community.
As with our 2016 Restaurant of the Year, Coquine, community matters to me. It's the calling card of Portland restaurants, and the superglue that keeps the scene together. By remaining an outsider, I've kept myself from that community, and the opportunities for engagement and education they present.
While Russell re-evalutates the traditional three-month timeframe for reviewing a restaurant, he will make some changes immediately. He says going forward his reviews will focus "even less" on service, and the four-star rating method now has a five-star scale. We may also find fewer Russell reviews in general, as he's taken on new duties at The O: editing more of the newspaper's restaurant coverage.
Russell's outing comes on the heels of other major national critics, like Jonathan Gold of the Los Angeles Times. It all begs the larger question: Is the anonymous critic model dead?