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The Sifton Files: Russ Smith on Hiring Sifton Back in '90

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The full Sam Sifton Dossier is coming up shortly, but first, get to know the future New York Times restaurant critic through Russ Smith, aka MUGGER, the founder and publisher (until '02) of the New York Press, where Sifton was once restaurant critic. Eater reached out to Smith, who was kind enough to respond:

I think Sam will be the best Times restaurant critic in my memory. Skip over the baloney in Bill Keller's press release, and focus on this: Sam knows how to tell a story, and he's a great cook and has an adventuresome appetite. One of the problems of the Times' restaurant critics is that they don't make the writing accessible to those who don't have the money, or inclination, to spend, say $300 on a meal. Unless Sam has been thoroughly indoctrinated by the punishing Times culture—and, to be fair, I haven't seen him in years—this is a major plus for the paper in an otherwise discouraging year.
Sam became NYPress' restaurant critic in 1990 after I read his "Best of Manhattan" readers poll. While most of the respondents had dumb answers like picking McDonald's for Best French Fries, Sam filled out every food category, with a lot of place I'd never heard of, and, immodesty aside, I was pretty well versed in Manhattan dining. I called him that night and asked him to come in and chat, and then gave him the job. Of course, his budget was minuscule compared to the Times, but his reviews were among my favorite stories in the paper. Two years later, he joined NYP fulltime as an editor, and was, among many other things, a backbone of the food section in our annual Best of Manhattan.
Any more Sifton insights? Please send 'em on over.
· BREAKING: NYT's Sam Sifton IN as Next Restaurant Critic [~E~]
· All Sam Sifton Coverage [~E~]