Not having experienced Craig Claiborne's columns for ourselves, it was a little surprising to learn from current New York Times critic Pete Wells just how many of the hallmarks of modern food criticism he's responsible for. Star ratings, crediting quality over style, publishing regular columns, dining anonymously on the newspaper's tab, slowly amassing a guide to city dining -- Claiborne pioneered these things we see as staples of the form.
As Wells puts it:
I believe that without professional critics like him and others to point out what was new and delicious, chefs would not be smiling at us from magazine covers, subway ads and billboards. They would not be invited to the White House, except perhaps for job interviews.
Wells' tasteful love letter on the 50th anniversary of Claiborne's column's launch in 1962 is worth a read in full, for insights like this one from Claiborne biographer Thomas McNamee: "He saw himself as a critic on a par with the paper’s critics of books, art, music and drama, and he was determined to bring to his work a rigor and gravity equal to theirs."
For the full look at Claibourne's career (and some links to his classic columns), head over to The New York Times