Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl
I just finished reading Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl, the Editor-in-chief of Gourmet. I read one of her other books, Comfort me with Apples, last year. Ruth is a very interesting woman and a talented writer, although something about her puts me off.
Garlic is her memoir about working as a restaurant critic for the NY Times, which she did in the late nineties. They hired her away from the LA Times, who had hired her away from someone in Berkeley (that story is told in Apples). She resisted the NYT and purposely tried to bomb her interview. They offered her the job anyway, and she moved her family to Manhattan.
In the plane on her way here, someone spotted her and told her the whole city was waiting for her arrival, and that every good restaurant had a picture of her and her wild hair. Paranoid, she decided to visit restaurants in elaborate disguises. This leads to much hilarity and awkwardness. At one point she dresses as her late mother and takes on all of her complaining and nagging. Another time she dresses as an old lady and is totally ignored, as she expected to be. She began writing reviews of her experiences in restaurants both in her disguise and without it. When she visited Le Cirque in disguise, her treatment was horrendous. As herself, she was bumped in front of the King of Spain for a table. She dropped the restaurant from four stars to three. It’s fascinating stuff.
She eventually has a major clash with her husband in which he calls her a snob. He tells her that she has gotten so far away from what she originally wanted to do, which I guess was to eat family style in her Berkeley commune with her crunchy friends. You can figure out the rest, since she’s no longer with the Times.
My problem with Ruth is that I find her a bit snobby. As hard as she tries to be equal with the common eaters, she clearly looks down on them. In one scene of this book, she is eating in a fancy sushi restaurant, and she inwardly mocks another white guy at the bar who dips his sushi the wrong way into his soy sauce. We all get it, Ruth, you’ve been to Japan and you know how to eat sushi. I care, but my first reaction is to relate to the other guy.
Nevertheless, I feel like I know the woman, and one of my food world goals is to get invited to one of her big dinner parties!