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Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise

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Overview

Ruth Reichl’s bestselling memoir of her time as an undercover restaurant critic for The New York Times

Ruth Reichl, world-renowned food critic and former editor in chief of Gourmet magazine, knows a thing or two about food. She also knows that as the most important food critic in the country, you need to be anonymous when reviewing some of the most high-profile establishments in the biggest restaurant town in the world—a charge she took very seriously, taking on the guise of a ...

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Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise

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Overview

Ruth Reichl’s bestselling memoir of her time as an undercover restaurant critic for The New York Times

Ruth Reichl, world-renowned food critic and former editor in chief of Gourmet magazine, knows a thing or two about food. She also knows that as the most important food critic in the country, you need to be anonymous when reviewing some of the most high-profile establishments in the biggest restaurant town in the world—a charge she took very seriously, taking on the guise of a series of eccentric personalities. In Garlic and Sapphires, Reichl reveals the comic absurdity, artifice, and excellence to be found in the sumptuously appointed stages of the epicurean world and gives us—along with some of her favorite recipes and reviews—her remarkable reflections on how one’s outer appearance can influence one’s inner character, expectations, and appetites, not to mention the quality of service one receives.

“As a memento of her time at the Times she gives us this wonderful book, which is funny—at times laugh-out-loud funny—and smart and wise.” —Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Most of us would love to receive celebrity treatment in restaurants, but for a food critic, such red carpet welcomes can pave the way to ruin. As the New York Times restaurant critic, Ruth Reichl wielded more power than any other food arbiter in the country. It's not surprising, then, that managers circulated her picture and offered bonuses for advance notice of her visits. Knowing that "to be a good restaurant critic, you have to be anonymous," Reichl went undercover, donning frumpy wigs and unstylish outfits, and presenting herself as Molly Hollis, retired Michigan high school teacher. Garlic and Sapphires records Reichl's amusing (and revealing) career as a covert critic in New York's most exclusive eateries.
David Kamp
The meat of the book, its selling point, is its revelation of the elaborate lengths to which Reichl went to conceal her identity as she reviewed restaurants, and how this affected both her work and personal life. Early on, Reichl decided to take a populist approach, shrouding herself in anonymity in order to avoid the amped-up service and extra truffle shavings and cremes brulees that restaurateurs bestow upon V.I.P. guests. In Garlic and Sapphires, she recounts how she enlisted her mother's old friend Claudia Banks, a retired acting coach, to create various non-Ruth personae for reviewing purposes, each with her own back story, wardrobe, wig and name.
— The New York Times
Jonathan Yardley
… as a memento of her time at the Times she gives us this wonderful book, which is funny -- at times laugh-out-loud funny -- and smart and wise. Maybe a bit too much food talk, but that isn't what matters, which is Reichl, and she's a gas.
— The Washngton Post
Publishers Weekly
As the New York Times's restaurant critic for most of the 1990s, Reichl had what some might consider the best job in town; among her missions were evaluating New York City's steakhouses, deciding whether Le Cirque deserved four stars and tracking down the best place for authentic Chinese cuisine in Queens. Thankfully, the rest of us can live that life vicariously through this vivacious, fascinating memoir. The book-Reichl's third-lifts the lid on the city's storied restaurant culture from the democratic perspective of the everyday diner. Reichl creates wildly innovative getups, becoming Brenda, a red-haired aging hippie, to test the food at Daniel; Chloe, a blonde divorcee, to evaluate Lespinasse; and even her deceased mother, Miriam, to dine at 21. Such elaborate disguises-which include wigs, makeup, thrift store finds and even credit cards in other names-help Reichl maintain anonymity in her work, but they also do more than that. "Every restaurant is a theater," she explains. Each one "offer[s] the opportunity to become someone else, at least for a little while. Restaurants free us from mundane reality." Reichl's ability to experience meals in such a dramatic way brings an infectious passion to her memoir. Reading this work-which also includes the finished reviews that appeared in the newspaper, as well as a few recipes-ensures that the next time readers sit down in a restaurant, they'll notice things they've never noticed before. Agent, Kathy Robbins. (On sale Apr. 11) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Reichl follows up two charming memoirs with an account of the various disguises she donned so she would not be recognized as restaurant critic of the New York Times. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Tasty revelations of Gourmet magazine editor Reichl's undercover antics as the former food critic at the New York Times. Some readers might pause at the thought of a third volume of memoirs from a woman not even through her middle age, but for foodies with a penchant for the inside scoop, Reichl's behind-the-scenes stories of the Gray Lady deliver the goods. Before working at the Times, Reichl was quite happy writing restaurant reviews at the Los Angeles Times; she was wooed and won in spite of her misgivings. Almost immediately, her photo was posted in restaurant kitchens across the city. In response, Reichl embarked on a cloak-and-dagger-or wig-and-pseudonym-campaign that she carried on through her tenure at the paper. Her first role was as the fictional Molly Hollis; to achieve the transformation, Reichl donned the wig, suit, padding and makeup she imagined for the character of a midwestern, middle-aged, former schoolteacher. She also dressed up as a flamboyant redhead, a nearly invisible elderly lady, and her own inimitable mother. Where Reichl went, controversy followed. As Molly Hollis, she had a dreadful experience at Le Cirque, prompting her to take away the restaurant's fourth star. A casual Californian, she widened the paper's scope to include as many truly fine restaurants as she could find, touting soba, bulgogi and sushi to readers more accustomed to reading about Continental cuisine. Here, some characters are disguised, while others, such as her predecessor Bryan Miller, whose campaign against her was revealed in the gossip column of the New York Post, are right out in the open. Reichl also discusses her disrupted family life. And then there's the food: Reichl excels atmaking long-gone meals live vividly on the page. Spicy and sweet by turns, with crackle and bite throughout. Author tour
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780143036616
  • Publisher: Viking Penguin
  • Publication date: 3/28/2006
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 105,001
  • Product dimensions: 5.61 (w) x 8.47 (h) x 0.81 (d)

Meet the Author

Ruth Reichl

Ruth Reichl is a writer and editor who was the Editor in Chief of Gourmet magazine for ten years until its closing in 2009. Before that she was the restaurant critic of the New York Times, (1993-1999), and both the restaurant critic and food editor of the Los Angeles Times (1984-1993). She has authored the critically acclaimed, bestselling memoirs Tender at the Bone, Comfort Me with Apples, Garlic and Sapphires, and For You Mom, Finally, (originally published as Not Becoming My Mother and Other Things She Taught Me Along the Way). She is the editor of The Modern Library Food Series, which currently includes ten books. Ms. Reichl has been honored with many awards, including six James Beard Awards and with numerous awards from the Association of American Food Journalists. She holds a B.A. and an M.A. in the History of Art from the University of Michigan and lives in New York City with her husband, Michael Singer, a television news producer, and their son.

Biography

Take equal parts family history and food history, simmer with humor, and you get Ruth Reichl's irresistible, self-styled genre: the culinary confessional (recipes included). A renowned restaurant critic who left the Los Angeles Times for The New York Times before moving on to the editor-in-chief post at Gourmet magazine, Reichl (pronounced "Rye-shill") understands herself—and human nature—as well as she does food.

Reichl, who arrived at the Times in 1993, changed the way the newspaper reviewed restaurants; her columns were witty, high-spirited, honest, irreverent, and determined, it seemed, to demystify the intimidating world of high-end dining establishments. Although her innovations were maddening to some in the old guard, Dwight Garner, writing in Salon, claimed "Reichl has been a real democratizing force," and lauded her "outsider's perspective about the snobbery and pretension of some well-known New York restaurants, and…the sexism that often confronts women while eating out."

1999's Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table, Reichl's first memoir, was an unsparing look at her chaotic childhood—one that seemed unlikely to produce a first-rate food writer. Reichl's mother, a manic-depressive whom Reichl describes as "dangerous" in the kitchen, was so undone by domestic duties that she poisoned the family with a bacteria-infested dinner meant to celebrate her son's engagement. Reichl got the better of the situation by taking on the cooking tasks herself, and later left New York for California, landing in Berkeley as the co-owner of a collective restaurant and launching a life and that has always revolved around food.

Stylistically, Reichl is a descendant of legendary food writer M. F. K. Fisher, whose essays and memoirs braided personal autobiography with culinary commentary. In Tender at the Bone, Reichl takes the reader from her childhood in New York to her work as a chef in the '70s, her early restaurant writing, and the intersection of her passions for food, writing, and certain men. As The New Yorker put it, "Reichl writes with gusto, and her story has all of the ingredients of a modern fairy tale: hard work, weird food, and endless curiosity."

In Comfort Me With Apples: More Adventures at the Table (2001), Reichl picks up where she left off in the first book, this time covering the dissolution of her first marriage, her father's death, her second marriage, and the birth of her son. The book includes recipes, which may seem incongruous, but for Reichl, for whom all aspects of life—especially the sensual—are interconnected, the combination works. The result is sweet, sad, unruly, and engaging, all at the same time.

Good To Know

To help her sneak undetected into restaurants she was reviewing for The New York Times, Reichl maintained a disguise wardrobe of phony eyeglasses and five wigs.

The cook-turned-critic-turned-memoirist started her working life at the other end of publishing—her earliest job was as a book designer.

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    1. Hometown:
      New York, New York
    1. Date of Birth:
      January 16, 1948
    2. Place of Birth:
      New York, New York
    1. Education:
      B.A., University of Michigan, 1968; M.A., University of Michigan, 1970
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt

“I’m a restaurant critic,” I told the woman in the wig shop, “and I need a disguise that will keep me from being recognized.”

“That’s a new one on me,” she said. “Do you have a special restaurant you’re working on at the moment?”

“Yes,” I said, remembering the fragrant aroma of the soup I had eaten on my last visit to Lespinasse. When I dipped my spoon into the broth shimeji mushrooms went sliding sensuously across my tongue with the lush texture of custard. I tasted lemongrass, kaffir lime, mushroom and something else, something that hovered at the edge of my mind, familiar but elusive. I took another taste and it was there again, that sweetness, hiding just behind the citrus. It came whirling into my consciousness and then slid maddeningly away before I could identify it.

“The food was wonderful,” I told her, “but I think they made me. Everything’s been just a little too perfect. So I want a foolproof disguise.”

“Try this,” she said, opening a drawer and pulling out a cascade of hair the color of Dom Perignon. As the wig caught the light the color changed from pearl to buttercup.

The hair fell across my face as gently as silk. I squeezed my eyes tight, not wanting to look until it was seated right. I could feel it settle into place, feel the soft strands graze my shoulders just below my ears.

“Wait!” she cried as my eyes started to open, and she leaned forward and tugged at the wig, adjusting it. “Okay,” she said at last, “you can open your eyes now.”

The champagne blonde in the mirror did not seem to be wearing a wig. The hair looked real, as if it were growing out of the scalp. Even the dark eyebrows looked right, as if this woman had so much confidence she didn’t care who knew that she dyed her hair. My mouth dropped open. “Oh!” I said stupidly, “oh my.”

I don’t think I would have recognized myself if we had met walking down the street, and I had yet to put on any makeup. Somehow this cut, this color, made my cheeks pink, my eyes almost violet, my lips seem redder than they had ever been. I felt new, glamorous, bursting with curiosity. What would life be like for the woman in the mirror?

“You were meant to be blonde!” cried the saleswoman, packing the wig into an old-fashioned hatbox. She looked wistfully at the hair and said, “You’ll come back and tell me what happens, won’t you?”

“You mean whether I’m recognized at Lespinasse?”

“Well,” she said, “that too. But what I mostly want to know is—do blondes really have more fun?”

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Table of Contents

Garlic and Sapphires The Daily Special
Backstory
Molly
The King of Spain
Looking for Umami
Miriam
Meat and Potatoes
Chloe
Brenda
Dinner with Chairman Punch
Betty
Food Warrior
The Missionary of the Delicious
Emily
Ghosts
Recipe Index
Acknowledgments

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 60 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(26)

4 Star

(22)

3 Star

(7)

2 Star

(3)

1 Star

(2)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 60 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 15, 2005

    A true delight for a food lover to read

    This book is less autobiographical than Reichl's other two books, 'Tender at the Bone' and 'Comfort me with apples.' Nonetheless, this book is a great read and hilarious. Reichl talks about moving from being the restaraunt critic for the LA Times to the NY Times. It is great to read about how she dresses up and goes undercover t o see how regular, non-rich people get treated at restaraunts. Great stories and pleasant to read beacuse Reichl has the gift of sounding like your friend and that she is right there telling you what happened to her today.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 22, 2013

    This is a delightful read---funny and enlightening and mouthwate

    This is a delightful read---funny and enlightening and mouthwatering. Reichl's tenure at the NYT as restaurant critic certainly gave her plenty of fodder for this book. I could have read on and on. Lots of good stuff on how restaurants treat their customers, how they cater to certain customers and especially critics, how the food and service varies by types of customers, etc. And just lots of great writing about food and flavors, some great recipes. Lots of humor and great fun about her disguises and the personalities she took on to be someone else. It's a fast, fun read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 19, 2011

    A Must Read for all Food Lovers

    Ruth Reichl takes us through her days as a New York Times Food Critic and the huge task before her -- reviewing restaurants fairly and for the masses, not just the uber rich. Through her reviews she gives everyone a unique and highly descriptive view of the restaurant as a whole from ambiance down to each morsel of food. She makes you feel as if you are right there with her experiencing everything.

    I especially loved how she created all of her aliases to be able to slip into each restaurant covertly. It was also very enlightening and touching to read how each alias brought out hidden depths of her personality. It allowed her to dig deeper than ever, and understand herself better and realize that really wanted to be. It's an experience that I think so may people wish they could have.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 13, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Sad when it was over

    I've thoroughly enjoyed all the Ruth Reichl books I've read. She is honest and forthcoming about her experiences, sometimes not at all pleasant, as a restaurant critic. She's also refreshingly honest about herself, and the things she sometimes sees about herself that she is not so proud of, or happy about.
    As a mom, I can appreciate the balance between her job as a critic and her job as a mother.
    As a wannabe foodie, I especially enjoyed her detailed descriptions of the meals she ate and the experiences she had at the different restaurants.
    I think her writing is very engaging and it just draws you into her life. She seems like she would be a delightful friend to have, and I was sad to reach the end. As a matter of fact, it's been hard to start another book since then.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 10, 2010

    Fun Food Insight

    This brought a little gourmet into my not so gourmet existence with some added insight into human character. Fun and fast read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 20, 2013

    I LOVE this book. I think I've read it four or five times now an

    I LOVE this book. I think I've read it four or five times now and I just *love* it. It's marvellous food porn and the fun of experiencing the dinners with her, along with trying to create her characters to remain anonymous, it's all fun.

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  • Posted May 12, 2010

    I have read everything Ruth Reichl has written and this is the best!

    I talk about this book to others and give copies as gifts. I will bring it to work and have people read certain parts that I loved. I could never express my love of food like Ruth so it is very fun to read her expressions, she is a great wrtier and the reading flows.

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  • Posted September 5, 2009

    a read for all those that love food.

    this is the 3rd of a series of 4 books. I read this 1st. It was a good way to proceed with the other books. Reading should make you smile. Reading gives you pleasure. The facts of the book are true and facts of life here are ture as we all know it. I enjoyed this more that the 1st two, howevet I own book 1, 2, and 3 and it's a keeper....waiting for #4 to come out in paper back.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 1, 2009

    Fun read!

    I had just finished some intense books and wanted to read a more light hearted book. I thoroughly enjoyed this book on many levels as it was original, funny, insightful and especially delicious!

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 21, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Interesting and Funny

    Ruth Reichl's writing of her experiences as the New York Times food critic are hilariously funny and depict New York as the difficult place to live, work and survive that it truly is. The book's descriptions make you hungry both for the food at the restaurants she visits and for more reviews/experiences from the author.

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  • Posted March 9, 2009

    Great for any foodie

    Garlic and Sapphires was a very entertaining book. I found my mouth watering sometimes at the descriptions of some of the dishes she reviewed. I loved that she included recipes in this book as well. I recommend this book to anyone who loves food.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 16, 2008

    Worth buying

    Garlic and Sapphires is a lovely read. And funny too.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 23, 2008

    A reviewer

    What a fun book to read. You're immediately pulled into the world of Ruth, the food critic and Ruth the person. It was a fun place to be. Fast reading. Ruth also share some recipes as a bonus! Loved this book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 11, 2007

    A delicious romp through NYC's finest (and not so finest) restaurants

    For anyone who loves food, or just a fun read, this book gives insight to the life of what one would think is the world's greatest job - the food critic for the NY Times. Reichl lets us glimpse into the world as she experiences the best and the worse of NY dining, sometimes at the same restaurant! In addition to exploring the great food, the readers also gets to know Ruth, her family & friends and her various sercret personas - all good characters. The great irony is that I read this book on a plane... It was torture to read about the brasied short ribs, perfect has browns, juicy steaks and then look up at my airplane food. Other than that, a great read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 3, 2005

    Eating for a Living

    Who doesn't dream of being someone different every now and then? In Garlic and Sapphires, Ruth Reichl shares her forays into the world of alter egos as she strives for anonymity while preparing restaurant reviews for The New York Times. She uses a diverse array of disguises, and creates stories and personalities for each one. Her alter egos allowed her to get an 'everyman' experience at a restaurant instead of the red-carpet treatment, and she wrote her reviews accordingly. Also refreshing was her introduction of a wider variety of ethnic restaurants into the vaunted Times reviews. Each section packages up a restaurant and a persona along with some personal insights. I thought this book would probably be interesting, but I had no idea I would have such a hard time putting it down. Reichl's writing is humorous and flows well. Her food descriptions are vivid and truly mouth-watering. She really captures not just the food, but also the essence of the dining experience. Meals are not just fuel for the body they also feed the soul. An entertaining and easy read, Reichl leaves you hungry for seconds.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 25, 2005

    Delightfully Enjoyable!

    Loved Tender At The Bone, thought Comfort Me With Apples was alright, but this newest book has left me speachless in parts. If it is being herself or one of her many personae, it is like I am sharing the adventure of her going to the restaurants and enjoying the pleasures or unpleasures she experiences. Wonderful addition of the columns and recipes, plus the people she shares the experiences and the people she meets are extroidinary. Gotta love the melting pot that is New York. With the most memorable restaurants, I would give my eye teeth to taste some of those delifghtful dishes.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 15, 2005

    Loved this book

    A must for anyone who works in the restaurant business. I'm going to buy it for my daughter who is graduating from college. My husband and I ate at Sparks and it was wonderful but it appears we went AFTER her review - I'm so glad her view moved them to Spark it up a bit I laughed, I laughed out loud - on the bus no less and you will too!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 18, 2005

    Disappointing

    I've read Tender at the Bone and should have learned from it, but I bought the hype and picked up this book. All I can say is 'ho hum'. The facts behind the book would seem to promise an entertaining read, however other than the restaurant reviews that accompany the narrative, the book is boring on the whole. For true fans of Ruth R. only.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 4, 2005

    Behind-the-Scenes Delight

    Reichl gives us a peek behind the scenes of both the upper-crust New York restaurant world and the New York Times, and it's truly fascinating. This book was addictive.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 29, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

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