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The New York Times Restaurant Critic Takes on America

The New York Times Restaurant Critic Takes on America

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Attention, chefs across America: It’s time to post that photocopied mug shot of The New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells in locker rooms, at host stands, and on the back of swinging doors in kitchens everywhere across the country. Unless you want to end up like Guy Fieri, that is. That’s right, Pete Wells is now reviewing restaurants nationwide. Wells noted on Tuesday, along with his review of Saison in San Francisco (coming just weeks after his double review of two notable Houston restaurants), that he intends to set a precedent as Times restaurant critic and "cast a wider net."

Does Wells, or any New York restaurant critic, have any business reviewing restaurants in other cities? There’s a certain amount of New York know-it-all-ness that other cities might object to, depending on how the critic reviews the treasured restaurants that draw him and The Times expense account to seek them out. When Wells reviewed Guy Fieri’s Times Square restaurant, some observers (most notably Fieri himself) criticized the review's "agenda factor." Consider what some might say if Wells were to pan some other city’s treasure — say Benu in San Francisco, or god forbid, one of José Andrés' rabidly loved restaurants in Washington, D.C. (a city with a perpetual chip on its collective shoulder about its dining scene and how New Yorkers view it). "New Yorkers blah, blah, blah, we have great restaurants, why don’t you go back to your own city and blah, blah, blah, review Shake Shack again or something."

Not that anyone should be completely shocked by Wells' move. He does, after all, have a background that includes time at two national magazines, as articles editor at Details for five years and "Always Hungry" columnist for Food & Wine for three. And good for him for having previously expanded the scope of The Times critic's role with his forays into Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens, and even New Jersey, representing a welcome and laudable look beyond the provincial boundaries of the narrow strip of Manhattan that The Times’ previous restaurant critics have largely held themselves to. How amazing is it that he will now have the leeway to expand provincial Gothamites' horizons still farther, maybe heading out to Chicago to try an Achatz meal, taking a turn at Meadowood in Napa, Calif., stopping by The Catbird Seat in Nashville, Tenn., or heck, who knows?, maybe eventually even taking a tour of Osaka’s best sushi spots, Lyon's best bouchons, or Manchester's best pubs? It’s all potentially going to make for a much more informed critic, and by extension a much more informed dining public.

Reached for comment, several of America's premier restaurant critics agreed.

"Frankly, I’m surprised it’s taken this long for The New York Times reviewer(s) to eat away from home on a more regular basis," said the Washington Post's restaurant critic Tom Sietsema. "Since I became the food critic for the Washington Post in 2000, I’ve been filing regular dining dispatches (Postcard from Tom) from around the world for our Travel section. In that time, I’ve filed from more than 40 cities."

The New York Times Restaurant Critic Takes on America - Recipes

Marcus Samuelsson, chef and co-owner of Restaurant Aquavit, has received more accolades than most chefs receive in a lifetime: He was the youngest chef ever to receive a three-star restaurant review from The New York Times from Ruth Reichl in 1995. In May of 2001, Aquavit was awarded another excellent, three-star review from The New York Times’ restaurant critic William Grimes. In 2003, Samuelsson received the great honor of “Best Chef: New York City” from the James Beard Foundation. In 1999, the James Beard Foundation also honored him as best “Rising Star Chef.” Samuelsson is proud of Aquavit’s consecutive four-star ratings in Forbes’ annual “All-Star Eateries” feature. He was individually recognized in Crain’s New York Business’ annual 󈬘 Under 40” at age 29 and was celebrated as one of “The Great Chefs of America” by The Culinary Institute of America. Most recently, Samuelsson has been recognized by the World Economic Forum as one of the “Global Leaders for Tomorrow” (GLT). The award, given out annually since 1993, recognizes young innovators from all corners of the world in the arenas of business, government, civil society, the arts and media. Both Samuelsson’s talent in the kitchen as well as his successful business achievements continue to be recognized locally, nationally and globally.

In 1973, three-year-old Samuelsson was orphaned when his parents fell victim to a tuberculosis epidemic that raged through his Ethiopian homeland. He and his sister found refuge at a Swedish field hospital in nearby Addis Ababa, where they were taken in by a nurse who arranged for their adoption by a young Swedish couple from Göteborg, Sweden. Samuelsson describes his childhood on the West Coast of Sweden as an idyllic time spent with family and close friends. At a young age, he also discovered his passion for cooking alongside his grandmother, who was a professional cook.

Unlike their American counterparts, young Swedes choose their career path at age sixteen. For Samuelsson, the choice to pursue cooking was an easy one to make. His first summer job at a local bakery was followed by several cooking jaunts in small restaurants. Passionate about his studies at the Culinary Institute in Göteborg, Samuelsson attended classes by day and cooked in local restaurants late each night, fulfilling his degree requirements in record time.

Following graduation from the Institute, Samuelsson apprenticed first in Switzerland and later in Austria, where he learned how to craft fine pastry. In 1991, he returned to Switzerland for almost a year before fate intervened: Aquavit owner Håkan Swahn was hard at work in New York City establishing an identity for Scandinavian cuisine in the U.S. and selected the young Swedish chef for an eight-month apprenticeship at his restaurant. This was a great honor for Samuelsson, considering the restaurant’s international reputation. In addition to its burgeoning popularity in the United States, where it’s been called the “grandest of New York’s Scandinavian restaurants,” the venue is also held in high regard in places like France and Sweden.

Following his stint at Aquavit, Samuelsson returned to Europe to take a position at the world-renowned and three-star Michelin restaurant, Georges Blanc in Lyon, France. “At Georges Blanc I learned that to be a top chef you have to have a passion for success as well as a passion for food,” Samuelsson says. “It’s not enough to be able to prepare delicious food. You have to be consistent as well, and serve two outstanding meals a day to each and every guest.”

In 1994, Håkan Swahn commissioned Samuelsson to return to Aquavit to work under the restaurant’s new executive chef, Jan Sendel. Sendel and Samuelsson found they shared much in common and eagerly began to work on their new menu. Sadly, the two chefs were not able to pursue their ambitions just eight weeks after they began working together, Sendel died unexpectedly. Perhaps as a sign of things to come though, shortly before his death, Sendel confided in Håkan Swahn that he intended to make young Samuelsson his sous chef. Samuelsson rose to the challenge: He worked diligently, demonstrating his management skills and cooking prowess and, in May of 1995, Swahn formally appointed him Executive Chef of Aquavit . Just three months later, the young chef earned that coveted three-star rating from The New York Times.

Never one to rest on his laurels, Samuelsson continually revolutionizes Aquavit’s menu, crafting innovative interpretations of classic Scandinavian cuisine that marry the traditional with the contemporary. His menu offers dishes that embody, complement, and revitalize the foundations and building blocks of Swedish cuisine. Focusing on texture and aesthetics, Samuelsson incorporates the traditional seafood, game, and pickling and preserving techniques that have been adored and savored for years by Scandinavians.

And Samuelsson’s cuisine continues to win national praise. He has been featured in numerous publications: Gourmet, USA Today, Food & Wine and The New York Times, and Bon Appétit, to name a few and has appeared on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Martha Stewart Living Television, CNN, The Food Network, The Discovery Channel, UPN’s “The Iron Chef USA,” and several New York television programs. He was the third chef to ever write for The New York Times’ “Chef’s Column,” and is a contributing editor to Savoy magazine.

Marcus Samuelsson also oversees the new AQ Café at Scandinavia House (opened June 2001), a casual lunch destination in Midtown Manhattan, serving some of Aquavit ’s favorite dishes. Additionally, Aquavit launched a new line of traditional Swedish prepared foods from recipes Samuelsson developed and researched.

In the spring of 2002, Samuelsson saw the release of his first Swedish cookbook, En Smakresa: Middagstips Från Marcus Samulesson, which was released alongside his work with Sweden’s major television network, TV4, which aired a series of global food-themed segments, Samuelsson co-created. The TV4 book celebrates Samuelsson’s love of Swedish food and features an array of traditional and innovative preparations beside stunning visuals. En Smakresa was awarded “Cookbook of the Year” in Sweden in 2002 one of many accolades the book has received to date.

Samuelsson’s first American cookbook Aquavit and The New Scandinavian Cuisine was released by Houghton Mifflin in October 2003. He has also been published in The New York TimesThe Chefs of the Times (2001) Magic in the Kitchen (2002), and Hot Chefs Hip Cuisine (2002).

On the philanthropic front, Samuelsson furthers his commitment to children by acting as the official spokesperson for a partnership between Dawn Dishwashing Liquid Antibacterial Hand Soap and the U.S. Fund for UNICEF. As an ambassador for the cause, he will help provide support for tuberculosis initiatives in developing countries—an issue close to his heart, and the very disease that robbed him of his birth parents. Most recently, Samuelsson conceived and spearheaded the first annual “Gourmet/UNICEF Trick-or-Treat” program which brought on board restaurants across the country to donate $1.00 per diner to UNICEF on Halloween: helping unite the country’s best restaurants, a global charity, and the highly-respected food magazine. Planning has already begun on an even wider program for Halloween 2003.

Marcus also dedicates his time and talent to the Careers Through Culinary Arts Program (C-CAP), a non-profit organization that provides inner-city high school students with training, scholarships and jobs in the restaurant and food service industry. Samuelsson also serves on C-CAP’s advisory board and as the restaurant chairperson for the annual spring benefit.

Marcus Samuelsson spends his free moments painting, reading cookbooks, visiting museums, and playing soccer. When asked about his goals for Aquavit , Samuelsson says, "I want to ensure that each guest has the ultimate three-star experience, and leaves Aquavit feeling like they’ve taken a little trip to Scandinavia without leaving New York.”

Yewande Komolafe

Yewande Komolafe is a cooking writer for the Food section. She has worked in a number of roles in the culinary world, including writing, recipe development and food styling. She is the author of two cookbooks to be published in 2021: “My Everyday Lagos Kitchen: Nigerian Classics at Home and in the Diaspora,” and a cookbook inspired by “Waffles + Mochi,” a Netflix children’s show from Higher Ground Productions.

Sam Sifton: An "Ambassador of Deliciousness"

I n his current post as National Editor for The New York Times, the paper&aposs former chief restaurant critic Sam Sifton oversees 14 news bureaus around the country. But his new job hasn&apost kept him from writing about food, and he certainly hasn&apost stopped eating out or cooking at home. Sifton continues to pen a Sunday Times Magazine column devoted to translating restaurant dishes to the home kitchen, and he&aposs just written a cookbook, Thanksgiving: How to Cook It Well. We spoke with Sifton about life as a "civilian" diner and what home cooks can learn from the pros. He also explained a few of his Turkey Day rules, and shared a recipe from the new book, Three-Pepper Sausage Cornbread Dressing.

Epicurious: How did being The New York Times&apos lead restaurant critic for more than two years affect the way you eat out, and what is it like to go to restaurants now that you&aposre no longer officially a critic?

Sam Sifton: As my family would tell you, being critical is something that comes fairly naturally to me. I think I&aposve always thought of restaurant dining the same way. I was a little bossier as a critic about what you as my guest were able to eat, and I ran the table in a more professionally interested way than I do now. I&aposm happy to let four people, [in] a party of four, get steak-frites—that doesn&apost bug me anymore. As critic, I was there as an ambassador of deliciousness. I was looking to have a great meal. I came in hungry every time. I kind of still do that, so I don&apost think it&aposs changed that much. I don&apost feel the same pressure. I&aposm a civilian again, which is terrific, but I think I evaluate the food in the same way that I did before.

I was an enthusiastic and committed restaurant diner before becoming the critic at the Times, and I was one throughout my tenure and I am one today, but the big difference between being a critic and being a civilian is that when you&aposre a civilian, you can be a regular in a restaurant. And being a regular in a restaurant is one of the greatest things about going to restaurants—knowing that you&aposre going to restaurant x because they have a dish that you like, that the waiters are nice, that the lighting is good, that you&aposre going to the restaurant to eat a particular thing and have a particular experience. That&aposs just not available to you as the critic, where you&aposre always going someplace new dressed in a scratchy wig and high heels.

Epi: Did being a critic affect the way you cook and eat at home?

SS: No question, it did. I am a pretty serious home cook, and I have been my whole adult life. I&aposve spent a lot of time thinking about how to adapt restaurant cooking to home use—that&aposs what I do in my column for the Sunday Times Magazine, and it&aposs my major desire in cooking. Restaurant food is, by and large, better than the food that we cook at home. I thought if you could just figure out what these chefs do, maybe you could do it at home and then your food would be more delicious, which means, in essence, adding more fat and salt to your food.

I thought being in restaurants all the time, as I was during my critic years, would help my home cooking. But there was no home cooking, because I was eating out six nights a week. I only really had a family meal a week to cook, and oftentimes I didn&apost want to make it a big production. I spent a lot of time eating rich, fantastic meals, so at home I was interested in eating very simple food. I worried a little bit—have I lost the touch or the desire? And that&aposs not at all the case. I&aposm back to cooking like mad at home, and still trying to figure out every time I go to a restaurant and have something delicious, how can I do that at home.

Epi: You touched on this briefly when you mentioned salt and fat, but what do you think are the most important lessons a home cook can learn from a restaurant chef?

SS: I think in terms of flavor, you need to know that restaurant chefs use much more butter than you do and [they] use much more salt and pepper than you do. This is why the food tastes so good. If you add butter to it, it tastes better. It&aposs just a fact, and if you lead a relatively healthy lifestyle, there&aposs nothing wrong with that. So that&aposs one thing.

But the other thing𠅊nd this pertains to Thanksgiving more than perhaps any other meal of the year—is this French idea of mise en place, or having everything you need to make the meal set up before you start cooking, so that you&aposre not caught in some maelstrom of activity where everything is chaotic and hectic. Holidays are difficult enough as it is without adding to the chaos with an improvisatory take when it comes to the preparation of the food. If I had to boil it down, the three things we can take from restaurant cooks are more butter, more salt, and prepare your materials before you start cooking.

Epi: Looking back at your days as a critic days, what are your three favorite restaurants?

SS: Oh, no, I have like 300 favorite restaurants. Seriously. One of the things that I learned was that𠅎veryone knows this, right?—there is a huge diversity of restaurants in New York City. There are more than 20,000 restaurants in this city. Oh, yes, we know it! But to understand that you really can go to a different kind of excellent restaurant every night for the foreseeable future is really something cool. And I can say, that just having gone to the restaurants that I&aposve gone to, there are dozens and dozens of restaurants that will never be reviewed in The New York Times that are great restaurants to go to and have a place in the library of restaurants that one could go to. I feel like Imelda Marcos with her shoes when it comes to restaurants.

One of the downsides of being a restaurant professional who is involved in saying what restaurant is good and what restaurant is bad is that I&aposm asked three times a day where to take my husband for his 40th birthday, where to take my mom for her 80th, where to take someone for a marriage proposal, or first date, or whatever. You would think—I would think—that this would become annoying, but it doesn&apost, because it&aposs just not that hard in this city. There are so many great restaurants. If you ask three or four follow-up questions—Is she allergic to anything? Does she like French food?—you can figure it out pretty quickly.

So to get around to answering your question, that&aposs how I think about where to go to dinner. I think: What is it that I&aposm looking for this evening? The answer might be sticky-tabled Chinatown Chinese. It might be French bistro fare. It could be super-extravagant Japanese. It could be peasant Italian. And there&aposs a restaurant for each and every one of those. So that&aposs a long-winded way of saying, no, I don&apost have a top three in New York City. I don&apost have a top three in the whole world. But I&aposm perfectly happy, any night you have it available, to have dinner at Per Se, and I&aposm generally prepared, if the chicken wings are really good and the beer is cold, to go to that bar that you like. It&aposs the best restaurant city in the world.

Epi: Does your work as National Editor take you on the road a lot? Any recent favorites on the national dining scene?

SS: Yes, as National Editor, I oversee the coverage of 14 news bureaus around the country, and I have made it my commitment to travel as much as possible to see the bureau chiefs and the correspondents around the country, and that&aposs been really fascinating for someone who has kind of been stapled to New York City for three years. To be able to go to Houston, Atlanta, Miami, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Kansas City, Phoenix, and all around the country to experience some measure of the lives of the correspondents has been really great from a news-gathering perspective, but it&aposs also been really great from a food-consuming point of view. The reports of the terribleness of food in America are way overrated. There are some really good restaurants out there.

I had a great meal in Atlanta at a restaurant called Miller Union—[there&aposs] a kind of vegetable shaman chef down there who is a really smart, interesting cook. I had a meal in Houston at a restaurant called Underbelly that was really terrific. I&aposve done pretty well out on the road. That said: There are plenty of nights when you&aposre going to be bellying up to the bar at T.G.I. Fridays or wherever, but I would say you&aposd be amazed at the number of great restaurants that exist in American cities.

Epi: Before writing your new book, Thanksgiving: How to Cook It Well, you worked on The New York Times&apos Thanksgiving help line. What were some of the more outrageous questions you received?

SS: The Times has a tremendously well-educated and well-informed readership, so I wasn&apost getting a lot of unbelievably ridiculous questions, but because it also has a global readership, I was getting some pretty difficult questions to answer. A guy in Mumbai wrote in to say that he had managed to secure a turkey, but his oven was too small. There was a neighborhood tandoor oven where he seemed to imply he could take the turkey, but he was a little nervous about what he should tell the tandoor chef, because of course they don&apost have turkeys. I thought about that one for a while, and then just said, "Tell him it&aposs a big chicken." At the end of the day, it&aposs not mysterious what a turkey is—it&aposs a big fowl. It&aposs like a chicken—you just cook it a little longer.

I did get a panicked call once from someone who was very concerned because he had rinsed out the bird and discovered in the process that the cavity between the legs—the main cavity where some people put the stuffing—went all the way through to where the head had been—the front cavity and that back cavity were connected as if it were a tube, and was that a problem? And I thought, really? So I asked him to think about it for a little bit and call me back if it was still a problem. He sent me a note later saying that he had figured it out. It was all connected—just one bird.

The cooking, while scary to many, is easy to handle, and I think [my] book provides the kind of baseline knowledge you need to cook a really terrific Thanksgiving meal. But the hard part of Thanksgiving is how to deal with the rest of it. How to deal with drunk Aunt Wilma or your angry brother or your depressive aunt, and how to handle complicated family dynamics, the rigors of travel, and differing political opinions𠅊ll this stuff that makes it a very stress-inducing holiday for so many. And for that, I simply say steer through the accident. Give thanks. Even the people who say they don&apost want to be there want to be there—they want to share in this great secular holiday. With the presence of food and drink and candles and the tablecloth, you can really do a lot to make people feel better, and it&aposs important as Thanksgiving hosts to remember that that&aposs your job. Make people feel better and have a good time and give thanks for their presence. It sounds sappy, but it actually works.

Epi: In the book, you include several different turkey recipes, including roasted, grilled, smoke-roasted, and deep-fried versions. Do you have a favorite technique?

SS: It depends on the bird, the weather, the guests, my mood—it depends on so much. We made a turkey mole a couple times that was really unconventional but kind of neat, and I remember it fondly. I was deep into frying for many years and I would fry exclusively, and then I would fry one bird and roast another bird.

One of the reasons why I loved doing this book and why I love Thanksgiving is that the traditions are always changing. This is why it&aposs such a peculiarly American holiday and a holiday that is reflective of America itself. It&aposs always changing, and yet it&aposs always the same. You always have that fried turkey until that year that you don&apost have the fried turkey because it&aposs pouring rain and you decide to roast. You always have your mother&aposs creamed onions until you don&apost. You always drink prosecco at the beginning and eat oysters until the year that you don&apost𠅊nd then something else happens, and you say that&aposs going to be our new tradition. Only in America would we say "that&aposs our new tradition."

I don&apost have a favorite, although the original first recipe in the book for roast turkey, which is the roast turkey I&aposve been cooking since college, is absolutely the default. I make that a couple times a year.

Epi: What&aposs your opinion on stuffing the turkey or baking the dressing outside the bird?

SS: There really shouldn&apost be a debate about this. If you&aposre an amateur, you stuff the turkey if you&aposre a real Thanksgiving cook, you make dressing in a pan on the side. I just don&apost see an upside to stuffing the bird. I like having some herbs in there or an onion, lemon, or orange. And I want to eat a lot of dressing. I like dressing—I think dressing is delicious, so I don&apost want three cups of it that are inside the bird. I want many, many more cups of it, and I want it in a big tray. I tend to be pretty doctrinaire about my Thanksgiving rules or suggestions, so I fall firmly on the side of the camp that says it&aposs dressing, you make it over there, and then you serve it with the turkey. You don&apost stuff the turkey, period. End of discussion. Explanation denied.

Epi: You also have a rather strong opinion about appetizers. Can you explain?

SS: I feel even more strongly about appetizers than I do about stuffing the bird, if that&aposs possible. Here&aposs the thing: I did not, you did not, your mother did not, your brother did not, the host of your Thanksgiving meal did not spend more than a day�use it takes many days to put together a proper Thanksgiving—preparing this thing so that [guests] can come in and hoover up a pound of nuts or eat half a wheel of cheese and fill themselves up so that they don&apost even eat the main event. There&aposs a huge amount of food on a properly loaded Thanksgiving plate. There&aposs no need for an appetizer before that, right? An appetizer is supposed to spur you to hunger. In a restaurant, it&aposs also supposed to increase check size. The notion is that you have this little bite of food and it spurs you to hunger. At Thanksgiving, you have a house filled with the scent of roasting turkey or bubbling stock or gravy, or the sight of pies𠅊ll of these visual and olfactory hints, telling you you&aposre hungry, you&aposre hungry, you want to eat turkey. So no, get the deviled eggs out of here. No salad, no little tart, no crabmeat royale. Get it out of here. This is a meal where it&aposs a plate piled high with three side dishes, gravy, cranberry sauce, and turkey. Concentrate on the main event. Discussion is ended here. No appetizers. It&aposs crazy. You don&apost want appetizers.

Epi: But you make an exception for oysters.

SS: Well, oysters are a little bit different. Oysters don&apost take up all that much space, and they are so completely different from anything that you&aposre going to get at the meal. The oysters are just an excuse to open some sparkling wine really, and, if you live in a place that has decent weather and it&aposs not snowing, it&aposs a nice chance to get outside and put a little bloom on your cheeks before coming back in to the warmth of the home to eat the turkey. That may be my Northeastern bias talking, but there&aposs something nice about being out in a chilly November yard, shucking a few oysters, before the meal. You&aposd have to eat a lot of oysters to mess up a Thanksgiving meal.

Epi: What are your recommendations for setting the Thanksgiving table and serving the big feast?

SS: I think I say in the book that you need to set the table as if preparing a sacrament. You want to create a special board on which to consume this meal. You may have mismatched silverware—most of us do𠅊nd you may not have enough plates, so all the plates look different—that&aposs true for most of us. But putting a tablecloth, even if it&aposs a sheet over another sheet—having some kind of thick cloth surface on there, maybe having some low flowers and certainly candles, sets a mood that says, "This is special."

We want to create, in the Thanksgiving table, the sense that what we are doing here is ritualistic [and] has a place in American culture and American history that means something. It is this one meal a year when the nation stops, gathers together in groups of family and friends, and pauses to say thanks, to give thanks—not necessarily to God or country or the farm or whatever, but always to one another, to the fact of the family, or the gathering. And I think that is best done in the presence of ironed cotton for lack of a better way of putting it. I think that the very act of saying, "I&aposm going to buy napkins and I&aposm actually going to iron them and make them look nice" does something, it sends a message to the guests that the host has spent some time thinking about this𠅊nd not in a twee way, but in a sort of ritualistic way𠅊nd this is going to be special.

I would argue that a well-set table with everything in its place, however humble, does a lot more to keep people from being jerks than anything else. That it really does create a forum in which the thanksgiving—the literal thanksgiving�n be made. Sounds crazy, right? But I believe it to be true. Try it.

About Me

I began writing about food what seems like an eternity ago now, right around the time that Eater and Grub Street were born, back in 2005. It was a foodie free for all, food writers like me launching blogs to wax rhapsodic about last night’s dinner, dishing on the hottest chefs and restaurants. We’d race to restaurant openings as if it was opening night on Broadway and try to beat each other to the punch. Me, I was inspired to create Restaurant Girl out of my own need for a young, passionate critic to identify with instead of some anonymous columnist sitting behind a computer. (I know. I’m not so young anymore, but I still have good taste!)

Fast forward to 2007, I was hired as the chief Restaurant Critic for the New York Daily News, becoming the first non-anonymous critic in the country as well as the first blogger-cum-official-critic for a national newspaper. (Thankfully these days, everyone’s non-anonymous.)

In June 2011, I wrote my first book, Try This: Traveling the Globe Without Leaving The Table, published by Harper Collins. Try This is a modern day guide to dining out — a cheat sheet to everything from British to Thai, Vietnamese, and everything in between. Hopefully, my book empowers readers to navigate any menu, cuisine, or circumstance they encounter at the dinner table. Try This has been featured in everything from The Wall Street Journal to US Weekly and Fox’s Good Day New York.

I’m also a regular food expert for several publications and media outlets, including Dr. Oz, Food Network’s Unique Eats, and People Style Watch. A guest judge on Bravo’s Top Chef Masters Season Three, Food Network’s Iron Chef America and NBC’s The Chopping Block, I’ve also appeared as an expert on the Food Network’s Heavyweights, Alex’s Day Off, and Throwdown with Bobby Flay. Just recently, I served as a judge on Food Network’s Kitchen Casino, hosted by Bill Rancic, which premieres Monday, April 7th, at 9 pm.

Over the years, I’ve gotten shout outs in various print and online publications, including The New York Times , The Los Angeles Times , the New York Post and New York Observer , Real Simple , Lucky,, Everyday with Rachael Ray , US Weekly , and Where to Dine . (Though some were nicer than others.)

My Culinary Confession

After years of getting more excited about the perfect steak than the perfect man, I had to read the writing on the wall: I was in love with food. I judged my dates by what restaurants they chose, what they ordered, and how they ate it. I eliminated potential mates on the basis of dietary restrictions. I was on a mission to try anything and everything. With so little time and so much to eat, who has time to cook or take-out? In this foodie Graceland we call New York, not a single restaurant must go uneaten, no dish untasted. The city is my oyster, every plate my playground, oral adventure around every corner. I just can’t seem to keep my mouth shut – literally.

Not everyone lives in New York or in a major city, of course. But no matter where you live, there are dishes to discover, exciting and unfamiliar foods to sample. There’s killer Korean in Los Angeles, great Vietnamese in Houston, Texas, and outstanding Chinese in San Francisco. We speak a whole new language of food today. You may not have been to Korea, but you can get Korean barbecue right here, and it’s as different from Turkish barbecue as Turkish barbecue is from Texas barbecue.

Think of me as your culinary concierge, here to guide you to the hottest menus and chefs in town and the best restaurant for every occasion. I unconditionally volunteer my taste buds, so you won’t have to waste time on a mediocre meal ever again. Eating out is a little like sex. Once you get the hang of it, you can’t get enough. You want to try everything on every menu. That’s why I can’t be monogamous to a restaurant or even a chef. I’m always hungry for something new. Life is a feast. Devour it!
Until we eat again,
Danyelle Freeman Aka Restaurant Girl

Review Policy
First and foremost: If you are open for business and charging your clientele full price, you are open for review. I stand firmly and fully behind my position. With the advent of blogs and real time news, there has been much controversy over the fairness of such practices. There will always be service kinks, kitchen backups and other issues to tweak when a restaurant opens. We understand those factors and will certainly take them into consideration when passing judgement. But ultimately, my responsibility remains exclusivity to the reader.

Like it or not, there’s a new generation of eater that dines out nearly five nights a week, actively and vigorously searching for guidance to an exciting new dish or chef. We rely on food-obsessed writers to filter through the good, bad and the ugly. We count on like-minded foodies to share delicious new discoveries and warn us to avoid the miserable ones. After all, it’s your money and you should know where to best spend your hard-earned cash and time.

In fact, this was my exact motivation for launching Restaurant Girl. My blog was born out of a void: a food critic to identify with, someone I could truly relate to. A critic who could truly understand the crucial balance between delicious food and overall pleasurable experience: a navigational and decipherable menu, a warm atmosphere, an enthusiastic staff, a passionate chef, whose vision is conveyed via the plates that arrive on the table. I actively sought out someone to guide me to both the restaurants and dishes that are worth investing in, and those that aren’t. Every evening, I venture out with optimism, the hope of uncovering a splendid and the discovery of a chef worth stumbling upon.

Why a blog? We are all seasoned diners with valuable opinions. Like it or not, the blog is unequivocally the most indispensable tool to relay news to the public.

Why not conceal my identity: That would go against everything Restaurant Girl has stood for since the inception of my blog. I have no reason to hide behind a false identity, hats, sunglasses and any other disguise. Besides, no one does that anymore. I aspire to be as personable as possible to my reader as well as to chefs & restaurateurs alike. I’m passionate about chefs and their art. I hope to understand their vision, even peek in their kitchens, all in the pursuit of getting a truer picture of the dynamic in both in the front of the house as well as behind kitchen doors. I want to learn the chef’s vision and evaluate whether that makes its way to the table. This will not in any way cloud my judgement as my ultimate and exclusive responsibility is to the reader.

Jonathan Gold drops anonymous restaurant critic mask

I have posed for pictures shrouded in gauze, wearing a dinosaur mask and shaded into a Hitchcockian silhouette. My face has been obscured by giant wineglasses, beer steins, menus, stacked dim sum steamers, Wheaties boxes, a Thomas the Tank Engine and a perforated tortilla. My Facebook profile picture is of a Jonagold apple. I have appeared on some television shows hidden behind a potted plant and on others with my face pixelated as if I were in the witness protection program.

I regularly decline magazine profiles, corporate speaking gigs and reality show appearances. I once walked backward from a lectern after winning an award because I was afraid of being photographed. I have OpenTable accounts under many different names, a habit of paying bills — even large ones — in cash and a burner phone account, all in an attempt to keep my identity a secret from the chefs and staffs of restaurants I have reviewed.

But my identity is not secret.

I have been charmed into posing for a thousand food-festival selfies. A hundred waiters know my name. I have been called out in taquería lines from Pacoima to Bell Gardens. At chic restaurants, chefs nervously avoid my gaze. When he spotted me eating dinner, a Las Vegas maître d’ once physically moved the table at which I was sitting from its cozy niche behind a pillar to a more glamorous spot in the middle of the room. I have become adept at pretending not to notice that a restaurant staff is pretending not to notice me noticing them noticing me.

That’s my picture up there — go ahead, have a look. Any real anonymity I may have once had ended in 2007 when an assistant at a publication I used to work for accidentally posted a photograph to the paper’s website. The pretense of anonymity ends today.

Restaurant critics, it has long been held, aspire to a state of perfect stealth, an anonymity so deep and so profound that they could double as the protagonists in John le Carré thrillers, lest they be plied with food and drink better than that available to your brother Alvin when he takes his fiancée out for dinner on a Saturday night. We are silent vigilantes avenging curdled hollandaise.

In his 1974 culinary manifesto, “American Fried,” Calvin Trillin wrote that he pictured Jack Shelton, a San Francisco critic known for his devotion to secrecy, “wondering whether the waiters would greet him warmly by name despite the pains he has taken to disguise himself as the Korean consul-general.” Former L.A. Times critic Ruth Reichl was famous for her disguises when she wrote for the New York Times, and I had the pleasure of dining with her when she was made up to resemble a New Jersey matron, a Midwestern tourist and a bleached blond I could swear was supposed to be Linda Tripp. Robert Sietsema, who used to review for the Village Voice and now writes for the Eater website, has been known to dine wearing a devil mask.

But the restaurant critics’ dirty little secret is that restaurants have always known who we are, even before Instagram, even before our images were tweeted by the woman at the next table. Waiters, cooks and managers, after all, move from restaurant to restaurant. Photos are posted in kitchens (when I was outed at one restaurant early in my tenure as the New York restaurant critic at the old Gourmet magazine, I was effectively outed at all of them).

My tribe’s tastes include odd seafood, obscure white wines from the bottom of the list and the dodgier bits of the animal. (Barbara Kafka, a great cookbook writer and former restaurant consultant, used to devise what she called “critic bait,” eel terrines or pig-nose dishes that existed solely to be reviewed.) We will never send back a plate of food, but we are quick to point out a corked bottle of wine. If you address us by the name we have reserved under, it will take us a moment to realize you are talking to us. We know how to pronounce mille-feuille. We ask about the provenance of the sea urchin. Our habits are as predictable as those of mating owls.

I thought I’d been able to maintain anonymity in the first part of my career until a chef I ran into at a party was able to tell me not just the exact dates I’d been in but what Burgundies I’d ordered, whom I’d dined with and about my affection for a crepinette of snails and sweetbreads that hadn’t made it into the review. (Even then, I knew it was critic bait.)

In recent years, I have taken part in panel discussions, spoken at schools, judged cook-offs, delivered a commencement speech at my alma mater and attended festivals sponsored by The Times. I’m not Thomas Pynchon. My face is Googleable. My voice may be familiar from the radio. I am featured in Laura Gabbert’s L.A. food documentary, “City of Gold,” premiering at Sundance next week, and was trailed by camera crews to restaurants not under review over a period of several years. We live in a multiplatform world.

And in a way, the game of peekaboo is harmful both to critics and to the restaurants they write about. If chefs truly can cook better when they know a critic is in the house, then restaurants without an early warning system are at a permanent disadvantage. A critic who imagines himself invisible may find it easy to be cruel. At a moment when serious criticism has all but drowned in a tide of Yelpers, Instagram accounts, tweets, Facebook sneers and bloggers who feel compelled to review a restaurant before it even opens, the kabuki of the pose is a distraction.

There are a scant few restaurants in the United States that can improve their food for known customers — Daniel in New York is infamous in that regard — but in general, a kitchen team tends to cook about as well as it cooks. The recipes are in place, the food is already purchased, the aesthetic is well-established. It’s like a theatrical production — a performance of “King Lear” is not likely to be any better the night The Times’ theater critic Charles McNulty has two seats on the aisle. I still intend to reserve under odd names, to avoid press events, to sneak in after the rest of the party has been seated and to pay for every last scrap of food that makes its way to the table. I’m just going to skip the strange pas de deux.

Adam Platt of New York magazine and Leslie Brenner of the Dallas Morning News renounced their anonymity last year. Their criticism hasn’t suffered a bit.


Anita Lo, a first generation Chinese-American, grew up with her family in Birmingham, Michigan, and fostered an interest in food at a young age. While earning a degree in French language at Columbia University, she studied at Reid Hall—Columbia's French language institute in Paris. She fell in love with the food culture and vowed to return. Back in the United States, Lo accepted her first kitchen job as garde-manger at Bouley, and after a year, she decided to move back to Paris and enroll in Ecole Ritz-Escoffier, a revered culinary institution.

She received her degree, graduating first in her class with honors, while interning under Guy Savoy and Michel Rostang. Back in New York, Lo worked her way through all the stations at David Waltuck’s Chanterelle. She developed her culinary style during her time at Mirezi, where she earned a two-star review from Ruth Reichl at The New York Times.

In 2000, Lo opened Annisa (which means ''women'' in Arabic), an intimate, upscale restaurant in Greenwich Village serving Contemporary American cuisine. It was an instant hit, earning a two-star review from The New York Times. Food & Wine magazine named her one of ten “Best New Chefs in America” in 2001, and the Village Voice proclaimed Lo as “Best New Restaurant Chef” that same year.

In 2005, Anita Lo co-founded Rickshaw, a dumpling bar with several locations in New York City and also appeared on the first season of Iron Chef America, defeating her competitor Mario Batali.

In 2008, she opened Bar Q, an Asian barbecue restaurant in Greenwich Village. The following year, in June 2009, after nearly ten years in business, Annisa suffered an unfortunate blow—a fire destroyed the restaurant entirely.

Lo decided to take some time to travel as plans for rebuilding Annisa got underway. She scoured the globe for inspiration. Meanwhile, Lo appeared on the first season of Top Chef Masters where she battled her contemporaries on weekly challenges that tested their culinary prowess. She finished fourth out of 24 chefs.

In April 2010, after a complete renovation of the original Barrow Street location, Lo reopened Annisa. She kept many of the same elements—clean design, welcoming atmosphere, small menu and a few signature dishes—but shook it up with new additions to the menu inspired by her recent travels that ranged from culinary trips to Senegal and Russia to a fishing trip to Alaska. Annisa was reviewed again by The New York Times and received two stars.

In October 2011, Lo released her first cookbook, "Cooking Without Borders," which highlights her passion for bringing multicultural flavors to her American kitchen. Her recipes celebrate the best flavors and ingredients from around the world at a time when access to international ingredients is greater than ever before. Interspersed are stories from Lo’s life, memories of her travels and tips on cooking.

In February 2014, critic Pete Wells re-reviewed Annisa in The New York Times, bestowing the restaurant with a prestigious three stars. In the review, he calls her food “remarkable” and “impressive,” and the restaurant “graceful and unfussy.”

In 2015, Anita Lo was the first female guest chef to cook for a State Dinner at the White House, under the Obama administration. She prepared a 4-course meal for the visiting Chinese president, Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan.

In May 2017, after 17 years of business, and holding a Michelin star for nine consecutive years, Lo closed Annisa to pursue her next great adventure. And in the meantime, her second book, "Solo: Easy Sophisticated Recipes For a Party of One," will be published in the Fall of 2018.

Beachbum Berry’s Latitude 29

The golden age of Tiki drinks lasted over 40 years, from the end of Prohibition to the dawn of Disco. Now a global Tiki bar revival is in full swing. But as Robert Simonson put it in his article The Rise of the Zombie King, “Without Jeff Berry—and his dogged diligence in tracking down former barkeeps from Trader Vic’s and Don the Beachcomber and prying from them the drink recipes secreted in their brains—the current tiki revival simply never would have happened.”

Tiki pioneers like Don The Beachcomber (the New Orleans native who single-handedly invented the Tiki bar in 1934) rarely revealed their recipes, which were valuable trade secrets. Having nothing better to do with himself, the Bum has spent the last 20 years unearthing and publishing these “lost” exotic drinks. Now the time has come to stop writing . and start serving.

Beachbum Berry’s Latitude 29, a full-service restaurant and bar in the French Quarter of New Orleans, opened for business in the historic Bienville House Hotel on November 2014. A mere five months later, Esquire magazine named us one of the Best Bars in America. “Damned if the drinks aren't the best of their kind,” wrote Esquire’s cocktail guru David Wondrich.

Hot on Esquire’s heels, New Orleans magazine named us one of the city’s “Best New Restaurants of 2015” with dining critic Tim McNally’s ringing endorsement: “This amazingly creative and completely competent restaurant satisfies all the senses with visual treats magical elixirs from the bar, all based on fresh ingredients and cuisine that adds to and carries through on the theme.”

Over at the New Orleans Times-Picayune, restaurant critic Todd Price called us “an unexpectedly chic French Quarter establishment.” We’ve since landed on “best of” lists in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Boston Globe, GQ, Travel + Leisure, Town & Country, Southern Living, Zagat Guide and the Food Network, while the Travel Channel TV series “Food Paradise” devoted a segment to L29’s PolynAsian cuisine, spotlighting our Sambal Shrimp & Grits and Portuguese Sausage Bahn Mi.

As for the drinks, our cocktail menu spans the entire 80-year history of Tiki drinking, from the lost vintage recipes that the Bum unearthed — some of which will have their world premiere at Latitude 29’s bar — to his own original recipes, culinary craft tropical cocktails that have been published everywhere from The New York Times and Bon Appetit to the venerable Mr. Boston Official Bartenders Guide. In the New Orleans Advocate, Ian McNulty writes of Latitude 29’s drinks: “Presentations and recipes are equally elaborate, as seen with the Hawaii 504, sweetened with honey steeped in Chinese five spice, or the navy grog, aromatic with allspice, chilled with a molded ice cone and flying a toothpick Union Jack. These cocktails have historical precedent, and the bartenders can share the back stories. But mostly they are tasty, potent and fun.”

Adds Playboy magazine, “If the only thing you do in New Orleans is drink Latitude 29’s Pontchartrain Pearl Diver—an iced buttered rum made with Jamaican rum, honey butter, passion fruit and lime—your trip will have been worth it. Noted tiki expert Beachbum Berry opened Latitude 29 last year to much critical acclaim and for good reason. Its exotic, rum-based drinks are ridiculously slurpable. Its modern take on Polynesian food—think dishes like crispy, orange-gastrique duck with collard greens and miso-cheese grits—is creative and delicious.”

In addition to collecting Tiki drink recipes, the Bum’s spent much of his life gathering Tiki relics and Polynesian-Pop ephemera. Much of this now decorates Latitude 29, including rare mugs and bowls from Polynesian restaurants of yore, antique Kava Kava figures from Easter Island, eight-foot Tiki poles bought at auction from Trader Vic’s, a 200 pound vintage statue of Pele, and wall carvings and tapa ceiling lanterns created especially for us by our favorite neo-Tiki artist, Bosko Hrnjak.

With its historic drinks, critically lauded cuisine, and transportive atmosphere, Latitude 29 aims to be a prime destination for those seeking a unique experience in a city known for its unique experiences.

Covid stole my sense of smell. Which is pretty tricky when you&rsquore a restaurant critic

Back in Jamaica, when Trudy-Ann Lalor and her siblings caught a cold, their mother burned Seville oranges over a fire in the backyard, cut the charred peel away and gave them the hot, juicy pulp with sugar, to eat with a spoon.

It always made them feel better. Maybe it was the comforting aroma of the citrus, the deliciousness and warmth of the fruit, the dose of vitamin C. Maybe it was the sweetness of the attention itself – the fact that someone loved you so much she took the time to prepare you an orange in this elaborate way.

The family never had to explain any of this to anyone, until this past December, when Lalor’s 23-year-old son, Kemar Lalor, put a how-to video for the remedy on TikTok, assuring people that it would fix a diminished sense of taste.

Smell and taste are intimately connected, and the video quickly went viral, as millions of strangers started burning oranges on the open flames of their gas stoves. Some were thrilled. They called it a miracle. Others laughed it off, calling it a useless joke. Many left angry comments when the orange didn’t work as advertised, though Lalor attributed that to poor execution – not burning the outside of the citrus thoroughly, not eating the pulp while it was still hot, not adding enough sugar.

I found the orange remedy a kind of pleasant exercise, a fun distraction. But it didn’t magically give me back what I’d lost after I got Covid-19 in December. After my sense of smell disappeared, I became depressed and disoriented as all of the foods I loved became unrecognisable, turning into a series of unappealing textures.

So much of what we think of as taste is in fact smell – volatile molecules coming through the retronasal pathway, filling out all the details of a strawberry beyond its basic sweetness and acidity, expanding on its pleasures. Without information from our 400 smell receptors, which can detect many millions of smells, food flattens out. It makes life rather difficult if, like me, you’re a restaurant critic.

When I called up Kemar Lalor, he was packing up goat curry and roti to go at Big G’s 241 Jerk Chicken, the Jamaican restaurant his family runs in Etobicoke, Ontario. I told him I was still struggling on some days, that the healing process was weird and nonlinear, that I’d tried the orange remedy but nothing had been restored overnight. He was sympathetic, but held firm.

“Try it again,” Lalor said. It had worked for his mother and for him, he explained, though he added that they were never tested for Covid-19, so he couldn’t be sure if that’s what they’d had. “Keep trying it every day!”

While some people experience smell loss as they age, or after a head injury or viral infection, for most people it happens temporarily, when volatile molecules floating through the air can’t get into their olfactory receptor areas – a stuffy nose, in other words.

But during the pandemic, millions of people lost their sense of smell in an instant. “It was just like a light bulb got turned off,” said Dr Pamela Dalton, a research scientist at the Monell Chemical Senses Centre, in Philadelphia. “One moment they could smell, and the next moment, nothing smelled.”

I noted that moment as it happened to me, stepping into the shower at my home in Los Angeles. At first, I mistook the lack of aromas for a new smell, a curious smell I couldn’t identify – was it the water itself? the stone tiles? – before realising it was just a blank, a cushion of space between me and my world.

Though there’s no “on” switch to bring back olfaction, Lalor’s advice to keep trying, to try every day, was correct. Scientists agree that there’s no cure for anosmia, but they also agree that the daily, repetitive sniffing of a few aromas can be useful, working as a kind of therapy for an injured nose and brain.

The general technique is known as smell training, and for millions of people with anosmia, it’s become as routine as brushing their teeth before bed, or grinding coffee beans in the morning.

“It’s the one type of post-viral olfactory dysfunction therapy that’s been shown to have some positive effect,” says Dalton, who strongly encouraged daily conditioning, but also warned, “You’ll get bored.”


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A typical smell kit might consist of four essential oils, though you could use a charred orange or any specific aromas with emotional value to you. The second I lost my sense of smell, I turned to the kitchen, opening jars of whole spices, shoving my face into bunches of fresh herbs, hovering over the open cap of fish-sauce bottles.

For three weeks, I sniffed things constantly, things I loved, but couldn’t pick up anything at all. When I smelled something for the first time again, it was so unpleasant, it made me gag: the stomach-churning reek of spoiled milk.

Whether you realise it or not, your nose is constantly alerting you to potential danger that’s out of sight – smoke, gas leaks, chemicals in the air, spoiled foods, sewage. Bad smells are good, in the sense that they’re full of vital information about your surroundings that help keep you well.

“Even though the olfactory system can tell us where there are good food sources and safe places, it’s ultimately a danger sense,” says Dalton, who wasn’t surprised that a whiff of spoiled milk was my reintroduction to olfaction, and even encouraged adding “bad” smells to my training. “It’s a warning system.”

On the other hand, some smells are vital to quality of life, to accessing memories and emotions, to feeling close to people, to connecting with nature.

I think of the sweet smell of my nephew’s head when he was a baby of my parents’ home when there’s a lasagna in the oven of hot, dry sagebrush when my dogs kick up the scent. I think of the smell of French fries mixing with wafts of chlorine on a summer’s day by the pool, and I’m not sure how to remember these tiny, wonderful moments without their smells to anchor me.

“Loss of smell is very much a loss of pleasure,” says Chrissi Kelly, the founder of AbScent, a nonprofit group for people with anosmia in the United Kingdom.

When Kelly lost her sense of smell after a viral infection in 2012, no one recommended smell training as a possible therapy. But she read scientific research, including a paper by Thomas Hummel about how repeated, structured exposure to smells could increase one’s sensitivity.

She taught herself the technique. And then, she taught others.

For many Covid-19 survivors with anosmia, Kelly has become a kind of mentor, creating a tight community online, walking newly anosmic people through training sessions and cheerleading them, without setting unreasonable expectations. Anosmia presents differently for everyone, and there’s no fixed timeline for smell training.

“I never use the word recovery, because I think it’s misleading,” she tells me, when I asked about my own recovery. “Smell loss is an injury. You recover from an illness, but an injury might leave you with some lasting scarring.”

Smell training isn’t magic, but it’s a way to possibly form new neural pathways, to slowly reorient yourself if you’re feeling lost.

Before speaking with Kelly, I’d imagined smell training to the theme song of “Rocky.” I’d zip up my shiny tracksuit and jog in place in front of various ingredients, identifying them correctly one by one as strangers gave me a thumbs up. Sesame oil! Black peppercorns! Marjoram! It was a jaunty montage, and a total fantasy.

In fact, the process of sitting down and sniffing – concentrating quietly on registering aromas, or fragments of aromas – is lonely, tedious and mentally exhausting.

For newcomers to smell training, Kelly suggests starting with bunny sniffs, or “tiny little sniffs that bring the air right up to the olfactory cleft.”

Over FaceTime, she led me through a session of “mindful smelling,” while I held a jar of cloves under my nose and took quick bunny sniffs, ready to share my thoughts with her. “Okay, so don’t judge yet,” Kelly instructed, before I could say the cloves seemed muffled, as if I were listening to them through a glass pressed to the wall.

“With people who have lost their sense of smell, I think it takes a longer time for the receptors to work and to feed that into the brain,” she explained. “So just make sure that you’re patient, and just keep listening.”

It’s impossible to talk about smelling without resorting to analogies and metaphors, and “listening” is one that comes up a lot.

Recognising a smell when you’re in training can feel a lot like picking up a fragment of a familiar song from a passing car, hooking onto the short sequence of notes you recognized, and having the name of it just on the tip of your tongue.

A few seconds later, and you remember it was from the summer of 2015. You heard it that one night, sitting on your friend’s stoop. You sang it at karaoke, at least once. Ugh, what was it again?

With my next scent, the cardamom pods, Kelly asked me to imagine looking into a deep well. So deep that when you drop a stone into it, you don’t know when it’ll hit the bottom.

“You’re straining your ears to hear the sound of the stone hitting the surface of the water, and that’s what I want you to do now, imagine that you are waiting and waiting and waiting.”

As I waited, I received some small, fragments of messages from the cardamom – something floral, something mellow but almost menthol, something like the freshness of sun-warmed citrus. It came in pieces, like a series of clues, but then I smelled the cardamom clearly, completely.

“So much about smell training is about giving people confidence,” Kelly says.

Every single aroma I could detect again was more precious, intense and illuminating, even my dog’s fishy breath. Although it hadn’t been more than a few weeks, I considered ending daily conditioning altogether when I could smell the foods that I was eating and cooking faster, and with more precision – the comforting tickle of garlic hitting the oil, the cinnamon-eucalyptus of fresh curry leaves, crumpled up in my fingers.

But some days, my sense of smell is distorted and everything in my orbit smells wrong — of day-old cigarette stubs, heavy and chemical. Some days, the vividness of what I’ve recovered is muted, or slower and harder to access.

Smell training doesn’t end when you start to pick up a few smells again. It begins. – New York Times

Tejal Rao is a restaurant critic for the New York Times. She has won two James Beard Foundation awards for her restaurant criticism