Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise by Ruth Reichel (4 / 5 Stars)

I found Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise by former New York Times Restaurant Critic, Ruth Reichel as enjoyable as a warm plate of risotto paired with a glass of red wine.

In Garlic and Sapphires, Reichel recounts the six years she spent contriving clever disguises to hide her identity as she galavanted around New York City’s restaurants and bistros writing reviews for the Times. Reichel’s memoir focuses on three aspects of her life at that time: her personal life as a wife and mother, her restaurant patronizing as a critic, and her life as an employee of the venerable and mighty New York Times. Reichel’s descriptions of her son are touching and heartwarming, her recounting of the extremes she went to in order to create and truly become her aliases are entertaining and amusing, and her telling of the behind-the-scenes goings-on at the Times are fascinating and fulfill the gossipy voyeur in all of us.

Reichel is a talented writer and her truly joyous love of food, cooking, and eating are evident on each page of the book. The book is peppered with Ruth’s favorite recipes and this adds a certain feel-good warmth to the tome.

My only criticism of the book is that I had to be willing to suspend my good reason in order to believe that Ruth truly became the characters she created to the extent she described. According to Ruth, she was so immersed in these characters that she found herself unable to use her own judgment and mannerisms while inhabiting that character’s persona. For example, is she was dressed as “Miriam” she was brash and rude and “Ruth” had no control over the rude things that came out of “Miriam’s” mouth. This was slightly hard to believe – but maybe I just don’t have the same amount of acting chops!

The title Garlic and Sapphires is only briefly alluded to and comes from a poem written by T.S. Eliot.

Overall, Garlic and Sapphires is a delicious romp of a memoir that I truly relished devouring – excuse the puns!

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