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


I quickly got into this book and then couldn’t put it down. I LOVED this writer and the life of a food critic is absolutely fascinating. Ruth Reichl became the New York Times food critic and then started with some disguises after learning every restaurant had her photo posted in the back for staff to be on the lookout. She wanted the true experience so her disguises allowed her to visit 3+ times to try everything. I felt like she was looking out for the normal people knowing that she got the best of the best when arriving as herself.

I don’t dine at the best restaurants ever, but I do work very closely with them for my event so I could truly picture a lot of this. Ruth also reviewed everything out there…tiny Korean restaurants and toured mom & pop shops. You definitely get the sense of how much she just adores food.

She does a fantastic job at showing what it is like, and how reviewing restaurants is actually work. When her little boy was wanting her home for dinner I can see it become tiresome, also when coupled with her thrift-store & wig shopping to create these personas. I think there’s a fine line for everyone to think of her very first-world problem of going out to eat every night. I get it. I found her warm and the struggle real that she didn’t get to be herself to do her job. She loves to cook and includes a recipe to wrap up each chapter. The reader falls in love with her characters, since the get-ups aren’t just costumes. She takes on the persona and uses her doorman as the tester.

I love her experiences when the food blows her away and when she’s so in the moment that she can’t even speak. I love how many details she shares for the restaurant, food, and service at one she doesn’t love…like an over-priced one that isn’t worth it. She has such a realistic life perspective that makes her experiences very genuine and easy to read.

For some reason, it never crossed my mind that a food critic would go to a restaurant 3-5 times before writing the review. The people and relationships Ruth has with her colleagues and friends at The New York Times was really captivating. I have seen what happens to restaurants and chefs when they’re nominated for prestigious awards. Certain ratings can do some of that as well.

I loved this and would recommend it to anyone who is interested in the restaurant world with a fun reminder that outward appearances aren’t always what they seem.

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