Monday, November 15, 2010

Review #99: Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl

by Ruth Reichl
Genre: Memoir, food
Publisher: Penguin

My Thoughts:

There is something so satisfying when you pick up an old book you've had on your shelf and you both hit it off immediately. There are no thoughts involved, no second's just pure, go-from-the-gut decision making. I declared "I'm going to read this and I'm going to like it!"

Yesterday afternoon as the little one napped, my husband and I snuggled (yes, really snuggled) down deep in our couch, threw a quilt over our knees and read together. His choice? The Basic Writings of Trotsky (he is still politically enamored with The Lacuna and needs to research). I found my pick to be a bit more cozy! AND it was snowing outside. How perfect!

Garlic and Sapphires is a foodie's dream. I absolutely love to read food memoirs and haven't read many in a little while. Reichl's story starts with her life as the food critic for the LA Times. She gets a call from the New York Times with an offer to be their restaurant critic. Originally a New Yorker at heart, she really can't quite come to a decision about whether or not she is ready to go "home".

After several attempts to "blow" the interviews (even though the job was already hers and the interviews were merely a formality), she decides that it would be an adventure for herself as a food lover and for her family; a journalist husband and a young son accompany her.

She is not prepared for the brash treatment she receives from the city; the competitive nature of the restaurants, the reaction from the readers and the eaters and the rules she has to learn at her office. What she is prepared for, however, is to eat. She goes at it with gusto and tries to broaden her eyes and her reader's eyes to the diverse eating joys New York has to offer.

This was during the early 90s, way before Sushi was cool, before a lot of ethnic food in general was acceptable or mainstream. And way before Times Square was clean. :)

It doesn't take her long to realize that her face is recognizable and life as the NYTimes restaurant critic is a celebrity existence, one that greatly alters her experiences in these restaurants.
Hungry for the truth and hungry to show her readers what it would be like to really eat at these places, she decides to go in disguise. With help from her mother's elderly best friend, her office secretary and various theater friends, she creates her other personalities.

Molly, a retired teacher who's husband makes it big in real estate.
Miriam, a replica of her mother.
Chloe, a confident blonde.
Betty, an elderly quiet woman.

This just names a few.

The results are vastly different experiences in food and especially customer service. As Ruth, she gets the best. As Molly, she gets shoved in the back in the smoking section for an hour. As Chloe, she gets fawned over. As Betty, she gets ignored.

Her adventures, though fun in nature, bring to light the dark side of critiquing expensive food. Is it only for the wealthy New Yorker? Why can't tourists looking to have a good time and spend some money be treated just as good? Why if you don't "look the part" you get ignored?

As the book goes on, you read Reichl's transformation as a critic and her growth as a person. Funny, witty, and smart, Reichl is someone I would LOVE to meet and of course, share a meal with. She knows food and the business of food and it is evident in her writing because my mouth was watering the entire time I was reading.
My husband unfortunately did not live up to the challenge of serving me Foie Gras!

Rating: 6 stars/ 6 stars
A gem of a book that I am so happy I dusted off for a cold, snowy Sunday afternoon. If you love food, memoirs or even New York, this is an adventure you would love to read about.
Highly recommended!

Author Profile:
Ruth Reichl went on to be the editor in chief of Gourmet and has written two previous books, Tender at the Bone and Comfort Me with Apples.

Fun Note:
According to some Google buzz, this is currently in development as a movie with a possible starring role for Catherine Keener! How exciting!

Happy Reading and as always, thanks for stopping by!

red headed book child


StephTheBookworm said...

I was supposed to meet her last semester, but she got injured when she was supposed to come to my school. :( It was a bummer. I'm glad to hear this book was excellent though. I have it around here somewhere. We read her book "Not Becoming My Mother" in my class in anticipation for her visit. It wasn't too great, but this one sounds so much better.

Tales of Whimsy said...

A cold day reading about food? Sounds fun! Great review. I love the name and cover.

Julie@My5monkeys said...

sounds like a good book-adding it to my collection.

Sheila (Bookjourney) said...

This sounds fantastic - I want to read this one!

Melissa said...

I've had this on my TBR for awhile now. Glad to hear it's good, i'm going to have to dust off my copy.

TheBookGirl said...

I've read all of her books and loved them. Glad to see you enjoyed this one.

Reading when its snowing outside, sigh, so wonderful :)

Gina said...

Ooh...from the cover to the title and then that review...sounds good (and hunger inducing...LOL!). I read a food type memoir a while back you may be interested in...Keeping the Feast by Paula Butturini. It was a touching story as well since it delved into their family struggles and triumphs as well as world traveling reporting, but make sure you read it on a full stomach.... ^_^ Happy reading!

Teresa said...

Great review. I'm going to have to add this one to my list. Sounds like a fantastic way to spend an afternoon.