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Garlic and Sapphires

Cover of Garlic and Sapphires

Garlic and Sapphires

The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise
GARLIC AND SAPPHIRES is Ruth Reichl's riotous account of the many disguises she employs to dine anonymously. There is her stint as Molly Hollis, a frumpy blond with manicured nails and an off-beige Armani suit that Ruth takes on when reviewing Le Cirque. The result: her famous double review of the restaurant: first she ate there as Molly; and then as she was coddled and pampered on her visit there as Ruth, New York Times food critic.
What is even more remarkable about Reichl's spy games is that as she takes on these various disguises, she finds herself changed not just superficially, but in character as well. She gives a remarkable account of how one's outer appearance can very much influence one's inner character, expectations, and appetites.
As she writes, "Every restaurant is a theater . . . even the modest restaurants offer the opportunity to become someone else, at least for a little while." GARLIC AND SAPPHIRES is a reflection on personal identity and role playing in the decadent, epicurean theaters of the restaurant world.
GARLIC AND SAPPHIRES is Ruth Reichl's riotous account of the many disguises she employs to dine anonymously. There is her stint as Molly Hollis, a frumpy blond with manicured nails and an off-beige Armani suit that Ruth takes on when reviewing Le Cirque. The result: her famous double review of the restaurant: first she ate there as Molly; and then as she was coddled and pampered on her visit there as Ruth, New York Times food critic.
What is even more remarkable about Reichl's spy games is that as she takes on these various disguises, she finds herself changed not just superficially, but in character as well. She gives a remarkable account of how one's outer appearance can very much influence one's inner character, expectations, and appetites.
As she writes, "Every restaurant is a theater . . . even the modest restaurants offer the opportunity to become someone else, at least for a little while." GARLIC AND SAPPHIRES is a reflection on personal identity and role playing in the decadent, epicurean theaters of the restaurant world.
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  • From the book "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?"

Table of Contents-
  • Garlic and SapphiresThe Daily Special
    Backstory
    Molly
    The King of Spain
    Looking for Umami
    Miriam
    Meat and Potatoes
    Chloe
    Brenda
    Dinner with Chairman Punch
    Betty
    Food Warrior
    The Missionary of the Delicious
    Emily
    Ghosts
    Recipe Index
    Acknowledgments
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from February 14, 2005
    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 divorcée, 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 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.

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Garlic and Sapphires
Garlic and Sapphires
The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise
Ruth Reichl
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