Saturday, February 4, 2012

Thought For Food

"The sun poured down like honey." I cringed when I read it. "So-and-so smoked like a chimney stack." Surely there was a less trite metaphor. Why not..I don't know...something else. "So-and-so smoked like the engine of a '86 Ford" perhaps. Within the first couple of chapters more than one character had a voice that was described as "brittle." And yet, Ruth Reichl can write about food like no one else. Garlic And Sapphires is a memoir of her life as the food critic of The New York Times in the '90s. I knew that in order to really enjoy her voice I must stop being so pedantic. And so I did.

I remember The New York Times of twenty-five years ago. It was a wonderful paper and I looked forward to getting the Sunday edition delivered nice and crisp every week. It was my goal to read it all the way through, but I don't think I ever accomplished it. And forget the crossword puzzle, which was way above my pay grade. I don't remember whether the food column appeared in the Sunday edition or not. I don't recall whether I ever read it. Not living in New York, what restaurants in the city deserved the coveted "stars" would probably not have interested me. But I enjoyed the paper. Journalistic failures, such as its obvious political leanings and increasingly unbalanced view point, and a string of scandals (Jayson Blair among others) finally put an end to my subscription. Still, I have fond memories of The Gray Lady.

I liked Ruth Reichl. True, at a time when most of us have more pressing concerns than whether 1991 Francois Jobard Bourgogne blanc is properly paired with the cold salmon (or more importantly whether I can afford a bottle), I still wanted to have dinner with her and have her explain to me that the Chilean Sea Bass on my plate does not really exist. That it is really Patagonian Tooth Fish which was re-named because no one would order it as Patagonian Tooth Fish. I wanted to hear more memories of her father visiting a very specific butcher shop where he picked out the perfectly marbled steak, carried it home in brown paper, and cooked it to perfection for his family. The reader can hear the sizzle. What a treat it would be to have her reveal the subtle hints of rosemary, or tarragon, or saffron detected by her refined and educated palate on a dish I would simply describe as "really delicious." To Reichl, eating well is an art form.

Garlic and Sapphires is not great literature. But I don't figure Reichl ever expected or desired it to be. It is fun...and that left me satisfied (and hungry).