Friday, March 03, 2006

Garlic and Sapphires (Ruth Reichl)

I always wondered what it would be like to be a food critic. There are many reasons I would not be a particularly good one: a) my adjectives wouldn’t go much beyond “not good,” “good,” and “yummy,” b) at many restaurants I’d be limited to one or two choices due to my personal eating habits, so the reviews wouldn’t be representative, and c) I’d get tired of all that eating out. Yes, even though I am, when tired after a long day, the first person to suggest we go out or get take-out, I know I’d really rather have a home-cooked meal.

In her latest book, Garlic and Sapphires, Reichl chronicles her time as the New York Times food critic. Even before she officially begins her work, she realizes that NewYorkers take their restaurants way more seriously than they do in Southern California where she had previously worked as a critic. So much so that almost every restaurant in New York had her picture in their kitchen and were on alert before she started her job. Reichl goes to great lengths to disguise herself when on assignment so as not to be recognized, and the disguises are so good, in fact, that she even fools her doorman and her coworkers.

The restaurants she reviews during this time may be high-class expensive places few of us will ever eat at, but this book is more about this particular moment in her life. In all of Reichl’s books she contemplates the place food has in our lives, how it connects people, and revives old memories and traditions.

After graduate school I stopped reading for the most part. The books that I did read (slowly and uninterested) were books left over from grad school or ones I knew I was supposed to read and like because they were “literary.” This went on for over a year. Then one day I found Ruth Reichl’s Tender at the Bone (her first book) at the library in Wisconsin, and I spent that afternoon comfy on the couch, reading the entire book in one sitting. It had been a long time since I had read a book like that. There’s something in Reichl’s writing voice that I find very comforting. Some people may find her too passionate or perhaps over the top in her descriptions. And even though most of the food she describes is nothing I would eat, we still share a great love of food and she conveys that love so well through her writing.

Next book up: Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott

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