Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Book Review - Garlic and Sapphires

Something happened over Labor Day that never happened before. J finished a book before I did. I was reading Will Write for Food (WWFF - thanks Kitchenette!!!!) and J was reading Garlic and Sapphires (G&S) by former New York Times Food Critic and current Gourmet Editor in Chief Ruth Reichl. I finished 100 pages of my book while J devoured his in a single weekend. This past weekend, I took G&S with me to Nebraska and devoured it myself. It's really interesting to read WWFF while reading G&S because you realize everything Ruth Reichl does right in her writing.

Needless to say, we loved Garlic and Sapphires. It's an immensely engaging read and her voice is chatty and friendly. She won me over in her first two chapters when she was being interviewed by the various New York Times bigwigs and she gave them a stinging critique of their restaurant reviews. This is a true iconoclast. In one interview she states "There's no right or wrong in matters of taste...It's just an opinion. And in the case of restaurants, an extremely subjective one. She spends much or her books talking about the identities she inhabits to elude detection from restaurants. The main purpose is to see how different the treatment of "regular" folks can be as oppsoed to the exalted. The underlying point she makes is that those of us who can't dine that way on a regualr basis need good service even more as they have saved and scrimped for one night to feel special. She also defends her focus on giving ethnic cuisines their due. In response to a haughty friend who thinks of Asian food as declasse she states "A thousand years ago the Chinese has an entirely codified kitchen while the French were still gnawining on bones."

She structures the novel based on where she eats and the identities she assumes. In almost every chapter there is a restaurant review and a recipe. She also spends quite a bit of time calling the New York Times out on it's feelings of superiority and hierarchy. It appears that the New York Times is a particularly cutthroat and miserable place to work, but you cannot minimize the vast influence you get as a New York Times writer.

My only complaint about the book is the ending chapters where she becomes increasingly dissatisfied with her life as a reviewer. The documenting of her desire to leave the life of a reviewer felt forced to me. While she would talk about the slow draining of joy from her job she would hen find a great restaurant that would restore her love. Over four chapters, it began to get old. It was hard to beleive that she wouldn't just have another good meal by the end of the book and stay with the Times.

But nevertheless it's an overall excellent read and one that you just have to devour in one sitting.


culocho said...

"Comfort Me with Apples" is the best of her three memoirs. Just did a Ruth Reichl personal book festival.

Jon said...

You know, I always pick her book up in the bookstore, examine it, and put it back on the shelf. I am not a fan of her writing style in Gourmet. And though she usually writes in an introductory tone, I don't want to shell out 20 bucks to find out she has the same voice in her book.

the kitchenette said...

Yay!! You're reading Will Write For Food! Dianne Jacob is great, finally someone writes a book about our world. I've been picking it up on metro rides and when I should be doing it. Here's her link if anyone is interested: