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Fork It Over: The Intrepid Adventures of a Professional Eater

by

Fork It Over: The Intrepid Adventures of a Professional Eater Cover

 

 

Excerpt

The Eating Life

I am a restaurant critic. I eat for a living.

Chefs complain about people like me. They argue that we are not qualified to do our jobs because we do not know how to cook. I tell them I'm not entirely pleased with the way they do their jobs, either, because they do not know how to eat. I have visited most of the best restaurants of the world, and they have not. I believe I know how to eat as well as any man alive.

I dine out constantly, but there is a great deal I do in restaurants that people who eat purely for pleasure would not consider part of a normal meal. You would not enjoy having dinner with me.

I lie — make a reservation under a false name. I steal — the menu, not the silverware. I wander. I am always getting up from my table in order to check out my surroundings. I drift around, and the meandering invariably ends when a well-meaning captain taps me on the shoulder and points me in the direction of the men's room, wrongly assuming that is where I wish to go. I rarely talk to the people dining with me, but I love to chat with waiters and busboys. They know the secrets lurking behind the swinging kitchen doors.

Friends who accompany me to meals are bored by the absence of conversation. They are unhappy with the dishes I choose for them — they have their hearts set on a lovely salad of poached Maine lobster and become cranky when I tell them they must sample the seared calf 's brain. The warm mandarin soufflé they've been anticipating all evening is finally set before them, and I stick my spoon in it before they have a taste.

Yet everybody envies what I do. They think it's the gastronomic counterpart of test-driving Mercedes sports coupes or helping Las Vegas chorus girls dress. They believe it involves little more than eating unceasingly and being reimbursed for the privilege. There's some truth to that, but sometimes I am obligated to eat three full meals a day, day after day, which is not always easy, even on an expense account. I generally receive little sympathy when I make that point.

A critic has to understand when food is correct, which is to be admired, and when it is inspired, which we would call a miracle. The job is part analysis (Is this good?), part self-analysis (It's good, but am I the only person who likes it?), and part gluttony (Have I tried everything on the menu?).

I've never been a victim of culinary fatigue, because I can reverse direction and concentrate on the humble whenever I weary of the haute. A natural-casing hot dog off the grill can be as thrilling as Charlie Trotter's terrine of asparagus with goat cheese, beet juice, and hundred-year-old balsamic vinegar.

I often make that point when it's my turn to pay.

 

I knew I had found my calling one day in the mid-fifties when I was having lunch with my mother at the Chuckwagon, in our little Philadelphia suburb of Elkins Park. She told me I should have the pastrami instead of corned beef.

My streak was over. For years, my standard lunch had been hot corned beef on seeded rye with a cream soda. This was before animal fats were considered fattening. (The milkman usually dropped off "extra rich" milk at our house.) I so liked corned beef that I hadn't come up with a compelling reason to gamble on anything else. I considered myself set for life.

I expected nothing to come of this unsolicited pastrami sandwich, but the first bite was so profound I recall the moment the way others would remember a first date — years away in my case. I see myself at one of the Chuckwagon's lacquered tables, my mother seated to my left and intensely alert. She was like a mother robin watching her young swallowing worms. All was still. When I tasted the fatty-smoky-tender meatiness, I realized that I would never again have to accept the mundane.

All else was forgotten, even the unobtainable Olivia Biggs, a pigtailed skinny blonde I worshiped, aware that she accepted me as an occasional partner at Friday-night dances only because I came with a Pez dispenser and shamelessly doled out all the candy she desired.

The pastrami taught me to understand life's infinite possibilities. Eating was no longer a mildly pleasurable undertaking that peaked with a five-cent box of nonpareils or a six-cent cherry Coke. Although I would not embrace eating as a profession for decades (and never touched Olivia Biggs), I sensed that food offered delights that could not be equaled, not even by the attractions found in the pages of the Playboy magazines I accidentally flipped open while perusing comic books at the drugstore.

Despite its seminal gastronomic importance in my life, I was never that enchanted by the Chuckwagon, only by the pastrami. My first meaningful restaurant experience occurred a few months later, on a family trip across the country. As we drove through downtown Chicago, my father pointed to a sign and said, "We'll eat there."

I remember the lure, a steak dinner for $1.09, spelled out in neon. The restaurant was Tad's, the brand-new flagship of a future national chain. There I learned that dining out represented an entirely different experience from dinner at home. My mother's consistently excellent recipes offered whatever a guest at her table might desire, except for the unexpected. She could cook, but she could not surprise.

I had eaten full-course dinners in restaurants before, but my parents tended to take my sister and me to places that mimicked my mother's cooking, whereas Tad's offered mysterious forms of nourishment — fatty steaks reeking with charred goodness, baked potatoes as big as footballs, an unhealthy breadstuff of indescribable appeal...

Product Details

ISBN:
9780060586294
Subtitle:
The Intrepid Adventures of a Professional Eater
Publisher:
Harper
Author:
Richman, Alan
Subject:
General
Subject:
Essays
Subject:
General Humor
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Hardcover
Publication Date:
November 2004
Binding:
Hardback
Language:
English
Pages:
336
Dimensions:
9 x 6 x 1.09 in 20.56 oz

Related Subjects


Cooking and Food » Food Writing » General

Fork It Over: The Intrepid Adventures of a Professional Eater
0 stars - 0 reviews
$ In Stock
Product details 336 pages HarperCollins Publishers - English 9780060586294 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "As GQ's longtime food critic and an 11-time James Beard Award winner, Richman has eaten a lot of fancy food. But the best essays in this collection-culled mainly from his work for magazines-don't speak of foie gras or truffles. The accounts of Richman's escapades eating at places like Alain Ducasse's three Michelin-starred Le Louis XV, and even his reminiscences of meals at dives like the Pantry in Los Angeles, become repetitive when grouped together. The two standouts are the essays about Richman's parents. In 'A Mother's Knishes,' he achieves the quasi-miraculous feat of finding something fresh to say about a food-crazed Jewish mother, in this case by recounting her loss of identity as she descends into senility and loses her culinary skills. The second, the hilarious 'Miami Weiss,' investigates the 'Early Bird' tradition of South Florida. When the doors open at 5 p.m. at the Fort Lauderdale restaurant Fifteenth Street Fisheries, Richman writes, 'It's a sort of Geriatric Olympics.' The essays are arranged in menu-like fashion under such headings as 'Appetizers,' 'Entrees,' etc. The 'Palate Cleansers' are unsatisfactory, brief pieces, with titles like 'Ten Commandments for Diners,' which come off as condescending. Also, Richman's attitude toward women is archaic to say the least ('she was a woman who knew how to eat like a man'), which may turn off a good number of readers." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Review" by , "[A] sharp, rollicking collection....Richman's short, simple, funny sentences both engage and surprise....An enjoyable treat full of gastronomic guffaws."
"Review" by , "There's more to Richman's superb writing than just the food....He uses his dry sense of humor to effectively season each of his offerings....Whether you're a vegan or devout steak eater, there's no doubt that you'll find something worth savoring in Fork It Over."
"Review" by , "More than an extraordinary food writer, Richman is an extraordinary writer, period...reflexively entertaining."
"Review" by , "[D]eftly worded ruminations on food and restaurants. Richman's storytelling ability serves him well....[O]riginal, clever, courageous, and well-reported..."
"Review" by , "The accounts of Richman's escapades...become repetitive when grouped together....Also, Richman's attitude toward women is archaic to say the least, which may turn off a good number of readers."
"Review" by , "[D]eliciously humorous essays....Whether enrolling in cooking school or exploring the mysteries of truffles, Richman's dry, witty prose will delight readers who crave good culinary writing."
"Synopsis" by , From the ten-time James Beard Award winner and GQ's food critic comes a witty, globe-trotting smorgasbord of culinary escapades.
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