Fork It Over: The Intrepid Adventures of a Professional Eater

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Alan Richman has dined inmore unlikely locations and devoured more tasting menus than any three other food critics combined. Over the decades, his editors have complained incessantly about his expense accounts but never about his appetite. He has reviewed restaurants in all the best Communist countries (China, Vietnam, Cuba) and supped heartily all over the free world. Wherever he's gone, GQ magazine's acclaimed food, wine, and restaurant critic has brought along his impeccable ...

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Alan Richman has dined inmore unlikely locations and devoured more tasting menus than any three other food critics combined. Over the decades, his editors have complained incessantly about his expense accounts but never about his appetite. He has reviewed restaurants in all the best Communist countries (China, Vietnam, Cuba) and supped heartily all over the free world. Wherever he's gone, GQ magazine's acclaimed food, wine, and restaurant critic has brought along his impeccable palate, Herculean constitution, and biting humor.

In this globe-trotting literary smorgasbord, the eleven-time winner of the James Beard Foundation Award for food writing retraces his most savory culinary adventures. Richman's inexhaustible hunger and unquenchable curiosity take him to the best restaurants and most irresistible meals, from Monte Carlo to Corona, Queens. He seeks out the finest barbecue in America — it's in Ayden, North Carolina, by the way — the costliest sushi in Los Angeles, and the most perfumed black truffles in France. Along the way he has studied at Paul Bocuse's cooking school in Lyon (and failed), moonlighted as a sommelier in New York (and failed), and charmed his way through a candlelight dinner with actress Sharon Stone (and failed big time).

Through it all — roughly 50,000 meals and still counting — one thing is certain: Alan Richman has never come to a fork in the road without a fork in his hand.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Eating for a living isn't quite as easy as it sounds, at least not when you're reading this collection of deliciously humorous essays from James Beard Award-winning food critic Richman. From his less-than-satisfactory experiences in some of France's finest restaurants to his musings on the since-faded glories of dining in Montreal, he takes readers on a culinary journey around the world with entertaining detours in China, Naples, and Los Angeles. Whether enrolling in cooking school or exploring the mysteries of truffles, Richman's dry, witty prose will delight readers who crave good culinary writing. Many will recognize him from GQ magazine, in which several of these piece originally ran. Recommended for larger public libraries, especially those where other culinary collections such as James Villas's Stalking the Green Fairy: And Other Fantastic Adventures in Food and Drink are popular with readers.-John Charles, Scottsdale P.L., AZ Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
GQ restaurant critic Richman serves up a sharp, rollicking collection of articles documenting his most memorable culinary experiences. Reviewing restaurants often involves Mission Impossible-style tactics-making reservations under false names, stealing menus, prying information out of waiters and busboys-but the eight-time James Beard Award-winner believes he's up to the task. "I know how to eat as well as any man alive," declares Richman, who frequently samples his dinner companions' orders before they do. He discovered his calling as a kid when he tasted a perfect pastrami sandwich at the Chuckwagon restaurant in suburban Philadelphia. Initially a sportswriter, he was lured by the prospect of free food into moonlighting for his newspaper's dining section. Here, Richman shares some his favorite columns from publications like GQ and Bon Appetit. They include profiles of the Hamptons, a restaurant graveyard dominated by Billy Joel sightings, and of Louis Farrakhan's five-million-dollar Chicago eatery, where Richman found himself watching pro golf on the TV in the lounge. He also recalls a dinner date with Sharon Stone ("for the briefest moment, I was [her] partner, not just a pawn") and his desperate quest to find a celebrity chef-Wolfgang Puck, Emeril Lagasse, Rocco DiSpirito, anyone-actually present in the celebrity's restaurant. Hardened opinions, such as the author's distaste for vegans and for boiled lobster ("an inferior technique popularized by New England seafood shanties"), belie his conversational tone, but Richman's short, simple, funny sentences both engage and surprise. His prose lets readers in on the joke without directly acknowledging it as, for example, he remembers hisdelight as a child in being treated to $1.09 steak dinner specials. Only the restaurant critiques, some now more than a decade old, feel slightly out of place. An enjoyable treat full of gastronomic guffaws.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780641772177
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 10/26/2004
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Alan Richman is a contributing writer for GQ, Condé Nast Traveler, and Bon Appétit, as well as the newly appointed Dean of Food Journalism atthe French Culinary Institute. He lives in Westchester County, New York, with his wife, Lettie Teague, a wine columnist and editor, and their two dogs, Sophie and Rudy. The dogs love Alan's cooking.

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First Chapter

Fork It Over
The Intrepid Adventures of a Professional Eater

The Eating Life

I am a restaurant critic. I eat for a living.

Chefs complain about people like me. They argue that we are not qualified to do our jobs because we do not know how to cook. I tell them I'm not entirely pleased with the way they do their jobs, either, because they do not know how to eat. I have visited most of the best restaurants of the world, and they have not. I believe I know how to eat as well as any man alive.

I dine out constantly, but there is a great deal I do in restaurants that people who eat purely for pleasure would not consider part of a normal meal. You would not enjoy having dinner with me.

I lie -- make a reservation under a false name. I steal -- the menu, not the silverware. I wander. I am always getting up from my table in order to check out my surroundings. I drift around, and the meandering invariably ends when a well-meaning captain taps me on the shoulder and points me in the direction of the men's room, wrongly assuming that is where I wish to go. I rarely talk to the people dining with me, but I love to chat with waiters and busboys. They know the secrets lurking behind the swinging kitchen doors.

Friends who accompany me to meals are bored by the absence of conversation. They are unhappy with the dishes I choose for them -- they have their hearts set on a lovely salad of poached Maine lobster and become cranky when I tell them they must sample the seared calf 's brain. The warm mandarin soufflé they've been anticipating all evening is finally set before them, and I stick my spoon in it before they have a taste.

Yet everybody envies what I do. They think it's the gastronomic counterpart of test-driving Mercedes sports coupes or helping Las Vegas chorus girls dress. They believe it involves little more than eating unceasingly and being reimbursed for the privilege. There's some truth to that, but sometimes I am obligated to eat three full meals a day, day after day, which is not always easy, even on an expense account. I generally receive little sympathy when I make that point.

A critic has to understand when food is correct, which is to be admired, and when it is inspired, which we would call a miracle. The job is part analysis (Is this good?), part self-analysis (It's good, but am I the only person who likes it?), and part gluttony (Have I tried everything on the menu?).

I've never been a victim of culinary fatigue, because I can reverse direction and concentrate on the humble whenever I weary of the haute. A natural-casing hot dog off the grill can be as thrilling as Charlie Trotter's terrine of asparagus with goat cheese, beet juice, and hundred-year-old balsamic vinegar.

I often make that point when it's my turn to pay.

I knew I had found my calling one day in the mid-fifties when I was having lunch with my mother at the Chuckwagon, in our little Philadelphia suburb of Elkins Park. She told me I should have the pastrami instead of corned beef.

My streak was over. For years, my standard lunch had been hot corned beef on seeded rye with a cream soda. This was before animal fats were considered fattening. (The milkman usually dropped off "extra rich" milk at our house.) I so liked corned beef that I hadn't come up with a compelling reason to gamble on anything else. I considered myself set for life.

I expected nothing to come of this unsolicited pastrami sandwich, but the first bite was so profound I recall the moment the way others would remember a first date -- years away in my case. I see myself at one of the Chuckwagon's lacquered tables, my mother seated to my left and intensely alert. She was like a mother robin watching her young swallowing worms. All was still. When I tasted the fatty-smoky-tender meatiness, I realized that I would never again have to accept the mundane.

All else was forgotten, even the unobtainable Olivia Biggs, a pigtailed skinny blonde I worshiped, aware that she accepted me as an occasional partner at Friday-night dances only because I came with a Pez dispenser and shamelessly doled out all the candy she desired.

The pastrami taught me to understand life's infinite possibilities. Eating was no longer a mildly pleasurable undertaking that peaked with a five-cent box of nonpareils or a six-cent cherry Coke. Although I would not embrace eating as a profession for decades (and never touched Olivia Biggs), I sensed that food offered delights that could not be equaled, not even by the attractions found in the pages of the Playboy magazines I accidentally flipped open while perusing comic books at the drugstore.

Despite its seminal gastronomic importance in my life, I was never that enchanted by the Chuckwagon, only by the pastrami. My first meaningful restaurant experience occurred a few months later, on a family trip across the country. As we drove through downtown Chicago, my father pointed to a sign and said, "We'll eat there."

I remember the lure, a steak dinner for $1.09, spelled out in neon. The restaurant was Tad's, the brand-new flagship of a future national chain. There I learned that dining out represented an entirely different experience from dinner at home. My mother's consistently excellent recipes offered whatever a guest at her table might desire, except for the unexpected. She could cook, but she could not surprise.

I had eaten full-course dinners in restaurants before, but my parents tended to take my sister and me to places that mimicked my mother's cooking, whereas Tad's offered mysterious forms of nourishment-- fatty steaks reeking with charred goodness, baked potatoes as big as footballs, an unhealthy breadstuff of indescribable appeal ...

Fork It Over
The Intrepid Adventures of a Professional Eater
. Copyright © by Alan Richman. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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