Iconic New York Times Food Critic Mimi Sheraton Dead At 97

Mimi Sheraton, the pioneering food critic and writer with an unmatched passion for detailed, straight-shooting reporting, died in New York City on April 6, 2023 at the age of 97. Her impressive list of accomplishments includes being the first female food critic for The New York Times (1976 to 1983), eating — by her own calculation — 21,170 different restaurant meals across 49 countries, authoring 16 books, and writing for multiple newspapers and magazines. Colleagues lauded her for her tough, fair, and intricately detailed reviews of restaurants, some of which sued her or wrote angry letters if she reviewed them poorly.

Born on February 10, 1926 in Brooklyn, Sheraton lived her entire life within the borders of New York City. A resident of Greenwich Village since 1945, Sheraton was nevertheless an endless explorer, favoring off-the-beaten-path journeys rather than glitz and glamor. Nothing was beneath her. She reviewed the food of schools, hospitals, and prisons the same way she would a high-end eatery. In this way, she endeared herself to generations of readers from multiple backgrounds.

Though her work extended far beyond the scope of The New York Times, her tenure there was marked by distinctive techniques she originated in order to achieve unbiased treatment from those in the restaurant industry who knew her. Mimi Sheraton pioneered the now standard technique of the critic-in-disguise.

Master of disguise

Long before her contemporaries were donning wigs and makeup to anonymize themselves, Mimi Sheraton was pioneering the art of food critic disguise. As she wrote in her 2004 memoir "Eating My Words: An Appetite for Life" (via The New York Times): "The longer I reviewed restaurants, the more I became convinced that the unknown customer has a completely different experience from either a valued patron or a recognized food critic ... For all practical purposes, they might as well be in different restaurants." 

She wanted to be served as if she were an everyday customer. No frills, no pulling out all the stops to impress, just plain honesty. It was this dedication to truth that made Mimi Sheraton an icon. The disguises ranged from using an alias for a reservation to wigs and sunglasses. Her techniques were quickly adopted by other food critics who followed her, such as Ruth Richel, Frank Bruni, William Grimes, and Sam Sifton, with varying degrees of intensity.

Sheraton leaves behind a legacy of sharp writing, culinary insight, and excruciatingly detailed reporting. Her life was one filled with adventure, and a dedication to craft that few could dream of matching.