It would have been stupid to think I could take this job and avoid being compared to Jonathan Gold. I have to admit, though, I did not think the first comparison would have to do with our looks. And yet, that's exactly what happened when Eater L.A. posted a blurry photo taken at a panel I moderated at the Atlanta Food and Wine Festival (the photo has since been removed at the request of the photographer). “She's uglier than J.Gold…..holly [sic] shit!!!!!” one commenter wrote. “Its [sic] Jonathan Gold in drag,” another quipped.
Sigh. I don't know if I can rightfully blame Eater for trying to unmask me. The unmasking of critics seems counterproductive and dumb, but we (restaurant critics) kind of brought this on ourselves, being all self-important and wearing wigs and pretending we're spies. I certainly can't blame the commenters for being outrageous dicks — that's what the Internet was built for, right? Porn, food porn and acting out our worst selves from the vantage of … what would you call that? Oh yeah, anonymity.
And I've blathered on about anonymity a fair amount myself. (For those of you who saw that stupid video, please know it was supposed to be a joke. My original idea was to wear a Donnie Darko bunny head, or to have changed disguises every time the camera came back to me. The joke fell horribly flat, and the video seems both bizarre and self-important in the dorkiest possible way. It's a good example of why professional media companies shouldn't attempt media at which they are not professional.) My basic point was that, yes, anonymity helps. Yes, it's important to try. Yes, it's impossible. I was never unmasked in Atlanta in the way Eater has been attempting here in L.A., but by the time I left there was hardly a chef in town who couldn't have picked me out. Word gets around. Atlanta is a small town in many ways. But that doesn't mean I didn't try to keep my photo out of the public eye, and to keep a low profile when reviewing restaurants. In most cases, I was able to get in a visit or two where no one noticed me.
In L.A., I have a chance to start fresh. I don't know any chefs or restaurant people here, and I hope to keep it that way. Will total anonymity be possible? Almost certainly not, although I'm pretty confident that the photos out there won't help people much in identifying me.
Which brings me to this past Monday, when Eater published another photo, claiming it is me circa 2005. Thus far, the photographer of that photo has not demanded it be removed. Probably because the photographer may have a vested interest in people thinking that photo looks exactly like me. You'd think Eater, with all its smarty-pants Internet savvy, would know the difference between a credit and a caption. But whatever. Chefs of L.A. — I look just like that! I haven't aged a day!
Besha Rodell's first column will appear in next week's print edition.