(My operating assumption is that life is too short to put up with bad food, bad friends, a lousy job, or uncomfortable clothing.) And after it was my turn for the book, I put it down upon completion, and I started to think about Reichl's main thesis: that money and status are two entirely different things, and how the differing levels of privilege we all carry influence and shape us. It's something I'm going to keep thinking about for a long time, particularly the next time we sit down to eat out -- whether it be at a hole-in-the-wall family-owned joint, a Major National Chain (tm), or a Dining Experience (tm) -- because Reichl has a lot of very smart, savvy, and interesting things to say, reading between the lines (and sometimes more overt than that) about American national identity, relationship to food, and concepts of service, status, and privilege.
Ruth Reichl's book about her time as the New York Times food critic is mainly focused on her need to don disguises in order not to be recognized in the restaurants she was reviewing and how changing her appearance opened her eyes to how people are treated due to their physical appearance and projected personality. I guess I neglected to read the book's subtitle, The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise.
It might have been a bit more relevant at that time but it's message about the love of good food, told with insight and humor is timeless. The recipes range from simple like Matzo Brei to a full fledged roast leg of lamb dinner. "An then, very delicately, he picked the leg up in his fingers and ate it slowly, savoring every morsel." Having just watched a segment of Extreme Cheapskates where a man moves through a restaurant asking diners if he can have their leftover food and another dumpster dives for food. I wonder why the homeless man's story touches me and the cheapskate makes me a bit ill. Reichl has written other memoirs, always with a touch of food, so much of her life.
This book covers Reichl's stint as the New York Times chief restaurant critic. Although she accepts the position, she has reservations about the elitist implications of the job, and vows to write for the masses--those million readers who can't afford to spend $100 for a meal at a four-star French restaurant. Part of her mission is to expose the poor treatment many of these restaurants heap on the "common man." But in order to accomplish this lofty goal, Reichl must eat in disguise. Personally, I eat for the food.) The idea is cute, and for the first few chapters it was fun. But Reichl shows her true colors right from the start when she heaps disdain on a bearded ignoramus (wearing Birkenstocks...unforgivable!) for having the audacity to dip his sushi rice-side down, thereby "ruining" the "clear transparent flavor," the "taut crispness," and the clam that was "almost baroque in its sensuality." (I have yet to meet a sensual or almost baroque clam, but I'll take Reichl's word for it.) Reichl then reminisces about her trip to Japan, in which she is first exposed to the proper way to eat Japanese food. (I'm pretty sure the guy in Birkenstocks could not afford to go to Japan for eating lessons.) In her other encounters with diners at top-notch restaurants Reichl indulges in so much blatant one-up-manship that you simply can't sympathize with her concern for the "simple folk" no matter how much she tries to dress like them.
"Garlic and Sapphires" is an enjoyable look at her years writing for the New York Times and of some of her memorable dining experiences during that time.
Reichl's reviews were great for that globally-read paper; her descriptions of restaurants and their food were evocative enough that it didn't matter if you knew you would never set foot in the place. Or maybe because Reichl is savvy enough to include her own reviews at the close of each chapter, so that the reader sees the finished product as well as the behind the scenes.
3.4 stars I enjoyed this book about Reichl's experience as a food critic for the New York Times.
Ruth Reichl is back, and this time she's the new restaurant critic for the New York Times. Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise chronicles Reichl's ten year stint with the Times, and her effort to bring good food to the masses. I like the way Ruth thinks, and it's evident in the layout of her book. If you love reading about the art of food, you will thoroughly enjoy this book. Ruthie's Scalloped Potatoes Ingredients 1 clove garlic, cut in half 1 Tbsp unsalted butter 2 cups milk 3 cups heavy cream Salt and Pepper 4 pounds baking potatoes, peeled Preheat the oven to 325F Rub a roasting pan with the garlic, and then coat thickly with the butter.