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Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise (2005)

by Ruth Reichl

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I am a fan of Reichl from her appearances as a judge on various Top Chef shows. This account of her stint as the restaurant critic for the New York Times shows her humanity as well as her incredible knowledge of food. This memoir enlightens the reader about the ratified world of fine dining and venerated media, and reveals the soft underbelly (as well as maintaining the hard outer shell) of both. Reichl creates a satisfying balance of personal (her long-suffering family, who she manages to find time for despite a demanding career--the modern woman's dream) and professional (detailed descriptions of meals and the behind the scenes politics of a high profile newspaper). I found myself both envious and bewildered, out of my depth with descriptions of lobster and foie gras, meals including a different wine with every course, evenings costing hundreds of dollars per person. Early on, she describes out of the way places she wants to review for the paper, places "ordinary people" might actually go. It's nice to know that someone with the tastes of Ruth Reichl is happy slurping noodles with the common folk, but this book is ultimately about the fancy French restaurants her readers in New York demanded she write about. This is a highly enjoyable read but I took one star for repetitiveness, since she often narrates meals, then includes the text of the review which appeared in the paper, mostly verbatim. ( )
  karenchase | Aug 20, 2015 |
I keep it on the cookbook shelf for the roast chicken recipe, but I always get sucked into the stories
  revliz | Jun 14, 2015 |
This was a pleasant visit. I do enjoy food criticism when it's well done. Reichl seemed to develop an identity crisis though. ( )
  2wonderY | Jun 10, 2015 |
a good read; makes you hungry ( )
  rosies | May 16, 2015 |
A book which doesn't disappoint. It meets expectations. But nothing else. If you expect to read about restaurant critics, their bitching and moaning, if you expect to read about poor service in restaurants and perfect service once they discover the food critic in their dining room then this book won't disappoint.

Ruth Reichl writes about her time at the New York Times. She pulls all the cliches and stereotypes. Life at a big American newspaper is described exactly as you would expect it. Throw in a husband not really into fancy food, a little son, a colleague who has cancer and you get the mix for a Hollywood romance. Maybe that's what Reichl was writing for, the movie contract.

There is nothing surprising, no excitment, no clever twists, the plot just flows along the soft bends in the story's little creek. ( )
  PeterNZ | May 11, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 105 (next | show all)
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For my family, all of you, with many thanks and much love.
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"You gonna eat that?" The woman is eyeing the tray the flight attendant has just set before me.
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The waiting room looked like a graveyard for rejected flower arrangements.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0143036610, Paperback)

Fans of Tender at the Bone and Comfort Me with Apples know that Ruth Reichl is a wonderful memoirist--a funny, poignant, and candid storyteller whose books contain a happy mix of memories, recipes, and personal revelations. Amazon.com Interview
We chewed the fat with Ruth. Read our interview. What they might not fully appreciate is that Reichl is an absolute marvel when it comes to writing about food--she can describe a dish in such satisfying detail that it becomes unnecessary for readers to eat. In her third memoir, Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise, Reichl focuses on her life as a food critic, dishing up a feast of fabulous meals enjoyed during her tenure at The New York Times. As a critic, Reichl was determined to review the "true" nature of each restaurant she visited, so she often dined incognito--each chapter of her book highlights a new disguise, a different restaurant (including the original reviews from the Times), and a fresh culinary adventure. Garlic and Sapphires is another delicious and delightful book, sure to satisfy Reichl's foodie fans and leave admirerers looking forward to her next book, hopefully about her life with Gourmet. --Daphne Durham

More from Ruth Reichl
Tender at the Bone
Comfort Me with Apples
The Gourmet Cookbook
Remembrance of Things Paris
Endless Feasts
Gourmet magazine


Amazon.com's The Significant Seven
Ruth Reichl answers the seven questions we ask every author.


Q: What book has had the most significant impact on your life?
A: Kate Simon’s New York Places and Pleasures. I read it as a little girl and then went out and wandered the city. She was a wonderful writer, and she taught me not only to see New York in a whole new way, but to look, and taste, beneath the surface.

Q: You are stranded on a desert island with only one book, one CD, and one DVD--what are they?
A: Ulysses by James Joyce. What better place to finally get through it?

Keith Jarrett's The Köln Concert. If you’re going to listen to one piece over and over, this is one that doesn’t get tiresome.

How to Build a Boat in Five Easy Steps. Since I’m going to be watching one movie over and over, it might as well be useful.

Q: What is the worst lie you've ever told?
A: I’m such a good liar, I wouldn’t know where to begin.

Q: Describe the perfect writing environment.
A: I can write pretty much anywhere. But I prefer small, cozy spaces, with a good view over a lake or a forest, and room for the cats to curl up.

Q: If you could write your own epitaph, what would it say?
A: "She’ll be right back."

Q: Who is the one person living or dead that you would like to have dinner with?
A: Elizabeth I. She fascinates me. She had a great mind, enormous appetites--and she was a survivor. The most interesting woman of an interesting time, and I have a million questions I’d like to ask her.

Q: If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
A: You mean after creating world peace? This is a hard one. But I’ve always wanted to be able to fly.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:17:17 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

The editor-in-chief of "Gourmet" recounts her visits to some of the world's most acclaimed restaurants, both as herself and as an anonymous diner in disguise, to offer insight into the differences in her dining experiences.

» see all 4 descriptions

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