|on amazon here|
Garlic and Sapphires? Two of my favorite things! So I picked up the book.
The subtitle read "the secret life of a critic in disguise."
Whatever, let's go back to the garlic part.
So I brought the book home.
Ruth Reichl is a famous food critic (I had no idea). She had been famous for a while in LA, and then was hired to be the big new food critic for the NYTimes. Of course, all the big restaurants in NY planned to show her a good time so they could get their four stars...only Ruth was smart about people as well as about food, and she beat them at their own game. She worked up some elaborate disguises and went to these restaurants as normal people, rather than as her famous self. Oh she went as herself too of course, but then she wrote about all the visits. Boy oh boy were some chefs in for some surprises!!! She called them on their two-facedness where she found it, and withheld stars for it too. Ooooo, so mean! But so so right!
Of course most of the book follows her visits to various fancy places and discusses all manner of foods (many of them mouth-watering). She writes about her process in inventing each disguise. She also talks about her family--and how she goes to a place where she "normally wouldn't be caught dead eating" except that it's her sons birthday and he really wants to go...and she realizes that reputations are silly things, and that the quality of a night out is more about the company than the cost of the meal. She goes with friends to little hidden ethnic eateries and revels in authentic food that is excellent even if it's not 'posh.' At one highly acclaimed (but very poor) restaurant she even throws off her disguise in disgust mid-meal...but I won't ruin that story. It was very very funny.
While food and disguises are all very fun, Reichl's down to earth style was the thing I liked most about the book. It wasn't just that she was trying to get the good stories, although of course she was. It wasn't just that she was looking for the best food, although she was finding that too. In the long run, she also finds that the process of 'getting real' for her reviews helps her 'get real' about her life too, and leads to her eventual decision to leave her post as a full-time food critic and to come home to cook more with her family, which is where food is best anyway. With a happy ending like that, of course I liked the book.