New acquaintances are always curious about the life of a food critic, and in particular, the supposed glamour that comes with the job. I can't tell you how many times people have asked me about getting free food.
The truth is, I go out anonymously, and I always pay for meals I'm reviewing, using a combination of my company budget and my own cash. I'm just another ordinary customer, not a VIP. A restaurant's management will never know the place is going to be reviewed until after I'm finished visiting.
But what about all of those VIP events and restaurant preview dinners? Who goes to those?
Not me. I usually pass along invitations to other writers who don't need to be anonymous. If you're at an event, you might meet one of my coworkers instead of me -- Wynter Holden is often covering things for Chow Bella.
Although I avoid special treatment at restaurants, I have received all kinds of free stuff over the years, just from working at the paper. The freebies show up at the office, unexpected. What happens when a big tray of lukewarm hamburgers or a jar of barbecue spice rub or a box of lemon-flavored drink packets shows up?
I give it away. At New Times, we have a crappy little bookshelf that also doubles as the "free table," and that's where people never know what they're going to find.