Sifton, who cut his teeth during the 1990s at the New York Press—where, we'll admit, his restaurant and bar critiques were among our favorite reads back in the heyday of MUGGER, Amy Sohn, et al—has since served as the editor of the dining section at the NYT and, currently, as the culture editor, overseeing the Arts sections. The curious nature of the move—he'll presumably be reporting to Dining Section editor Pete Wells, whom he currently oversees—shows just how revered the restaurant critic position is inside the newspaper. (Correction: Sifton does not oversee the Dining section but the Arts and Arts & Lesiure sections, therefore Wells does not report to him.)
The choice puts to rest the idea that the Times gives a shit about people knowing what their critic looks like; photos of Sifton are not hard to come by (we'll be selling framed 11x14s starting later today; $29.95 plus shipping). It also kills our pet theory that they'd go way outside the New York media market for the hire; as the staff memo obtained by the Observer and published on Diner's Journal puts it, "We narrowed the list, and then narrowed it some more. We had some really impressive candidates, writers who know their food and have interesting things to say about the way we eat. Then we threw out the list and drafted Sam Sifton."
So, congrats to Sifton, who starts in October "after some overdue vacation and a few weeks of warmup eating." Nominations for a column name to replace "Ballpark Frank" are welcomed in the comments, starting immediately. [Eater NY]
The memo from NYT overlord Bill Keller:
To the Staff:
In the weeks since the announcement that Frank Bruni would be hanging up his napkin, we've received numerous applications for the job of NYT restaurant critic. We narrowed the list, and then narrowed it some more. We had some really impressive candidates, writers who know their food and have interesting things to say about the way we eat.
Then we threw out the list and drafted Sam Sifton.
The choice is both obvious and eccentric.
It is obvious because, as a brilliant editor of the Dining section, as an occasional essayist on food for our magazine, and as a writer of discernment and wit and erudition, he is the best candidate any of us can think of. This is a marquee job for The Times, and our next critic will have the unenviable job of following Frank Bruni. It is an obvious choice, too, because the prospect of reading Sam on a regular basis brings big smiles to our faces. Joe Lelyveld used to ask of any prospective appointment or promotion, "Where's the lift?" On this one, the question pretty much answers itself.
It is eccentric because we are stealing one of our finest editors from one of our most important departments. This is certain to be a cause of anguish and anxiety in Culture, where Sam has run things with great skill, imagination, energy and good humor. Everyone understands that Sam the Culture Editor will be as hard an act to follow as Frank the Resaurant Critic. We've set ourselves the task of finding a new Culture Editor who will give us a lift, too. And we expect the anguish and anxiety to be short-lived.
For the record, it is our expectation that this will not be the end of Sam's career as an editor/manager/entrepreneur/mentor. He has run two departments exceptionally well, and nobody would be surprised to see him running something in the future. For now, though, his running will be on a treadmill at the gym.
After some overdue vacation and a few weeks of warmup eating, Sam will take over the critic's chair in October.