It's long been a point of chatter in these parts that our city's paper of record, the San Francisco Chronicle, has not swapped out its food critic in almost 30 years. No other major city in the country can say the same thing, and among some foodinistas and chefs ahem, Richie Nakano it's a topic of discussion that comes up on the regular, given how much power and influence our own Michael Bauer has come to have, three decades on. The latest salvo in this quiet, backstage war comes in the form of an Instagram account and a sticker campaign documented by said account, demanding Impeach Michael Bauer, and offering a $2,000 bounty for a new critic "co-conspirators expressly encouraged."
Eater picked up on the campaign, and my first guess was that Nakano was behind it, which is echoed by one Eater commenter so far. The former Hapa Ramen chef has made no secret of his disdain for Mr. Bauer, and went so far as to note in the fine print on his menu last year "Michael Bauer has been the food critic at the Chronicle since 1986." (I believe he didn't take over as primary critic for a couple of years, but it's a small point.) But Nakano is hardly alone in his sentiment, and there could be any number of serious food people or disgruntled restaurant owners behind it.
Whoever it is, they're likely Mission-based all the stickers documented on the Instagram so far have been stuck on polls or surfaces outside Mission hot spots like Tartine, Californios, AL's Place, and Craftsman & Wolves.
Also, while Bauer inarguably still holds sway over the suburban Bay Area restaurant-going public the wealthy Peninsula- and Oakland/Berkeley Hills-dwellers in particular the breadth of his influence has no doubt waned since the pre-Yelp, pre-blog days of 2002 when San Francisco Magazine published a James Beard Award-winning piece titled "Eating in Michael Bauer's Town" a piece that suggested that his reviews had "thrown chefs into a tizzy trying to please him" and many bent over backwards to tailor their menus to Bauer's tastes.
By comparison, the New York Times has made a policy of limiting the tenures of its food critics, and past critics like Ruth Reichl, Frank Bruni, and Sam Sifton all took great pains to maintain their anonymity during theirs. Current critic Pete Wells has had his photo online since the beginning but seems to maintain a pretty low profile regardless, and likely does not make reservations under his own name.
Bauer admits that his level of anonymity is not absolute and how could it be after 30 years? though as of a year ago he wrote that he was pledging to remain nominally "anonymous" for the time being, keeping credit cards with pseudonyms and making reservations under false names, etc. This all came about because he announced one of his pseudonyms in a public message to a dining companion on Twitter, telling them under what name they'd find his reservation that night at Huxley forgetting or not realizing that Twitter @ messages are public. He said it would take "lots of discussion and probably some therapy" for him to finally come out, once and for all, and drop the anonymous thing.
As for the $2,000 reward, it's unclear to whom that sum would go, but the Chronicle might appreciate the cash.
Update: Richie Nakano, for his part, says, "I am not behind that Instagram account." Like I said, Bauer's got plenty of enemies.