It’s often the dream of those in culinary arts programs to open their own restaurants and gain respect in the tough-to-impress food world. Of course, many chefs also dream of reaching culinary fame, getting a much coveted Michelin star, and building an empire of esoteric eateries. However, what many chefs might not be aware of is Bill Addison’s task of coming up with 38 of North America’s essential restaurants. Making Addison’s list should certainly be a dream for any avid chef. The renowned food critic, who currently serves as the restaurant editor at Eater.com, has built up quite the reputation in the food community, and making his shortlist might very well be an accolade that defines North American eateries. But how exactly does this process work and what gives Addison the authority to make such a monumental decision?
Addison has held the title of food critic for years, having previously written for Creative Loafing, the San Francisco Chronicle, Dallas Morning News and Atlanta Magazine. He has twice been nominated for the James Beard award. Now writing for Eater.com, an expansive website about all things food that was recently acquired by Vox Media, Addison is currently bringing his critiques to a much larger scale.
Eater.com has staff in 27 culinary hubs across the nation, and the site is constantly updated with news about the food world. The publication has also hired other members of the culinary elite as of late, including Robert Sietsema, a critic from Village Voice, and Ryan Sutton, formerly a dining columnist at Bloomberg, putting Addison in good company.
The Road to the 38
To narrow down a list of 38 essential restaurants, Addison travels three weeks out of each month, visiting numerous eateries across North America. So far the critic has dined in foodie locales such as Boston, Philadelphia, Detroit, Santa Fe, San Francisco and Washington D.C., just to name a few. During his road trips, Addison is keeping a detailed travelogue reviewing the restaurants he visits. His stops embody a rich culinary landscape as he dines at places as established as The French Laundry in Yountville, to neighborhood legends like American Coney Island in Detroit, to up-and-comers like Atrisco, which just opened in Santa Fe in 2009. At the year’s end Addison will take the writings from all of his journeys and look to definitively name 38 restaurants that define food in the United States and Canada.
Where have all the critics gone?
In the culinary world, Addison’s role is an important one. Print publications have been slowly eliminating food coverage in an attempt to whittle down costs, but luckily online hubs like Eater are investing in these (metaphorically) starving artists. In the past food critics could potentially make or break the success of a restaurant. Perhaps the rise of culinary television shows also had an effect on critics, as more and more programming pits chefs against one another in vigorous culinary competitions for a cash prize. This encourages many up-and-coming restaurateurs to show off their chops on TV to gain publicity and acclaim. With that said, for some chefs boastingt that they won “Chopped” might be more important than garnering a good review from a local critic.
Being able to adeptly critique restaurants is a major challenge, and though Americans are increasingly getting more involved with sourcing and understanding their food, it’s tough to find many with the depth of experience Addison brings to the table. The Road to the 38 is a chance to take in a vast amount of information from a professional eater, giving avid chefs something to aspire to, and hungry diners a new list of places to flock.