Oregonian critic Michael Russell sheds his anonymity
In the video in which he announces Coquine as the restaurant of the year for 2016, Michael Russell dropped the guise of being anonymous. While this move may shock some, I understand completely.
In the video, he says that “for the past five years I’ve followed the traditional rules of restaurant criticism. Making reservations under false names, paying in cash, keeping my image offline. Starting now, I’ll no longer be anonymous.” “The secret in Portland’s food scene is community. Sit at the bar and you’ll never know who you are going to meet… and that’s a community I’d rather take I’d like to take part in as more than as an outsider. Ditching my anonymity means losing a valuable tool for evaluating restaurants. It also means new opportunities to learn and grow.”
While I take issue with some of the reasons he states, I understand feeling like you are outside of the party, looking in. There are many times I have wanted to go to the numerous press events, restaurant openings, festivals etc. that are constantly going on. It’s a bit lonely – going out all the time, making sure you are not doing anything to call attention to yourself, and, at least in my case, rushing home to write your notes before you forget the details. I totally get it. And as he says, it is a lot of work being anonymous. I’ve done the credit cards with the fake names, never telling anyone, including close friends who I am, turning down every media invite that comes my way, and the invitations from many readers over the years to join them for dinner. Plus, it’s a further distraction, when every time you see someone point a cell phone your way, you tense up. And, in Russell’s case, many people already knew who he was. In some ways it is pretty entertaining playing all the games to throw people off the scent, like spreading false rumors, obfuscating details, and throwing casual friends under the bus. But it gets tiring, and I’m glad I have stopped doing reviews.
The only reason I didn’t stop trying to be anonymous is I think the benefits of it far outweigh the negatives. Some people know who I am. People have accused various friends of mine of being me, which is always entertaining – they end up getting really good service. In the end, Michael is a good guy and knows a heck of a lot about food. I’d just like to be a fly on the wall when he comes in for a meal. Back when I was behind the pass, everything stopped and the entire kitchen got a whole new focus when I critic stopped in.
Here is his announcement