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April 19, 2023

Mimi Sheraton, the first female restaurant critic at The New York Times, died on April 6 at the age of 97, The New York Times reported.  

The writer’s career spanned seven decades. Her reign at the Times lasted from 1976 to 1983, after which she moved on to write about food for Vanity Fair, Time, New York Magazine, and Condé Nast Traveler, among others. She authored 16 books, and according to the Times, had eaten 21,170 restaurant meals in 49 countries as of 2013. Until 2018, she wrote about food for the Daily Beast, and in recent years, her writing about food became more truncated, though no less expressive on Twitter. Sheraton’s online presence was a strong one, and she never hesitated to let it be known when she disagreed with a chef, food publication, or really anyone else on the internet. “I can make so many people mad in 140 characters,” she said on a 2015 episode of the Sporkful podcast

Sheraton began reviewing New York restaurants for the Village Voice in the early 1960s, and when she applied for Craig Claiborne’s recently vacated restaurant critic position at the Times, she faced an uphill battle. According to The Washington Post, she was initially told women weren’t being considered for the job. “I wrote them a lot of nasty letters,” she recalled in a 2019 interview. Sheraton worked at New York Magazine for several years, until the Times came calling and her legendary tenure began.

As a restaurant critic, Sheraton’s writing was fueled by thoroughness and a determination to have an unbiased experience. As the Times reports, she was the first restaurant critic to don disguises—wigs and tinted glasses—so that she would remain unrecognized at restaurants that might have given her special attention. She went above and beyond in her research, often visiting restaurants six to eight times before publishing a review. Her writing was sharp, honest, and bitingly incisive—in her 2015 Grub Street Diet, Sheraton described “the worst croissants I’ve ever had” as “cottony, overblown, devoid of flavor.” 

Always direct, Sheraton’s views on food writing are best summed up in a quote from New York Times piece from 2004: “Food writers in general devote too much space to chefs’ philosophies. They’re not Picasso, after all—this is supper. So I don’t want to hear about a chef’s intentions. Call me when it’s good.”

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