Sunday, April 24, 2011

Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl~★★★★1/2

Author: Ruth Reichl
Title: Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise
Release Date: April 5th, 2005
Publisher: Random House Audio; Abridged Edition, read by author
Genre: Non-Fiction

Audio Book Cover: "Garlic and Sapphires is Ruth Reichl's delicious and compulsively readable account of her experience undercover in her position as food critic for The New York Times. She throws back the curtain on the sumptuously appointed stages of the epicurean world to reveal the comic absurdity, artifice and excellence there, giving us her remarkable reflections on role playing and identity.
Reichl knows that to be a good restaurant critic you have to be anonymous, but when she signs up to be the most important restaurant critic in the country, her picture is posted in every four-star, low-star, and no-star kitchen in town. Managers offer cash bonuses for advance notice of her visits and roll out the red carpet whether she likes it or not.
And so begins Reichl's 'adventures in deception.' She dons a frumpy blond wig and an off-season beige Armani suit, and thus, Molly Hollis, the retired high school teacher from Birmingham, Michigan, nouveau riche from her husband's real estate speculation, is born. Molly is duly ignored, mishandled and condescended to by the high-power staff at Le Cirque. The result: Reichl's famous double review, first as she ate there as Molly and then as she was coddled and pampered on her visit there as Ruth, New York Times food critic.
When restaurateurs learn to watch for Molly, Reichl buys another wig and becomes someone else, and then someone else again. As Reichl metes out her critical stars, she gives a remarkable account of how one's outer appearance can influence one's inner character, expectations and appetites. She writes, 'Every restaurant is a theater...even the modest restaurants offer the opportunity to become someone else, at least for a little while."

Taryn's Review: While at the library looking for new books to read and listen to, I was hungry. I was thinking about food and how much I wanted to eat. I still had to run to the store after my library trip, so I also knew it would be a while before anything entered my stomach. While scanning my eyes across the very bottom row of audio books, I focused on what looked like spaghetti on the cover and was sold!

I remember vaguely hearing about this book when it came out, but then it fell off my radar. I'm very glad to have found it again because I so enjoyed listening to this book. Reichl loves food, as do I, so I really enjoyed her descriptions of the meals she ate. It was really fascinating to even think of having a job as a food critic.

Reichl's view regarding her job was that she needed to be anonymous while eating to get a true experience of the restaurants. She was right; if the restaurant knew it was her, she was treated like royalty. I read a few reviews where people commented that they didn't think Reichl had to go so deep into character, but I liked that. Seeing how the restaurant chose to treat various kinds of people, even the annoying kind, might be worth noting. Besides, I think we all know at least one person whose manners are less-than-stellar, so I don't believe Reichl was too far off in re-enacting other personas.

Reichl is a strong writer and I had a very easy time imagining the food sitting in front of me. She also read the CD; I love when authors read their own books when the book was from their own personal perspective. I'm not a fan when authors do this for fiction books, but Reichl was writing as Reichl, so it worked. I must say, I was also pretty impressed with her varying voices for the characters!

I loved traveling along with Reichl to the next restaurant and seeing who she was become next. This book was a wonderful break from the end-of-semester doldrums lurking about and I highly recommend you give it a try. The more you appreciate food, the more you'll probably like the book. I don't know that someone who doesn't know much about food will really "get" Reichl's food descriptions and might not enjoy it as much. My only complaint about the book was that the sense of time was hard to grasp in the book. I really don't know how long she was at the New York Times and didn't really get a feel if the characters she presented were the only ones she used or if there were others she didn't talk about. I also would have liked to know her husband's thoughts on her going out with another man on a date while in character, even if it was in the name of food!

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