When we recruited Frank Bruni from the Rome Bureau to be the restaurant critic of The New York Times, there was a quizzical buzz in the food-o-sphere. Sure, Frank had shown himself to be a gifted reporter on subjects domestic and foreign. Yes, he was indisputedly an exquisite writer. And there were unmistakable clues to his affinity in his travel pieces, with their vivid evocation of Italian food, and in other features -- the profile of the makers of Italian grappa, the visit to the University of Gastronomic Science in Polenzo. But he lacked what the foodie establishment would regard as suitable credentials. He was not the obvious choice.
Five years later, the choice seems not only obvious, but inspired, proving that sometimes editors get one really right. Not content to review his way around New York with authority and brio, not content to blog discoveries that do not yet merit a fullblown review, he has also performed more ambitious feats of criticism: his unforgettable cross-country tour of the iconic fast food joints of America, for instance, and his quest, for the best brand-new restaurants in all of America.
In his spare time, between aerobic eating and the requisite gym time to burn it all off, he has managed to produce a memoir of his lifelong, complicated relationship with food. Recognizing that the book is certain to seriously compromise his ability to be a spy in the land of food, Frank picked this as a natural time to move on. He will be turning in his restaurant-critic credentials when his memoir, "Born Round, the Secret History of a Full-Time Eater," is published in August.
After a break for book promotion and some overdue vacation, Frank will become a writer-at-large on the staff of our Sunday magazine, where he will have license to follow his appetites -- his journalistic appetites -- wherever they lead him...Readers are in for some great reading.
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Oops, I almost left out the most pertinent part of Keller's memo, the part where he writes, "the search for a successor begins now."
Over on eater.com, there's a list of 25 potential successors to Bruni's culinary crown (ranked, of course), plus a readers' poll, but what really caught my attention was a reader comment from a poster named "Jankins," who wrote this: "Jason Sheehan from the Westword in Denver would rock. he has won Beard awards and his style of writting (sic) is much less snobish (sic) and to the point. Plus he worked as a chef/cook for 15+ years so he knows what the fuck he is talking about."