On Sunday at the Metropolitan Cooking Show, Houston Chronicle food critic Alison Cook gave a talk about the her experiences as a restaurant critic; as she told the crowd "Here I am in front of you. I've never done this before." She appeared without any disguise such as a hat or sunglasses. As recently as when she conducted an online chat about her top 100 in June, Cook noted that one could not find a picture of her online by searching google. Those days have come to an end.
Reached by Eater for comment, Cook wrote
My comment is that my newspaper wants and needs me to be more visible, and I have honored that request. It's not a comfortable situation for a critic who has tried to keep a low profile for many years, and whose photo is not online. But times have changed for journalists,and for newspapers, and I'm willing to adapt to new circumstances as long as I can keep my ethical standards intact. I think I can.
While Cook's appearance may not have been known to her readers, she's well-known to many of Houston's higher-end restaurants. Whether due to her long career or the many relationships she's built with other writers, Cook routinely gets recognized at various locales around Houston.
She discussed that very issue on Sunday. Cook said she takes her inspiration from former New York Times critic Frank Bruni when he said that he acted as if he wanted to be anonymous even when he was recognized. Furthermore, she said she frequently sends friends in ahead of her and asks them to judge the extent to which service improves when she arrives.
As to whether being spotted changes her experience, Cook said that the extra attention she receives from restaurants "gives me the creeps." While a restaurant can turn up the charm or increase portion sizes, Cook said that she still receives a lot of bad food.