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  • Writer's pictureTerrie

Buddy Read of the memoir by the NY Times food critic

The true story of the sometimes amusing, sometimes distressing, efforts that the food critic for the NY Times went through to be “undercover” so her food experiences wouldn’t be influenced by her position is a delicious read. Mouth watering food descriptions and her oddball characters fill this book.

Garlic and Sapphires Book Cover on grapevine image

Garlic & Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise, Ruth Reichl

Genre: Memoir

Published 2018, 330 pages

Terrie's Thoughts

"Molly had been a costume; putting it on made me realize that we all become actors, to some extent, when we go out to eat. Every restaurant is a theater, and the truly great ones allow us to indulge in the fantasy that we are rich and powerful."

This is a very entertaining read, full of amusing and sometimes distressing anecdotes. The premise of a critic needing to be in disguise in order to write a fair review makes for a collection of unusual characters - and Ruth really got into her characters. The characters seemed almost like therapy for her because she often came away with a surprising insight into her own feelings.

I am not a foodie by any stretch of the imagination, but I love beautiful writing. Her descriptions of food and eating are magnificent! Even when I didn't know the ingredient or the type of fish, I felt like I was experiencing it with her. She clearly knows her way around a plate of food.

My favorite persona was when she became her mom….down to one of her dresses and her pearls. Then, when she walks into a restaurant, she becomes her mom…..she takes on her speech pattern and manner. So fun! My favorite eating story was her experience at the sushi restaurant – describing the masterful way the chef prepared the food and her enjoyment of every part of the experience.

Reichl also reveals a little of the life of working at a huge newspaper (New York Times) and the constant public scrutiny one faces. Sprinkled with some of her actual favorite recipes and reviews from the Times makes the story even more personal.

"Every kitchen is filled with flames & shards, fire & glass, boiling liquids and sharp objects eager to attack you. Cooking is too dangerous to permit distraction."

If you enjoy reading about delectable foods and the experience of eating a grand meal or learning about the inner workings of a job you don’t have, you'll enjoy this book.

photos by Terrie Purkey, Chelan WA vineyard, dinner in Bali

Donna's Thoughts

Garlic and Sapphires opened my eyes to a world I’ve given little thought to. I certainly don’t eat in the high-brow restaurants that the author describes, nor do I care for most of the food she eats and describes. However, I enjoyed reading about her experiences as she dresses in various disguises to go out in public without getting recognized. Especially surprising to me was how differently she was treated at restaurants based on how she was dressed, how she looked. When she appeared elderly or dressed very simply or poorly, the wait staff were rude, or ignored her, or gave her the worst seating. But, when Reichl showed up as herself, or dressed to the nines, then she was fawned over and given the best of everything. So unfair!

In addition to the inclusion of a few of her favorite recipes, the book also includes actual reviews she’s given for a number of restaurants (and not all of them are favorable!). This was a light, quick read that was entertaining and revealed insights into a job I knew nothing about.

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