"Everyone Eats … But that doesn’t make you a restaurant critic" by Robert Sietsema is a history of restaurant reviews in New York, mainly at the New York Times. Craig Claiborne, he says is "generally credited with being the inventor of the modern restaurant review." And Ruth Reichl "turned the restaurant review into a bona fide literary form."
I really wonder about this claim. What about the writers in Gourmet who after the War wrote about restaurants in European cities, for example Joseph Wechsberg? He definitely wrote reviews of literary quality. (I think Reichl republished his work when she was editor of Gourmet). What about food writers in France? Sietsema says that the use of stars to rank restaurants is "another Claiborne innovation that has endured." Claiborne began reviewing in the late 1950s -- the Michelin guides began using stars in the 1920s. But New York is the only place that counts.
Despite its narrow viewpoint, the article has a few interesting points, especially about the way that food bloggers have recently changed the rules and expectations for reviews. In particular, Claiborne insisted on keeping a low profile (anonymity when possible) and on having the Times pay his expenses. He accepted nothing for free. Many food bloggers are in fact food beggars -- they demand free food, drink, and special treatment. At least, they do in New York, where restaurants have responded. Their response, Sietsema points out, includes special events for food writers and other promotional deals. In a sense, the current situation has reduced the state of the reviewers' art to what it was prior to Claiborne: a type of public relations in which the reviewer is a paid shill -- though usually paid in kind. At least in New York. The only place that counts.