Wednesday, August 09, 2006


Garlic and Sapphires, Ruth Reichl, The Penguin Press, 2005, 328 pp

I read this for a reading group. Ruth Reichl is a food writer. This is her third book and tells about her stint as restaurant critic at the New York Times in the 1990s. I don't generally like books about food or travel. The ones I have read seem light-weight to me and not much different than reading magazine articles, which is just a babystep above watching TV.

But Garlic and Sapphires is not bad. In order to achieve anonymity, Reichl adopts various disguises. Her stories about building these personae are interesting: the wig shop, the thrift stores for clothes, the make-up. Then she seems to become these characters and is treated accordingly at the restaurants she visits, proving that it matters who you are and how you look in terms of seating and service, particularly in the top restaurants of New York City.

But I found that a whole book about food left me feeling, well, overfed. I also began to get disturbed over the importance being paid to meals costing over $100, when I know that 90% of the people living in NYC don't have that much to spend on food in a week, some in a month.

To her credit, Ruth begins to have similar thoughts and recalls her roots as a cook at natural foods restaurants. The writing was mixed: great on description, a bit disjointed on story telling and hopeless on dialogue. And after her soul-searching, the upshot is a new job as Editor-in-Chief of "Gourmet Magazine." Huh?

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