Four years, a James Beard Award, and a pandemic later, Chronicle food critic Soleil Ho is relinquishing the post — and without a whole lot of explanation.
It feels like just yesterday that Soleil Ho was taking on the esteemed job at the Chronicle that had been held by Michael Bauer for over three decades — and in some ways, it kind of was just yesterday, in restaurant time. A lot of us are having trouble remembering if something happened last year, or in 2021, or in 2019, and there's been a Groundhog Day aspect to the three pandemic years that have just barely passed. We are still about four weeks away from the anniversary of everything shutting down in SF, and for many restaurateurs it's been a long slog back to some sense of normalcy, with debts still to pay.
"While long tenures are more typical for food critics, who are like the Supreme Court justices of the journalism world, I think four years is the perfect length of time. (I lean more toward the presidential way of doing things, I guess.)," Ho writes in a farewell column today.
Well, it's not a farewell exactly — Ho is transitioning into the Opinion department, and they will become a cultural critic for the Chronicle who will sometimes write a food story.
Perhaps this trajectory makes perfect sense, given columns like this one in December, in which Ho questioned how the role of a restaurant critic might be fueling gentrification. (On the one hand, sure, but on the other, you've got one job and we're here to read about new restaurants.)
Ho doesn't offer much in the way of reasons for the departure from this very prestigious role, except to say "Four years doesn’t seem like a lot, but these particular years have been quite a ride." And certainly being a critic here through 2020 and 2021 had to come with a fair bit of existential discomfort. Who needed twee food criticism when most restaurants were just struggling to stay alive?
This news of Ho's departure, though, is troubling, if only because, agree or disagree with Ho's take on restaurants, they are undeniably a strong writer with a thoughtful critical voice, and it takes at least four years on this job just to get a lay of the land and understand something about the breadth of Bay Area cuisine.
And it took until just four months ago for Ho to finish their review of The French Laundry, after the long struggle to get a table there three times over!
It's not clear if the Chronicle will be hiring from within or conducting another national search — these jobs tend to be big media news when they come available. Stay tuned.
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