The New Yorker Profiles Pete Wells

Four stars.

The narrative appetizers in Ian Parker’s article about New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells in the Sept. 12 issue of The New Yorker include details about the critic’s attempts not to be recognized in Chelsea at Momofuku Nishi, a quick history of restaurant reviewing at the Times and this fascinating tidbit offered up by former Wells colleague Jeff Gordinier:

Gordinier had spoken with me about Wells’s chances of remaining anonymous by referring to a famous contractual demand made by Van Halen: concert promoters were asked to supply the band with a backstage bowl of M&M’s, with the brown ones removed.

David Lee Roth, Van Halen’s lead singer, has said that the request was not whimsical. It helped to show whether a contract had been carefully read and, therefore, whether the band’s complex, and potentially dangerous, technical requirements were likely to have been met. Gordinier said that an ambitious New York restaurant’s ability to spot Wells is a similar indicator of thoroughness: “If they don’t recognize who he is, then they are missing a very important detail, and therefore they may not be paying attention to other important details.”

Wells has begun to write starred reviews of restaurants well beyond New York for the Times. In fact, the first of these articles, about an establishment in Los Angeles, will appear online today.

The New Yorker profile is a treat, thrusting the reader front and center into what it’s like for Wells to dine around town and, occasionally, bear the brunt of a brutal review, as he did in 2012 for his famous question-marked pan of Guy Fieri’s Times Square restaurant. There’s also a certain element of symmetry at work here, since Wells and his wife, novelist Susan Choi, started dating while both working as fact-checkers at The New Yorker. Savor the full piece here.

Illustration by: Luci Gutiérrez

@hollywoodspin Richard Horgan is co-editor of Fishbowl.