I’ve got to admit I was charmed when the Marilyn Hagerty story broke, and she was interviewed by our own Camille Dodero. Then Lauren Shockey revealed Hagerty intended to visit our city. The so-called critic from Great Falls, Montana Grand Rapids, Michigan Grand Forks, North Dakota, prominently pastes her picture at the top of every column, makes a single non-anonymous visit to a restaurant, eats only one dish with no beverages, then writes at length about it in the flattest declarative prose imaginable, making the landscape of her native plains state seem mountainous by comparison. That sort of prose is a nice antidote to all the flowery food writing most of us have to digest on a daily basis.
But now, what Joni Mitchell calls “the star-making machinery” kicks into high gear. The 82-year-old newspaper veteran — who wears so many hats at her native newspaper, she could start a millinery shop — is befriended by no less than Anthony Bourdain, whose ability to generate publicity is unprecedented, even in the stale-in-three-minutes world of food journalism.
Hagerty is coming to New York City, where she will be squired around town by food-scene celebrities, treated to sumptuous meals at expense-account restaurants, wined and dined by publicists, food writers, and those for whom the two professions have been transformed into one.
She’ll eat at Le Bernardin — and I bet you anything she doesn’t pay a cent for it, and doesn’t disclose that, either, as she renders critical opinions of the free booty she receives. Really, it will be like satire penned by Mark Twain, who wrote “virtue has never been as respectable as money” in The Innocents Abroad.
So we’ll all have a chance to collectively celebrate Hagerty as she turns into one of us, and all the small city-big city jokes are endlessly repeated. We’ll glory in her plain opinions and speech, chuckle as she downs her first whelk in public view as part of a $500 meal, and doubtlessly shed a tear as she makes a compulsory visit to Ground Zero. Then, perhaps, the inevitable James Beard Award?
Not to be too cynical, but what she really needs to try is a slice of Dom DeMarco’s pizza, a hot dog at Gray’s Papaya, a slice of Junior’s cheesecake, a pastrami sandwich at Katz’s, and wash it all down with a Brooklyn Lager — but her every move will be orchestrated otherwise. You can bet her handlers have another agenda in mind. Jealous of the free publicity she’s extended to the soul-sucking Olive Garden, they’re clamorous for their own piece of the pie.
Expect Hagerty’s visit to be the biggest food-world publicity stunt of 2012 — until something better comes along. Indeed, it is we who are the rubes.