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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
When Ruth Reichl got her first job as a restaurant critic, she was elated. Her parents, however, wanted her to do something worthwhile with her life (this wasn't it); her husband, Doug, thought she should write a novel; and her colleagues at the communal house in Berkeley where she lived were frankly disappointed. "Let me get this straight," said one of them. "You're going to spend your life telling spoiled rich people where to eat too much obscene food."
Reichl, who chronicled her earlier years and encounters with food in the very popular Tender at the Bone, tackles her coming-of-age as a food writer in a touching, involving, often humorous, memoir that reads like a novel. We follow breathlessly as Reichl's first critic's job at a California magazine makes her an eyewitness to a culinary revolution; the pivotal years when California began to trump Europe in food and wine (a period well chronicled in Patric Kuh's The Last Days of Haute Cuisine). She covers the opening of Michael's in Santa Monica, enjoys lunch with her hero M.F.K. Fisher, reports on Alice Waters's garlic festival, and hangs out behind the scenes as Wolfgang Puck opens up Chinois.
With these successes behind her, Reichl becomes the restaurant critic for the Los Angeles Times just as Food (yes, with a capital "F") and the '80s converged, which produced a crowd of food groupies who considered every trip to a four-star restaurant as a new notch in their belt. Her unorthodox style -- writing reviews that read like short stories and introducing the Reluctant Gourmet as a presence in the reviews, for example -- elicits both praise and criticism, but led to later positions as restaurant critic of The New York Times and then editor-in-chief of Gourmet.
Not only does Reichl chronicle her apprenticeship as a critic (including travels to France, China, and Thailand); she also covers the major personal events in her life: the long, slow dissolution of her first marriage; the affair with her food editor boss; the death of her father; and the electrically charged meeting with the man who would become her second husband. Some of these moments are so personal you may feel like an unwitting voyeur. Most heartbreaking is the story of the baby that Reichl and her second husband adopt -- only to have the natural parents show up before the final papers are signed and take her back.
As final proof that food cannot be separated from life, Reichl ends each chapter with one or two recipes from that time in her life, like the dacquoise she ate in Paris, the mushroom soup she made for her mother, the appetizer Wolfgang Puck served at the White House in 1983, and Danny Kaye's lemon pasta. (Ginger Curwen)