Garlic and Sapphires


Author:  Ruth Reichl

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

Genre:  Non-Fiction

Publication Date:  2005

Number of Pages:  333

Geographical Setting:  New York City

Time Period:  1990’s

Plot Summary:  Fresh from L.A. in the early 1990’s, Ruth Reichl landed every foodie’s dream job: she became the restaurant critic for the New York Times.  Reichl quickly discovers that every fine dining establishment has her photo posted and monetary rewards are being offered to anyone who knows which restaurant she will be visiting next, compromising her ability to write an objective review.  To reclaim her anonymity, Reichl creates elaborate disguises to use when dining out, including a slightly overweight Midwestern teacher, a vivacious middle-aged hippie, a breathy Marilyn Monroe-like blond, and a meek old lady.  Garlic and Sapphires follows Ruth through New York City’s most exclusive restaurants and examines how outward appearances can affect how the world treats you.  Both humorous and insightful, Reichl’s memoir is full of the “artifice and excellence” of the restaurant experience, including vivid (and utterly delicious) descriptions of the food she ate.  In addition, her narration is peppered with the original New York Times reviews and personal recipes.

Subject Headings:  Autobiographies; Food Writing; Food Memoirs

Appeal:  Humorous, insightful, thought provoking, colloquial, descriptive, vivid, episodic, charming, upbeat, richly detailed, lush, straightforward

3 terms that best describe this book: charming, upbeat, lush

3 Relevant Non-Fiction Works and Authors:

Appetite City: A Culinary History of New York by Williams Grimes:  Written by the restaurant critic that succeeded Reichl at the Times, Appetite City examines New York’s food history from the 19th century through the restaurant culture of the early 21st century.  Like Reichl, Grimes provides the reader with his personal experiences dining in what many proclaim to be the “food capital of the world.”

Eat my Globe: One Year to Go Everywhere and Eat Everything by Simon Majumdar:  Internationally-renowned food blogger Majumdar humorously chronicles his adventures experiencing cuisine from every continent (except Antarctica).  With a fearless
approach to food (he samples Mongolian fermented mare’s milk), Majumdar describes his meals in lush detail.

Two for the Road: Our Love Affair with American Food by Jane and Michael Stern:  Like Reichl, Jane and Michael Stern are major foodies, but instead of four-star restaurants in New York City, they travel the back roads of America, seeking out mom-and-pop diner cuisine.  Upbeat and humorous with vivid descriptions of unpretentious meals, Two for the Road chronicles Jane and Michael’s episodes of eating their way across the United States.

3 Relevant Fiction Works and Authors:

The Butter Did It: A Gastronomic Tale of Love and Murder by Phyllis C. Richman:  Written by the restaurant critic for the Washington Post, this upbeat cozy mystery features restaurant critic Charlotte (Chas) Wheatley, who decides to investigate the suspicious death of her former French-chef lover.  The Butter Did It contains vivid descriptions of savory dishes that would make
any foodie’s stomach growl.

Eating Heaven by Jennie Shortridge:  At first, food writer Eleanor Samuels’s world is torn apart when she becomes caretaker to her Uncle Benny, but as she cooks for and nurtures her Uncle, she uncovers family secrets, and finds a way to come to terms with herself and her past.  Rich, charming, and humorous, Shortridge gives readers a delicious novel, ending with a food manifesto titled, “How to Eat.”

Gourmet Rhapsody by Muriel Barbery, translated by Alison Anderson:  As France’s premier restaurant critic lies in his deathbed, he remembers past meals in search the one perfect flavor from his youth – the flavor that is “the only true thing ever accomplished.”  Lush culinary prose peppers scenes (both charming and sad) alternately narrated by the critic and his family (including the cat).

Name:  Mieko Fujiura

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