A friend and bookie (not the horse betting variety), knowing I have a food blog, suggested that I read Garlic and Sapphires: the Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise, by Ruth Reichl. I assured her I was not a food critic, nor did I aspire to be one. She said no matter; I should read the book and handed me a copy.
The author’s name, Ruth Reichl, might ring a bell. She’s a world-renowned food critic and former editor-in-chief of Gourmet magazine, who worked as food editor at the New York Times for six years. During that time, she liked to dissect an over-pretentious menu, as she did one that touted a halibut poached in goose fat with nine-herb ravioli.
Reichl is not guarded in her opinions: she thinks Yelp is for idiots; abhors seeing pastrami on menus; and think’s what New York needs is a good bagel.
In Reichl’s engaging tale, she flings open the door on two staid New York institutions: the Times and the city’s snooty restaurateurs. How does she do it? In disguise. To refrain from being recognized, and thus pampered, and with the help of a waggish friend, she transforms herself into a variety of dining personalities.
At a time when her picture was posted in the restaurant kitchens of New York for easy recognition, she creates a new persona with wigs, makeup, wardrobe, and a number of aliases, and credit cards to match. (She was able to fool the doorman of her apartment and her co-workers, but never her young son.)
The costumed critic discovered that her appearance greatly influences the service she got in NY’s tony eateries, the length of wait and table location; even portion size and quality were different. You almost feel like you’re seated with her as she reveals what real diners experience.
But Reichl rankled the sensitivities of far too many at the Times. She caused a hissy fit in American’s dining capital, when she went to removing star ratings from august restaurants and giving them to second floor noodle shops and sushi bars.
The book is a witty account of a feisty foodie willing to take on the sanctimonious newsrooms and restaurants of New York. After reading her memoirs, you’ll notice a lot more about the service, menu and food the next time you eat out.