Marilyn Hagerty, Unplugged

 Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock the past few weeks, you know all about Marilyn Hagerty. Just inMarilyn Hagerty, restaurant critic case, though, here’s the gist of the tale:

Hagerty, the restaurant critic for the Grand Forks Herald in North Dakota, set out to review the newly opened Olive Garden. She had to go in the middle of the afternoon, since the lines were too long at any other time. Rather than finding the food an unspeakable affront, as you and I probably would, she absolutely loved it. She found the Chicken Alfredo “warm and comforting on a cold day,” and called the establishment “the largest and most beautiful restaurant now operating in Grand Forks.”

People around the country snickered over this for a day or two, and then the review went viral. It had over 300,000 page views per day on the Web. Good Morning America went out to Grand Forks to interview Hagerty. The critic eventually went to Manhattan for three days, where she was received like the reincarnation of Waverly Root. She dined at Le Bernadin, appeared on the Today Show and CBS Sunday Morning, and delighted everyone with her rock-solid heartland perspective on both food and life.

What’s going on here? As I read about Marilyn Hagerty, I was reminded of something that occurred in Junior High School. A bunch of popular kids got together and, as a goof, decided to elect one of the school nerds Class President. They made fun of him mercilessly even as they engineered his campaign (not that he noticed—he was simply pleased to have the attention). After a few months, a strange thing happened. The nerd grew in stature, and actually became Presidential. And the popular kids, having had the satisfaction of goofing on the system, eventually decided he wasn’t that bad after all.

Perhaps something similar happened with Marilyn Hagerty. How else to explain the attentions of Anthony Bourdain (he got her the reservation at Le Bernadin), Eric Ripert (he wishes all food critics could be like her), and Alan Richman (he sent over a bottle of wine at Le Bernadin). Maybe the popular kids set out to game the system, and ended up gaming themselves.


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