National restaurant critic Chris Nuttall-Smith puts down his fork and reveals himself

Chris Nuttall-Smith has eaten his way through Toronto's restaurant scene — but now the feast is over and he can reveal his face to the world. The Globe and Mail's national restaurant critic will publish his last review Saturday.

'It'll be a little strange to walk into a restaurant [and] be recognized'

Unmasked, at last. Chris Nuttall-Smith, the Globe and Mail's food critic, spoke with Metro Morning about finally giving up his reviewing work, something that will allow him to dine out without a disguise. (CBC)

Chris Nuttall-Smith has eaten his way through Toronto's restaurant scene — but now the feast is over and he can reveal his face to the world.

The Globe and Mail's national restaurant critic has been going undercover since 2012 to review the city's eateries for that newspaper. His last review, however, was published Saturday.

But before that column went to print, Nuttal-Smith had one last tidbit of business to do: finally show the face behind the byline. And he did just that Friday on CBC's Metro Morning with host Matt Galloway — in an interview that was streamed on Facebook Live so viewers could see the real Chris Nuttall-Smith. 

Nuttall-Smith has travelled Toronto's epicurean scene, letting small bistros share the stage with fine dining restaurants. (Blacktail Restaurant)

"It'll be a little strange to walk into a restaurant and not only to be recognized but for people to let on that they recognize me," he said.

He said there have been few photos of him online since he began reviewing restaurants for Toronto Life a decade ago. Oddly enough, one of the photos that pops up when you search his name is actually that of author David Bezmozgis. 

"So, I hope he's gotten really good service [in restaurants] over the last few years," Nuttall-Smith joked.

'One of the great food capitals on earth'

I'm really happy to leave some of that pressure behind to be honest.Restaurant critic Chris Nuttall-Smith

He's observed the city's food scene evolve throughout the years, but told Galloway that the biggest change he's noticed has been watching the culinary borders dissolve.

"People used to go to the suburbs for suburban food and they used to come downtown for urban food," he said. "It was steak frites and pizza versus biryani and regional Chinese.

"That's over."

Nuttall-Smith says the city became as multicultural in its food choices "as we are as people. Making us one of the great food capitals on earth."

Toronto's food scene has become as multicultural as its residents, Nuttall-Smith says. (Charles Dharapak/The Associated Press)

The gourmand's reviews have sometimes made restaurants — while at other times his columns been blamed for closing them.

It's a part of a job that's been stressful and he says he's happy "to leave some of that pressure behind."

Nuttall-Smith said he never revelled in the power he held over businesses, instead making sure he did his due diligence.

"It's not like you just go to a restaurant once. You go two, three times and, some cases, four times. You're bringing as much knowledge, as much history to bear, and you're talking to the restaurateur as well. So critic is part of it  but you're also a reporter."

Say cheese

Keeping his identity a secret hasn't been that difficult for Nuttall-Smith because, he says, he's a "funny looking guy" and few people have taken his picture. There has, however, been the odd photo of him circulating on the web.

"I called people and said, 'Can you take that photo of me down?''' he said. "The Momofuku chain took my picture with their hidden camera. It's a part of the job. It happens to everybody.

"One critic I know says when he walks into a restaurant there's a red laser beam on his head." 

Momofuku snapped Nuttall-Smith's picture when he visited the Japanese franchise in Toronto. (CBC)

But now, the bespectacled, fit and youthful-looking critic will be in front of the cameras, instead of trying to avoid them. He says he's working on a television show about food, though he wouldn't divulge details.

As for his favourite spots in the city? He says for special occasions nothing beats Edulis. 

"They do such an incredible job — constantly striving — and they can stand up to any place in the world."

But he's quick to mention the little places as well, like One2 Snacks in Scarborough.

He'll miss "having such a unique and amazing vantage point on the economy, the sociology, the demography, the geography of the city," he said. "Restaurants say so much about a place. Going in, finding stuff that's amazing and really being able to enthuse about it."