Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl – Review

Reading non-fiction, and particularly memoirs can be a chore, unless you are a) obsessed with the author/subject or b) are sadomasochistic. Fortunately, Garlic and Sapphires is accessible, witty, entertaining and astute. The book covers the period Reichl was the restaurant critic of the New York Times. She went on to be the editor of Gourmet Magazine until 2009 when, for some idiotic reason, the publishers Conde Nast shut it down in favour of their other title, Bon Appetit.

Reichl describes her move from LA to take on the prestigious job of the food critic of the New York Times. She quickly discovers that every restaurant has a picture of her in their kitchen, and some offering rewards for spotting her in their restaurant. Her solution for this was to disguise herself, in order to find out what it is really like to be a diner, rather than a food critic, in these often pretentious restaurants.

Written with a strong narrative and peppered with recipes (Reichl says she wants the reader to taste what she is tasting), this book can sometimes read like a novel, much to its credit. It is fascinating how the restaurants will treat her differently dressed as a doddering old woman, compared to the classic New York Diva. More interesting are the aspects of her personality which come out when she becomes these characters, some very surprising and wholly unwelcome to her. Highly recommended.

PS  After reading this I was inspired to buy Gourmet Today, edited by Reichl. Somehow I managed to get it for £3 on Amazon from a reseller, which considering it is so voluminous, was an absolute bargain. Probably over a thousand recipes, all modern and very intriguing for those of us used to cookbooks published in the UK.

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