Garlic and Sapphires

Ruth Reichl is currently my favorite food writer.  Not only is she a gifted writer with a wonderful descriptive style, but she can really describe the way things taste.  And I envy her memory, which must be nearly perfect.  (How can she remember what it smelled like in that room so many years ago?  How can she remember everything she ate at every significant meal of her life?  I can't remember what I ate last week!)

In Garlic and Sapphires, she writes about being a restaurant critic in NYC, my hometown.  At that point in her life she was already a recognized food critic in LA when the New York Times made her an offer.  She tells of a revealing conversation before she started the job, when the stranger seated next to her on an airplane recognized her as the newly-hired NY Times food critic and explained that every restaurant in NYC with aspirations already had her photo posted in their staff rooms.

Aghast, Ruth decided that something had to be done.  How could she write a fair review if the restaurant staff recognized her and gave her star treatment?  Being a plucky and creative sort of person, she reinvented herself in a variety of disguises.  I think she surprised even herself when she realized the extent to which her personality changed as she donned each disguise.  In truth, they were more personas than disguises.

In addition to being a really good food read, (she even includes some of her best recipes) it is a fascinating look at how the way we present ourselves can influence other people's perception and treatment of us and even alter the way we think and feel about ourselves.