Eating My Words: An Appetite For Life

Eating My Words: An Appetite For Life

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by Mimi Sheraton

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What's it like to be a food writer? What's it like dining at some of the world's best restaurants, as well as some of the worst? What's it like to share your opinion about food and restaurants with readers around the world?

Mimi Sheraton is one of the most renowned food writers and restaurant reviewers in the country. And perhaps the most frequently asked

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What's it like to be a food writer? What's it like dining at some of the world's best restaurants, as well as some of the worst? What's it like to share your opinion about food and restaurants with readers around the world?

Mimi Sheraton is one of the most renowned food writers and restaurant reviewers in the country. And perhaps the most frequently asked question is, How did she do it? Her response is simple: "Live my life." Now, in this entertaining and candid memoir, the doyenne of food critics provides a heartfelt and poignant look at the events of her extraordinary life.

A devoted journalist, Mimi's engaging style and meticulous research have made her the standard by which restaurant reviewing and food criticism in the United States is measured. In Eating My Words, she describes how she developed her passion for writing about food and travel. Witty and straightforward, Mimi takes you on an engrossing journey of memorable meals, unforgettable people and outrageous experiences. Travel with Mimi from her childhood growing up in a food-loving Brooklyn family with a very demanding mother ("You call that a chicken?") and a father in the wholesale fruit and vegetable business, through her college years in Manhattan and her rise to fame.

Best known for her work as the restaurant critic at the New York Times, Mimi relates her experiences from how she landed the job there to why she left eight years later. As a journalist, she has tasted and reported on some of the world's finest cuisine, including three-starred French restaurants, and on some of the most dismal food imaginable, from hospital and public school meals to the often unrecognizable fare served in airplanes and fast food chains.

Forthright and never afraid to be controversial, Mimi talks about the importance of a reviewer's anonymity and the excitement of making a new culinary discovery like the now notorious Rao's, and then sharing it through her writing. She reveals some of her most challenging moments, right down to a masked appearance on French television with several well-known French chefs that ended in a mini-brawl.

Fueled by her passion for food, wine and travel, Mimi Sheraton's memoir is a degustation that is as engaging as it is enlightening. A true reflection of this bon vivant's voracious appetite for life, Eating My Words is an irresistible treat you will savor word by word ... and will feel utterly satisfied.

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Editorial Reviews

Paul Levy
Although you can sometimes hear the gentle thwack of old scores being settled (Sheraton describes her first husband as ''a sexual idiot savant'' -- is that a compliment or a complaint?), Eating My Words is an amusing and stylish production, a reminder of just how engaging a writer Sheraton can be.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Sheraton's got a plum job: the New York Times's restaurant critic in the 1970s and '80s, she's also worked as a consultant for the Four Seasons and a food writer for New York magazine. Her forthright, enthusiastic memoir instantly engages, as she tells of her adventures as a food lover and journalist, from her years as a newlywed in postwar Greenwich Village to the present. In one chapter, Sheraton describes a 1960 international trip during which she sampled everything from borscht in Russia to fava bean breakfast porridge in Egypt. At the Times, Sheraton introduced the public to Rao's, demoted Le Cirque's rating to one star and amassed a collection of wigs and glasses to help protect her anonymity. After leaving the Times, Sheraton wrote for Time and Cond Nast Traveler, which allowed her to visit a Tokyo fish market and a Shanghai bakery where "one worker handed me the wooden stamp and indicated that I should make myself useful by marking buns." Whether writing about what makes a restaurant run well or the horrors of institutional cuisine, Sheraton's a likeable storyteller. She also serves as an able social historian, providing thoughtful commentary on cooking and dining trends in America (and beyond) during the past 50 years. Agent, Dan Green. (May) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Veteran food writer Sheraton has spent many years dining at and dishing about the world's great restaurants, most notably during her tenure at the New York Times. In her introduction, she presents 20 frequently asked questions e.g., "Were you ever pressured to give favorable reviews to advertisers or to the bosses' friends?" and answers them all. Unfortunately, Sheraton's writing style is in the vein of reportage, i.e., suitable for a few thousand words but lacking a narrative voice to sustain the reader's attention for hundreds of pages. However, she gives us a full account of her enviable profession, and the advice should be required reading for restaurant entrepreneurs. The rest of us would be more satisfied with Ruth Reichl's superior memoir, Tender at the Bone. Julie James, Forsyth Cty. P.L., NC Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

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Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.95(d)

Read an Excerpt

Eating My Words

An Appetite for Life
By Sheraton, Mimi

Morrow Cookbooks

ISBN: 006050109X

Chapter One

Like Mother, Like Daughter

"Today you're a maven of dreck ..."

"Good morning, Mother."

It is 8:10 A.M. and I know that my mother has been aching to talk since 6:30, when the New York Times arrives at her door. Unable to contain herself any longer after reading one of my most negative Friday restaurant reviews, she finally calls, certain that I will be awake.

"You think what you do is so nice?" she begins. "A man invests a lot of money and builds a beautiful restaurant and has a family to support. He has customers and everything is fine, until one day, in walks Big Mouth. Then you write and say that this was too salty, and that was too dry, and this was too that, and pretty soon nobody goes there. Who cares if people eat in a terrible place? If you don't like it, go someplace else. Do you think everyone knows what good is? And even if you're right, what business is it of yours?"

It would have been futile to explain that my business was exactly that, and, furthermore, that I was building a gratifying following. Just as pointless would be the information that I had won an award, or that I was told by several restaurant owners that they were able to get bank loans on the basis of my two-star rating.

I knew why the review had earned me the accolade maven of dreck -- a connoisseur of crap in Yiddish. The subject was an Italian restaurant where I reported on the mussels, snails and eels I had eaten, foods my mother never would touch and so regarded as unfit for all humans. It was a strange line in the sand drawn by a woman who not only ate but prepared raw and cooked clams and oysters, every kind of fish, innards like brains, sweetbreads, heart, liver, kidneys and lungs and who, when making pickled herring, mashed the spleen (miltz) to add creaminess to the brine.

"We don't eat mussels, snails and eels," she said. By "we," I knew she meant Jews.

"I don't know about we," I answered, "but you haven't a kosher bone in your body and the we you're talking about don't eat clams or oysters, either. You also say we don't eat olive oil, but that will be news to Sephardic Jews and many Israelis. So who are we?"

"A sane person can't talk to you. You'd better speak to your father."

Many readers of my Times columns shared my mother's opinion of me as nitpicker and busybody, questioning not only my aesthetic judgments but my morals and my sanity. Among such was a Brooklyn minister who wrote, "If Mimi Sheraton were invited to dinner beyond the Pearly Gates, she would probably complain that the light was too bright." To which I replied, "If it were, I would."

When I described a tiny, succulent soft-shell crab as looking like an infant's hand, a reader warned the editors, "Be careful. Your critic is becoming cannibalistic."

Similarly, in a review of a very authentic Japanese restaurant, I reported on first being shocked to see lobster sashimi presented as a split lobster, still energetically writhing on my plate. Recovering quickly, I dug in and so was able to praise the meat's silken texture and airy, sea-breeze flavor.

"Your restaurant critic has lost her mind," came the first of several irate letters. "She is now eating live animals."

My answer now, as then, is that it is arguable whether any creature that has been cut in half is really alive just because nerves are twitching. Or to point out that devotees of clams and oysters on the half shell better be eating them live if the eaters want to stay that way. Perhaps bivalve mollusks arouse little sympathy because they have less personality than crustaceans and their stubborn fight for life is apparent only to shuckers. In any event, I assured readers that even I had humanitarian limits, citing my refusal of a dinner invitation in Hong Kong in 1960, when the special treat was to be monkey brains, served as a dip in the chopped-open head still attached to the live -- or, at least, quivering -- animal.

One of my most persistent critics through the years sent postcards to the Times, sometimes addressed to me by name, other times only to "Maven af Pork Ass," a sobriquet that did not stump the mail-room staff at all. Whether neatly typed or handwritten in a wild sprawl, these picture postcards came from various restaurants whenever I reported on eating pork. Each was signed with a different female name, once that of the legendary actress Molly Picon. Having obviously read me for some time, the writer knew that my grandfather had been a rabbi, who, I was warned, must be turning in his grave. I was admonished to think more about my ancestral heritage and less about pork ass, and was advised, as a parting thought, "You have too much to say in general, anyway." My mother couldn't have said it any better.

Although my parents were proud of my working at the New York Times, they hated my role as a restaurant critic, my father mainly because he feared I might be harmed by an irate owner. Fortunately, he needn't have worried. I was never even threatened, no less harmed, nor was I ever offered a bribe. My mother, although my fiercest defender, expressed her unconditional love through unrelenting criticism that she clearly meant to be constructive -- for my own good. And not only with food. In summer, she said my dress looked too warm. In winter, she said my coat did not look warm enough.When I told her I was taking a second trip to Europe, she advised, "Take a really good look this time, so you don't have to go back again!" And when I had my apartment walls painted white, she chided, "For the same money, you could have a color!"


Excerpted from Eating My Words by Sheraton, Mimi Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author

Mimi Sheraton is a veteran food critic for the New York Times, Time, Vanity Fair, Food & Wine, and Condé Nast Traveler. She lives in New York City.

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Eating My Words: An Appetite For Life 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
By Bill Marsano. Years ago, in the slim hope of making myself useful on a certain magazine, I often volunteered to edit Mimi Sheraton's column. She was counted a tough cookie by the other editors, who preferred saps. My stock did in fact rise through self-sacrifice, and so did my free time, for the fact was her column was a breeze. Of course, if an editor mucked around with her copy (and that, I can say without exposing any trade secrets, is what editors generally do), then it wasn't a breeze. So after reading her tight-knit prose, her well-reasoned judgments, her lucid thoughts, I'd call her about a couple of minor points and we'd agree on changing or not in about ten minutes. Then, with my door shut and no one in any case daring to approach Sheraton Control, I had the afternoon free. (Later, when other editors asked how it had gone, I just rolled my eyes.) Keys to Sheraton's style were sticking to the subject and not showing off. Her judgments were measured, not designed to become sound bites; the meal was the star, not the reviewer. Here she does write about (among many other things) herself, and what an interesting self she turns out to be. She covers a lot of ground, including childhood before the war (i.e., World War II); college-girl adventures in New York City (especially funny: her story of breaking up with a civilian boyfriend while being attached to two other guys in the armed services); early work in home-furnishings journalism; plunging into food writing through a passion for travel; her ups and downs as a nationally known food critic for the New York Times (and other publications) and her attempts at improving what professionals call 'volume feedings and mass management' and the rest of us call jail, airline, school and hospital food. Sheraton has a fine line in dry wit and is always informative: Most readers will learn some surprising things about restaurants and reviewing. She lists the 20 most-asked quiestion and answers every one, and provides a good idea of the pressures applied to a critic by big-name restaurateurs--and by people who think they're critics just because they run a newspaper. (Odd--but I don't think the Times has reviewed her book. Odd.) But she isn't dishy. Anyone looking here for gossip, innuendo and the settling of scores has come to the wrong place. Sheraton conquers but she does not stoop. And she does it all in 240 pages. One reason is that she writes tightly and tartly. (At least one other well-known 'foodie' has published two books, totaling nearly 600 pages, and isn't finished yet.) Another is that she speaks often of wonderful dishes but gives no recipes. Good for her. Recipes are turning up in lots of places they don't really belong these days, including mysteries and popular novels. I usually suspect that means the author hasn't really got the goods, and knows it, and hopes I won't notice. (For much the same reason I resist nutritional puns traditional in this sort of review. I refuse to call this a 'bubbling bouillaisse of a book.') The only time she comes close to such nonsense is with her brisk instructions (maybe a dozen words?) for how to make a Jewish chicken--or a chicken Jewish. Sheraton's 240 pages go rattling by--there's no padding--and because even now I read as an editor, I ticked a few things: I disagree with her use of 'ascribe' and 'masterful,' and former New York City Mayor John Lindsay would, if he could, on personal orthography. Once where she says Michelin I'm almost certain she means Gault-Millau, but that's about it. (Come to think of it, where was the copy editor?) In all, the experience was like those long-gone magazine days: great reading and effortless, too.--Bill Marsano is a professional writer and editor.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
santanna03 More than 1 year ago
If you're interested in the world of restaurants and food this is a good book. A funny and insightful look into the world of fine cuisine and world travel.
Guest More than 1 year ago
'Eating My Words' is a good read and great insight into the making of a critic, as well as the soup to nuts of actually being a critic. Some surprising detours include the cafeterias of New York City's public schools and a trip to a sex toy emporium in Japan.