GUEST POST BY MARIANNA MAPES

School: Maria Carrillo High School

Favorite musicians: Basement Jaxx, Bjork, Sade

Favorite place: Home

Pastimes: Jazz and contemporary dance, reading

This article was first published Sept. 20, 2010

GARLIC AND SAPPHIRES

Author: Ruth Reichl

Copyright: 2005

Things come into our lives in mysterious ways. Ruth Reichl’s escapades came into mine while I was enjoying a family dinner at a French restaurant in Portland, Oregon. My cousin’s friend presented me with a copy of “Garlic and Sapphires” during one of those happy, starry-eyed moments between the end of dinner and the beginning of dessert. Doubtful that a complete stranger could possibly pick a book that would suit my taste, I didn’t get my hopes up. But after a few bites of crème brûlée, I became curious and snuck off to the restroom to take a peek at a couple of pages. And so from the beginning, the tales of former New York Times restaurant critic Ruth Reichl had a certain mystique, almost as if the stories had to be kept secret from the unsuspecting restaurant patrons.
Reichl chronicles her career at the Times with admirable wit and a keen, self-critical eye. A favorable newspaper review is highly coveted by local restaurants, so managers and waitstaff are on the lookout for Reichl and take pains to create the ideal dining experience for her when she visits. To avoid being discovered, she dons a series of disguises – ranging from middle-aged flower child to strait-laced old woman – to wear when she eats out. Although she expects to feel uncomfortable, she doesn’t anticipate that her mood and perspective will change to fit the outfit. Reichl writes of her masquerade, “Every restaurant is a theater” that “[offers] the opportunity to become someone else, at least for a little while.”
“Garlic and Sapphires” is peppered with restaurant reviews and favorite recipes, which flesh out Reichl’s worldview as a connoisseur of all things culinary. Appropriately, her stories were introduced to me over a delicious meal, and her humor and thoughtfulness keep me coming back for a second (or third) helping.

***

Thank, Marianna. As a result of her recommendation, I read this book and couldn’t put it down. The first scene grabbed me as Reichl learns that every fine restaurant in New York City is on the lookout for her as the Times’ new restaurant critic.

Since I am an employee (via The Press Democrat) of the Times Corporation, the stories about life inside the NY Times were a lot of fun to read.

But the most memorable part was reading how Reichl’s personality changed to fit her disguise. It became easy for her to turn bossy or meek to fit her characters.  At times even she found it weird to realize the changes that came upon her when she donned her wigs, makeup and costumes.