Thanksgiving is a day from tomorrow, and I've been thinking about what I want to cook to go along with the turkey. When I think about planning and cooking, one of my go-to people is Ruth Reichl. The former restaurant editor of the Los Angeles Times, former restaurant critic for the New York Times, former editor of Gourmet magazine, this woman has conquered the world of food with intelligence, grace, and a crazy sense of humor. She is one of my food heroes as well as one of my writing heroes. The rest of this week, I will be trying to convince you why she should be yours too.
She wrote about her stint as critic at the New York Times in Garlic and Sapphires. In this book, she chronicles her challenges, coming from the relaxed atmosphere in Los Angeles to the cutthroat editorial offices of the New York Times and the equally savage Manhattan restaurant scene. Weaving in stories of her own family, warm memories of her childhood, and some of her favorite personal recipes, Reichl draws you into her world with beautifully vivid descriptions of the food and the city itself.
One of my favorite things about her writing is her honesty. Reichl does not shy away from personal challenges or difficult times. Garlic and Sapphires is no exception. She had a hard time as the critic at the Times. Emotionally, the tenor of the office didn't quite jibe with her style, and her experiences at some of the top rated restaurants left her hungry for genuine hospitality.
In order to have a complete experience at each restaurant, she would visit several times. at different times, sometimes with friends or family or colleagues, and sometimes in costume. She had several characters she would become in order to find out how each restaurant would serve not just the one of the city's top critics but also one of the city's anonymous citizens. The results of these experiments are interesting, sometimes very funny and sometimes heart-breaking. And she tells all these stories with candor and dignity.
And while the stories are fascinating, you can also find some absolutely scrumptious recipes sprinkled throughout the book, from New York Cheesecake to Spaghetti Carbonara to a meal centered around a Roast Leg of Lamb. This book makes your mouth water in all the best ways.
This book is a love letter to food and its ability to bring people together, written by someone who understands just how much of an impact the restaurant industry can have on one person's experience. She holds the restaurant industry to high standards, because she knows how much of a difference they can make. Tough but fair, Reichl and her writing makes us all better eaters, better chefs, and better people.