The Citymeals Blog

Food for Though
Gael with meal recipient

Remembering Gael's Legacy

Gaele Green at a restaurant in one of her signature hats.

Gael Greene, renowned restaurant critic, writer, and founder of Citymeals on Wheels passed away on November 1, 2022, at the age of 88. A doyenne of New York’s food scene, Gael honed her signature voice in the years before “foodie” joined the common vernacular. Self-styled the “Insatiable Critic,” she was New York Magazine’s restaurant critic for nearly forty years. 

Gael founded Citymeals on Wheels in 1981. That November, while enjoying what she described as “a sybaritic breakfast,” Greene read a piece in The New York Times detailing the hardship of homebound elderly New Yorkers who went without food on holidays and weekends due to a lack of funding for the City’s meals on wheels program. Meals were funded for Monday through Friday, but homebound older people went without food through the weekend.

New York Times Article
Gael's handwritten notes on the article she read in 1981.

Outraged, she phoned her friends in the city’s restaurant community — together raising $35,000 dollars to deliver meals that Christmas.

Initially administered by the City’s Department for the Aging, Citymeals became an independent nonprofit organization in 1991. Today, the organization delivers nearly two million weekend, holiday and emergency meals to almost 20,000 older New Yorkers throughout all five boroughs.

In 1992, She received the James Beard Foundation’s Humanitarian of the Year award.

Gael Greene with a meal recipient.
Gael often delivered meals and visited with Citymeals recipients.

Gael’s dedication remained steadfast throughout Citymeals' last forty years. In 2007, she visited several homebound recipients. “I was shocked and moved by the helplessness of the bedridden, the disoriented, these isolated New Yorkers only steps from where I lived,” she explained. 

Gael achieved what many people can only dream of and her impact on New York City cannot be measured. She built tremendous influence as a food critic, at a time when fewer doors were open to women. And she recognized the privileged life she was living as a foodie and sought to share that with others. Through Citymeals, Gael fulfilled a dream of nourishing the most overlooked people in New York City – older people, facing hunger.

Gael Greene on a delivery with Beth Shapiro.
Gael and I delivered Citymeals' 50 millionth meal in 2014.

Gael was born December 22, 1933, in Detroit. While studying at the University of Michigan, she spent a year in Paris, a transformational experience which she credited with awakening her passion for food. 

She moved to New York City and began working as an investigative reporter for The New York Post. She joined the staff of New York Magazine immediately after its launch in 1968, eventually rising to chief critic. 

In an era when American palates were not as sophisticated and diners seldom knew the chef’s name, Gael scrupulously detailed her experiences with vivid narration. Her advice when parsing a meal: “How does it feel, how does it taste, and what is it about? If you are a sensuous eater, these things are important.” 

As she sharpened her tongue, her style was often maligned. In her early years as a reviewer, Gael took the legendary 21 Club and Elaine’s to task at a time when no one else dared. And despite her oft-recognized sensuality in print, Gael prized her anonymity. To protect her identity, she wore hats when reviewing a restaurant and always declined photographs.

After leaving New York Magazine in 2008, Gael turned to writing on her website, where she continued to dish on the city’s restaurants. She could just as easily be found in a Michelin-starred establishment as a neighborhood hole-in-the-wall. She simply couldn’t give up reviewing. As she jokingly put it, “anyone who has ever lived with me will tell you, I was born to be a critic.”

Gael’s partner of many years, the photographer Steven Richter, predeceased her in 2012. She is survived by her brother Jim and his wife Mary Greene, devoted niece Dana Stoddard and husband Craig; stepson Nico Ruderman, daughter-in-law Anne Schuckman and grandson Zachary Ruderman; niece Pamela Dawn Sachs and grandnephew Jonathan Clack and grandniece Taylor Clack; nephew Adam Sachs, wife Stacey and grandnephews Justin, Jonah and Aiden; and nephew Gabriel Greene and wife Mia.

Marcia Stein, Founding Executive Director of Citymeals, shared this: “Gael could not live with the idea that a city of such abundance and extraordinary food could not feed its oldest and most frail. For four decades she used her celebrity, creativity, and genius with words to make sure there would always be a nutritious meal at the door for them every day of the year.”

Through Gael’s caring spirit and persistence, elderly New Yorkers are ensured a lifeline of meals and companionship. Donations in her memory can be made to Citymeals, as she requested. 

Food For Thought