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


Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise Cover




“I’m a restaurant critic,” I told the woman in the wig shop, “and I need a disguise that will keep me from being recognized.”

“That’s a new one on me,” she said. “Do you have a special restaurant you’re working on at the moment?”

“Yes,” I said, remembering the fragrant aroma of the soup I had eaten on my last visit to Lespinasse. When I dipped my spoon into the broth shimeji mushrooms went sliding sensuously across my tongue with the lush texture of custard. I tasted lemongrass, kaffir lime, mushroom and something else, something that hovered at the edge of my mind, familiar but elusive. I took another taste and it was there again, that sweetness, hiding just behind the citrus. It came whirling into my consciousness and then slid maddeningly away before I could identify it.

“The food was wonderful,” I told her, “but I think they made me. Everything’s been just a little too perfect. So I want a foolproof disguise.”

“Try this,” she said, opening a drawer and pulling out a cascade of hair the color of Dom Perignon. As the wig caught the light the color changed from pearl to buttercup.

The hair fell across my face as gently as silk. I squeezed my eyes tight, not wanting to look until it was seated right. I could feel it settle into place, feel the soft strands graze my shoulders just below my ears.

“Wait!” she cried as my eyes started to open, and she leaned forward and tugged at the wig, adjusting it. “Okay,” she said at last, “you can open your eyes now.”

The champagne blonde in the mirror did not seem to be wearing a wig. The hair looked real, as if it were growing out of the scalp. Even the dark eyebrows looked right, as if this woman had so much confidence she didn’t care who knew that she dyed her hair. My mouth dropped open. “Oh!” I said stupidly, “oh my.”

I don’t think I would have recognized myself if we had met walking down the street, and I had yet to put on any makeup. Somehow this cut, this color, made my cheeks pink, my eyes almost violet, my lips seem redder than they had ever been. I felt new, glamorous, bursting with curiosity. What would life be like for the woman in the mirror?

“You were meant to be blonde!” cried the saleswoman, packing the wig into an old-fashioned hatbox. She looked wistfully at the hair and said, “You’ll come back and tell me what happens, won’t you?”

“You mean whether I’m recognized at Lespinasse?”

“Well,” she said, “that too. But what I mostly want to know is—do blondes really have more fun?”

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mm_peterson, January 2, 2013 (view all comments by mm_peterson)
This is one of the best books about food I've read! An entirely entertaining and touching insight to this secretive world. Hard to put down, and leaves you wanting more.
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Lora Walker, January 21, 2011 (view all comments by Lora Walker)
Reichl's food descriptions are so sensuous that I literally felt like I was tasting along with her to the point where I actually neglected eating and got low blood sugar. Her musings about identity and the lengths she went in order to conceal hers fascinated me and gave me plenty to think about. Her carbornara recipe is satisfying and simple. This book nourished me thoroughly.
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pdavis, January 1, 2011 (view all comments by pdavis)
An engaging inside look at a restaurant critic's pursuit of anonymity.
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Product Details

Reichl, Ruth
Penguin Books
Food writers
Editors, Journalists, Publishers
Reichl, Ruth
Biography - General
Edition Description:
Paperback / softback
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
from 12
8.44x5.52x.74 in. .69 lbs.
Age Level:
from 18

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Related Subjects

Biography » Business
Biography » General
Biography » Women
Business » Management
Cooking and Food » Food Writing » Gastronomic Literature
Cooking and Food » Food Writing » General
Cooking and Food » General
Featured Titles » General
Featured Titles » Literature
Featured Titles » Staff Picks
Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z

Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise Used Trade Paper
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$9.95 In Stock
Product details 352 pages Penguin Books - English 9780143036616 Reviews:
"Staff Pick" by ,

With characteristic wit and aplomb, Ruth Reichl takes us behind the scenes of life as a restaurant critic — dining on the finest cuisine in the city, juggling the politics of the newspaper, and becoming a master of disguise. As funny as Tender at the Bone, as charming as Comfort Me with Apples, Garlic and Sapphires is vintage Reichl — and altogether delicious!

"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "As the New York Times's restaurant critic for most of the 1990s, Reichl had what some might consider the best job in town; among her missions were evaluating New York City's steakhouses, deciding whether Le Cirque deserved four stars and tracking down the best place for authentic Chinese cuisine in Queens. Thankfully, the rest of us can live that life vicariously through this vivacious, fascinating memoir. The book — Reichl's third — lifts the lid on the city's storied restaurant culture from the democratic perspective of the everyday diner. Reichl creates wildly innovative getups, becoming Brenda, a red-haired aging hippie, to test the food at Daniel; Chloe, a blonde divorce, to evaluate Lespinasse; and even her deceased mother, Miriam, to dine at 21. Such elaborate disguises — which include wigs, makeup, thrift store finds and even credit cards in other names — help Reichl maintain anonymity in her work, but they also do more than that. 'Every restaurant is a theater,' she explains. Each one 'offer[s] the opportunity to become someone else, at least for a little while. Restaurants free us from mundane reality.' Reichl's ability to experience meals in such a dramatic way brings an infectious passion to her memoir. Reading this work — which also includes the finished reviews that appeared in the newspaper, as well as a few recipes — ensures that the next time readers sit down in a restaurant, they'll notice things they've never noticed before. Agent, Kathy Robbins. (On sale Apr. 11)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Review" by , "Tasty revelations....Reichl excels at making long-gone meals live vividly on the page. Spicy and sweet by turns, with crackle and bite throughout."
"Synopsis" by , In this New York Times bestseller, beloved food writer Reichl, an unlikely master of disguise, presents her adventures in restaurant reviewing for The New York Times.
"Synopsis" by ,

Ruth Reichls bestselling memoir of her time as an undercover restaurant critic for The New York Times

Ruth Reichl, world-renowned food critic and former editor in chief of Gourmet magazine, knows a thing or two about food. She also knows that as the most important food critic in the country, you need to be anonymous when reviewing some of the most high-profile establishments in the biggest restaurant town in the world—a charge she took very seriously, taking on the guise of a series of eccentric personalities. In Garlic and Sapphires, Reichl reveals the comic absurdity, artifice, and excellence to be found in the sumptuously appointed stages of the epicurean world and gives us—along with some of her favorite recipes and reviews—her remarkable reflections on how ones outer appearance can influence ones inner character, expectations, and appetites, not to mention the quality of service one receives.

“As a memento of her time at the Times she gives us this wonderful book, which is funny—at times laugh-out-loud funny—and smart and wise.” —Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post

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