Book – Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl

New York Times food critic

The more I read of Ruth Reichl’s memoirs as a food critic at the New York Times after being headhunted from the LA Times, the more I compare her work to those of other food critics.

Ruth Reichl Food critic ex NY Times

AA Gill by no means lavishes praise on all the restaurants he visits for the Sunday Times but does he go to the length that Ms Reichl does to disguise himself? Will he visit the restaurant several times in different guises over the course of many months in pursuit of the honest restaurant review?

It stands to reason that when a restaurant critic books a table, he will receive the best service and be fed the best food the head chef can muster. I cannot imagine local newspaper critics being anything other than idols in the eyes of restaurant owners (although I’d love it if they do go in disguise). The free publicity resulting from a decent review is worth more than any advert that can be bought.

Ms Reichl writes about taking on the persona of the lady she disguises herself as, with the help of an acting coach, a friend of her late mother’s. She talks of the character taking over her personality once the wig goes on. Together they create Molly, the former school teacher, mother of two who comes to New York every few months for shopping and theatre visits.

Each of these characters even has their own credit card or otherwise the USA’s premier food critic carries a lot of cash with her for the types of restaurants she reviews, even in the early 1990s.

There’s Betty, Emily, Brenda, Chloe and Miriam – her mother, all visiting New York’s newest or finest restaurants with her family, her colleagues or her friends, each in on the act and playing along. The difference in her treatment when going as an overweight, older tourist to going as her swish powerful self accompanied by her husband or young son is palpable. I guess the people who continue to go to these high and mighty establishments after knowing the service ‘Betty’ received don’t care how other people get treated.

What I love is learning the lengths a truly professional food critic goes to make sure we the reader reads accurate information about the restaurant’s service, not just about the food they give to their most important patrons.

Interweaved with the descriptions of the relationships the author formed during her time at the New York Times makes this a very personal account. Oh and if unlike me you enjoy the cooking and not just the eating, recipes are included.


8/10   Inspiration factor 8½/10

Garlic & Sapphire by Ruth Reichl

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