garlis-sapp  Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise

  Ruth Reichl

  The Penguin Press, 2005

Garlic and Sapphires was just plain fun to read. Ruth Reichl has the best job: she gets paid to go to fantastic restaurants and eat amazing food. This book is the true story of her years as the food critic for the New York Times. Prior to actually starting the job she learns that her picture is hanging in all the  restaurant kitchens in New York City. She knows she won’t get the normal experience of a restaurant if they know who she is. She will get the best table, the best service, wine and food. She needs a disguise. So she enlists the help of an old friend of her mothers, Claudia Banks.

Claudia is a retired acting coach who helps Ruth become various characters. She makes Ruth start with the name of the new character. Then she must invent the background of this person: where does she live, what does she do for a living, why is she in New York, and so on. Only then can the decision be made as to what this character looks like. The shop at consignment and used clothing shops, buy wigs and use professionals for make-up.

What was fascinating to both the reader and the author was that once she donned the new disguise she began to talk and act as if she were that new person. Even her voice changed pitch and different accents came out. Most of the time she was shocked by her new behavior when she was in disguise. Here are her own words on the subject:

“. . . getting into character can be eerie. It makes me feel sort of schizophrenic, like my thoughts are mine, but not mine. And people react to me in a whole different way, as if I really were someone else.”

Ruth visited restaurants as her new persona and sometimes as herself – The New York Times Food Critic. Her description of the differences between the two experiences is the whole point of her book. She believes that the review she writes should be a guide for the reader. If she was treated shabbily as one of her anonymous characters, then the average reader is probably going to have the same dismal experience. But she did not always see eye to eye on this subject with the management of the paper. 

The book has more than the discussion of her disguises. After reading about her experiences in the restaurants she includes the review she wrote for The Times. I also love the way she talks about her son and husband and co-workers, especially her friend Carol. And then there are the great recipes in the book. My favorites are her New York Cheesecake (so easy to make yet smooth and rich on the tongue), Hash Browns (made in a cast-iron skillet into a crispy cake) and her son’s favorite Vanilla Cake (the kitchen was a mess afterwards). 

Reading this book is educational and a fun experience. I strongly recommend it.

This book was on my list for the Books About Food Challenge. For more information about the challenge go to here.