Sam Sifton's Secret Identities
Envisioning the critic's alter-egos
Sam Sifton's final article as The New York Times restaurant critic was, as always, terrifically written, informative and fun. But there was something strange in the photo that appeared above the article on the Times' home page Tuesday in advance of Wednesday's print edition.
The photo showed a collage of notebooks, menus and other materials Mr. Sifton presumably accumulated during his two years as a critic. Among many other items, the photo showed parts of three Chase Platinum cards, two of them with partial names showing. These, presumably, were some of the cards he used to protect his anonymity so that he could be served as a regular Joe, er, Sam, and avoid the special treatment he might receive as SAM SIFTON, NEW YORK TIMES RESTAURANT CRITIC.
One card with a number starting 4307 0000 bears the name PJ Smith. It is valid starting 4/2010.
Another bears the partial name "Nicholas Tutt..."
Sam is moving on to becoming the National Editor of the New York Times. I know Sam, have worked with him a bit, and he is well-liked, always friendly, and supportive of writers and reporters. I know he will do a good job in his new role. People like working for the real Sam Sifton.
In the article he mentions that he occasionally had something uncomfortable on his head while dining in anonymity as the critic. Sam keeps his hair cropped short, so I wonder if he enjoyed spending some of his nights as a hirsute fellow. Or perhaps the persona itched badly.
I'd like to think the hairy version of Sam is the one who used the Nicholas Tutt – I'm guessing "Tuttle" Chase Platinum. Yes, Nicholas Tuttle is fine name. Sounds like a man who works at one of the pharmaceutical companies in New Jersey who would have come to the city for a big night and an expensive meal. Tuttle would be the man who ate in the pricier places. No need to bring out the Tuttle for, say, Miss Lily's, a luncheonette he reviewed. Perhaps he used cash for Lily's, or even a card in his own name.
PJ Smith? I imagine this persona works on Wall Street, likes to hang out with the boys at steakhouses and clubby places like Tom Colicchio's Craft. For manly places, burgers, cigar rooms, Sam was PJ.
I haven't asked Sam any of this. I don't know him THAT well, never dined with him as critic, although I once did see him out dining with another Times editor. (I was dining out with a critic from another publication. She used a card in her own name.) These are my imaginings.
A Google search for the name Nicholas Tuttle yields a guitarist and a man accused of stabbing his girlfriend in Utica, NY. PJ Smith is an Irish singer.
It is gleanable from the photo in the Times that Sam's server at Boulud was named Gareth. It's there on a receipt in the photo: "Gareth Dinner." (Glad it wasn't lunch!) I wonder if he goes by Gary to his friends? I wonder if his high school friends called him "Gary" but when Gary came to the city to be, perhaps, an actor, he changed it to Gareth. Or maybe it was done by the maitre d' at Boulud. Gareth sounds more high end than Gary.
There they were one night, Gary who calls himself Gareth serving a Mr. Tuttle who is actually Sam. A New York moment. We can always reinvent ourselves here. Even if we don't always get to choose exactly who we'll be.
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