Two weeks ago, the New York Timesannounced that its chief restaurant critic, Frank Bruni, was stepping down from his post. The food world was aflutter (and a-Twitter) debating who will take his spot; a successor hasn’t yet been named. But Bruni’s exit raises another question: can a restaurant critic publish a memoir while he or she still has the job? Coincidentally—or not—Penguin Press is publishing Bruni’s memoir, Born Round: The Secret Historyof a Full-Time Eater, in August, which is when Bruni plans to officially vacate his post at the Times. The timing of his departure and his book’s publication suggests it may not be so easy to release a book and continue to review restaurants in a city where chefs routinely post press photographs of prominent chefs in their kitchens. After all, how does a person whose job often entails anonymity do readings, appear in interviews on TV, or even take a book jacket photo?
Toby Young, former restaurant critic for the Evening Standard, author of the memoirs How to Lose Friends and Alienate People and The Sound of No Hands Clapping, and a judge on Top Chef Season 5, thinks there’s definitely a connection between Bruni’s resignation and book release. “I think the reason he feels he has to resign is that he wants to get out there and promote his memoir. If his face gets out there it’ll be difficult for him to carry on his job as a restaurant critic.” Young was working as a restaurant critic when No Hands Clapping was published.
Gael Greene, who was until recently a restaurant critic for New York magazine, has written many books, including the memoir Insatiable: Tales from a Life of Delicious Excess, which was released when she was still at the magazine. Greene doesn’t see a connection between Bruni’s departure and the publication of his forthcoming memoir. “I think he maybe just had enough,” she said. “On the other hand,” Greene noted, “he may feel to promote his book he has to go on TV and radio with a bare face.” When Greene was promoting her books, she said, she wore a hat pulled down over her eyes, and the author photo on her first book showed her wearing a favorite hat that covered much of her face. “I never wore that hat again in restaurants,” Greene said.
In Born Round, Bruni addresses anonymity, explaining his attempt at a disguise on a visit to Per Se. “I slicked back my hair. I sported a minor beard, the product of a full week without shaving. And I put on a bulky, flashy pair of purple-rimmed eyeglasses with clear lenses, which I’d purchased solely to be used as camouflage…. Our waiter took one look at me, and despite an obvious struggle not to, broke into an enormous, you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-me smile.”
A spokesperson for Bruni’s publisher, Penguin Press, told PW, “It was Frank’s wish to really be able to come out and support the publication of Born Round, so after five years as restaurant critic this just was a good moment to pass the reigns and venture out from behind the curtain."