I’ve always enjoyed Ruth Reichl’s writing – especially Comfort Me With Apples and Tender to the Bone, but somehow had never read Garlic and Sapphires. Perhaps I first saw it just after reading the first two books and imagined it would be more of the same that I’d just had quite a lot of. So I only began reading it yesterday, a few years later.
I’m so happy to be reading this book about Reichl’s experiences as food critic for the New York Times during most of the 90s. It makes me smile, and sometimes laugh aloud. The book combines succulent food writing with hilarious and fascinating bits describing how she managed to create more and more wonderful disguises to see if she would be treated the same if she came to a restaurant as a known food critic, a little old lady, an obviously rich and beautiful woman, or a very bohemian type who wasn’t at all the usual sort of client at a particular venue. She did not only review restaurants that just the very rich could patronize. Ethnic food was of particular fascination to Reichl.
The quality of service is as essential to a good experience as the talent, skill and vision of the chef. She shares it all with her readers. You feel you can’t be missing a moment of the experience, though clearly, this cannot be the case.
I’m only half way through and a lot has happened already…for instance, her discovery that changing her appearance had an unplanned change of personality expressed through tone of voice and mannerisms which makes me think the woman had actor’s genes in her body and soul! Reichl became a favorite customer in a wig shop where she allowed the saleswoman to exercise all her creativity and sense of drama and often fooled people who really saw her often, such as the doorman of the building where she and her family lived.
The descriptions of the food she ate are entrancing and beyond excellent. Reichl seems especially sensitive to texture as well as flavor and can really take the reader into the experience with her. She’s quite serious about food quality and an obviously fine writer, but perhaps the lightheartedness and the humor and empathy which are so clearly and generously shared are what I am enjoying most of all in this book.