Recommended Reads: Restaurant critic dishes on her life in disguise

garlic and sapphiresGarlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise, by Ruth Reichl

I met Ruth Reichl when she generously donated her time at the Seattle Public Library System’s Literary Lions fundraiser Gala as Keynote speaker, and she also met guests and signed her books for them. I can tell you, her books were in high demand. Her fans were delighted to meet and chat with her. Food is at the heart of her many books. Great cooking, great cuisine and people sharing meals together.

This memoir is about the author as the New York Times food critic. It’s filled with humor along with heartwarming insights,  incredible descriptions of food, restaurant settings and also recipes. A New York Times review was very influential and had significant impact on a restaurant’s reputation and business. Restaurant staff would be on the alert to recognize a food critic by her picture, so they could be sure to emphasize their best service and dining. To avoid detection, Ruth would wear disguises.

She didn’t just go buy a wig and glasses. It’s so funny to read how she designed and created a full character for each of her disguises, with the help of friends. She developed a whole back story for each character she became, and the disguise matched the personality she wanted to project. The clothes, the makeup, the hair were consciously put together, as each character came to life. Beyond the deliciously funny reactions from friends and family, especially her young son, it was quickly clear that service at some restaurants changed dramatically depending on the disguise and personality the author projected.

It was so interesting to read the stories of her visits to very famous New York restaurants as well as some lesser known. Her descriptions of the meals she shared with friends and family vividly include all senses, and I could easily imagine myself there with a tantalizing taste on the tongue of restaurant specialties. After reading about the story behind the review, her New York Times review itself is also included. There’s so much humor, especially as she establishes herself with her first reviews. You’ll also see an evolution of her creative reviews, as she comes to deeply appreciate the promise a restaurant needs to deliver as people spend their hard-earned money to experience a beautiful, shared event in their lives. Her honest reviews to guide guests to the restaurants they’ll enjoy had a real importance.

Ruth says, “This book is going to have recipes instead of pictures because I want you to be able to taste what I am talking about.” Now I’m still cooking and baking my way through the wonderful recipes.

Thereby hangs a tale . . . .

Wendy Kendall, back, with author Ruth Reichl, center, and volunteers Kim Unti, left, and Pam Yates, far right.
Wendy Kendall, back, with author Ruth Reichl, center, and volunteers Kim Unti, left, and Pam Yates, far right.

— By Wendy Kendall

Wendy Kendall is a writer, project manager and volunteer at the Edmonds Library. She’s enjoyed living in Edmonds for over 20 years. Follow her via her blog here or on Twitter @wendywrites1.

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