The New York Times is expanding its food coverage across California, exporting exceptional New York City-based writer and multiple James Beard Foundation Award-winner Tejal Rao as the paper’s first-ever California critic.
The announcement of Rao’s move to Los Angeles hit the Times just this morning, with food editor Sam Sifton writing that:
Tejal will review restaurants and write about food and food culture in every corner of the nation’s most populous state, at places both fancy and not, wherever people gather to exchange money for food.
Sifton notes the large and growing California readership for the Times as reason enough to expand its restaurant criticism base, which also includes Pete Wells, Ligaya Mishan, and former LA Weekly critic Besha Rodell writing reviews in Australia.
The news comes at a particularly precarious moment for the NY Times, as a growing number of Angelenos have become disillusioned with the paper’s attempts at covering Los Angeles. A recent culture and travel piece said that historic Olvera Street’s market stalls were filled with “all useless items in the world,” leading to outcry and, ultimately, an apology from the newspaper. Months prior, the Times got pushed around by LA locals for dismissing the city’s enduring culture of Asian and Mexican breads, and national critic Wells has been castigated for his handling of a zero-starred review for Oakland-by-way-of-Watts restaurant Locol last year.
The Times is also capitalizing on a flash of particular upheaval in California’s food media circles, with SF Chronicle critic Michael Bauer stepping away from his post after 32 years, and Jonathan Gold succumbing to pancreatic cancer last month. The LA Times has since taken the opportunity to begin a bold new shakeup of its own food section, with openings for a food editor and at least two critics. So far, no hiring announcements have been made for those roles.