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

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

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by Ruth Reichl
     
 

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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

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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 the Publisher
"This wonderful book is funny—at times laugh-out-loud funny—and smart and wise." —The Washington Post

"Reichl is so gifted . . . the reader remains hungry for more." —USA Today

"Expansive and funny." —Entertainment Weekly

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:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
03/28/2006
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
352
Sales rank:
99,514
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.38(h) x 0.74(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

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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What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
"This wonderful book is funny—at times laugh-out-loud funny—and smart and wise." —The Washington Post

"Reichl is so gifted . . . the reader remains hungry for more." —USA Today

"Expansive and funny." —Entertainment Weekly

Meet the Author

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.

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Brief Biography

Hometown:
New York, New York
Date of Birth:
January 16, 1948
Place of Birth:
New York, New York
Education:
B.A., University of Michigan, 1968; M.A., University of Michigan, 1970
Website:
http://www.ruthreichl.com/

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