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Chicago Tribune Food Critic Reveals Face After 29 Years of Anonymity

Phil Vettel wants to even the playing field

Phil Vettel
Courtesy of Chicago Tribune/E. Jason Wambsgans
Ashok Selvam is the editor of Eater Chicago and a native Chicagoan armed with more than two decades of award-winning journalism. Now covering the world of restaurants and food, his nut graphs are super nutty.

After 29 years, Chicago Tribune restaurant critic Phil Vettel is finished with his charade of anonymity. The Tribune published a photo of Vettel on Wednesday morning next to a column where Chicago’s longest-running critic admitted that after nearly three decades many Chicago restaurant owners and employees recognize his face — despite going to great lengths to protect his identity. “Shedding the mask” won’t affect how he writes, he said, but it may give him a chance to make the occasional public appearance or appear on a Tribune video without feeling he’s compromised.

Vettel also cites the chance at evening the playing field. Some restaurants may recognize him and thus pay more attention to him all the while without leading on that they’re giving him preferential treatment. That’s unfair to the restaurants that don’t recognize him and aren’t pandering to the critic. Chicago’s restaurant world is a competitive one, and Vettel doesn’t want to reward savvy restaurants who pretend to serve typical meals when in truth they’re treating Vettel like a VIP.

Five years ago, many critics began revealing their identities. Some use fake names while making reservations to try to preserve the integrity of their reviews. Some critics continue to protect their identities because they don’t want the special attention. Eater’s own ethics statement reads “Eater critics will strive for anonymity when reviewing restaurants, meaning they will make reservations under assumed names, avoid posting photos of themselves publicly, and refrain from revealing their identities when introduced to chefs and restaurateurs.”

Within Vettel’s piece, he cites Los Angeles Times critic Jonathan Gold and Allison Cook of the Houston Chronicle as two who have already revealed their identities to the public. Perhaps Chicago will eventually see plaques hanging around Chicago restaurants with Vettel’s face in the same vein as how Steve Dolinsky’s (The Hungry Hound) mug adorns several walls.

The Tribune published his reviews with an empty box where the writer’s photo should be. The paper hasn’t yet managed to add a photo to the box, but it appears it’s finally time for Vettel’s close up.

Here are few reactions to Vettel’s move, the first from former Tribune writer Kevin Pang. Pang’s now the editor in chief of the Takeout:

Michael Gebert, the Chicago food writer behind Fooditor, made a similar joke:

Alinea Group co-founder Nick Kokonas also chimed in. His Fulton Market restaurant, Next, has been the recipient of several positive reviews from Vettel, no matter what the rotating restaurant serves: