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

3.91 of 5 stars 3.91  ·  rating details  ·  20,902 ratings  ·  2,476 reviews
Ruth Reichl, world-renowned food critic and editor in chief of Gourmet magazine, knows a thing or two about food. She also knows that as the most important food critic in the country, you need to be anonymous when reviewing some of the most high-profile establishments in the biggest restaurant town in the world--a charge she took very seriously, taking on the guise of a se...more
Paperback, 334 pages
Published March 28th 2006 by Penguin Books (first published January 1st 2005)
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Reichl served as the New York Times food critic from 1993 to 1999, and this book is about her years as "The New York Times Food Critic" -- but it's also about her struggle to evade the identity of The New York Times Food Critic (tm) and get people an honest, egalitarian review of what, exactly, they're going to get out of their meal.

I vaguely remember bits and pieces of the controversy when Reichl took over the reins, but this book really blew the whole thing open. The problems she was facing we...more
Jason Koivu
A bit more sapphire than garlic.

Ruth Reichl's book about her time as the New York Times food critic is mainly focused on her need to don disguises in order not to be recognized in the restaurants she was reviewing and how changing her appearance opened her eyes to how people are treated due to their physical appearance and projected personality. Therefore, foodies will find less about food in Garlic and Sapphires and more about fashion.

I was hoping for more about the food. I guess I neglected t...more
Some books languish on my TBR list forever it seems. It's really pleasing to pick up one of these and wonder why it took me so long to read. Garlic and Sapphires: The Secrete Life of A Critic In Disguise was published in 2005. It might have been a bit more relevant at that time but it's message about the love of good food, told with insight and humor is timeless.

I thoroughly enjoyed this peek into the life of a food critic. I had never read any of Reichl's columns when she was editor at The New...more
Ruth Reichl should be required reading for anyone writing a memoir. She manages to shape plot and theme within her own life story. I think part of the trick is that she carves her life into bite-sized arcs, one journey per book. It helps that she is witty, observant, and one hell of a food writer.
This one is the story of her years at the New York Times, which happen to be the years after we no longer lived in the city but kept our subscription to the Times. Reichl's reviews were great for that g...more
Aug 15, 2011 Judy rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who enjoys a good meal or wonders what a food critic does
Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise whetted my appetite to read more food memoirs. This book charmed me from the get-go. Whether Ruth Reichl donned the costume of aggressive Emily, beatnik Brenda, sexy Chloe, her mother or invisible Betty Jones, her accounting of her stint as food critic of the New York Times sizzled. Lest anyone think this is a cream puff of a book, it isn't. Reichl candidly discussed how she deceived herself about her reasons for becoming a food criti...more
My favorite of Ruth Reichl's food memoirs. In this one she takes the job as restaurant critic for the New York Times. To avoid being recognized she creates disguises to use when she dines out. It is interesting to hear how people react to her as an old homely looking lady and then as herself when she visits the same restaurant again. I loved it and hope that she writes a new book in the future.
You may or may not assume this from looking at me, but I think a lot about what Erving Goffman calls "The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life." I'm not saying I don't have my lazy moments, OR that I necessarily pay a lot of attention to fashion. But, like most things about the way I live my life, the way I dress and groom myself is methodical. Thought-through.

Maybe this is why I was hooked by the concept of this book. I mean, I like eating. Like eating in restaurants, in fact. But just the fa...more
Erica Verrillo
After reading Tender at the Bone, I was looking forward to more of Ruth Reichl. Garlic and Sapphires was not only a disappointment, it was as if a completely different person had written it. It is ironic that in a book about disguises, Reichl herself was unrecognizable. Far from the funny, sensitive, and sincere person she was in her first book, Reichl had transformed herself into a self-absorbed snob loaded with enough hypocrisy to sink a ship.

This book covers Reichl's stint as the New York Tim...more
Feb 12, 2008 Sarah rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone who has (or has thought of) eating in New York City
Living in Manhattan is incredibly expensive, but eating well in Manhattan isn't. That's the one thing I learned when I lived there in 1998.

When Reichl came to the New York Times as restaurant critic in the nineties, however, the paper was not known for reviewing the incredibly delicious (and incredibly affordable) ethnic restaurants that are thick upon the ground. For the Times, a four star restaurant was inevitably French, inevitably required reservations, and inevitably granted you superior se...more
We're all nosy gossips at heart. This snappy account of Ruth Reichl's six years as The New York Times restaurant critic won't disappoint those looking for an insider's view of reviewing. Most of the book takes place in various swanky restaurants, but Reichl selects her most creative reviews and rarely wanders into Snobdom. After Reichl was pegged as the new critic for the Times on her flight to New York by the woman sitting next to her, she decided she would be needing some disguises. She create...more
I'd never read her Times reviews, so this was my first time experiencing any of her writing. I looked forward to my subway rides while I was reading this, and I found myself almost blushing while reading some of her more Porn-ish reviews of food. I loved every bit of the food critic/ dressing up in disguise/ new york times culture stuff, but could have done without much of the personal crap about discovering herself through her characters and what a good mom she is. I'm sure she is a good mom, i...more
Oct 15, 2012 Ken-ichi rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Ken-ichi by: Maggi
Shelves: food, memoirs
A couple of impressive things about this book:

1) It reads like a novel. I personally find it absurd when people try to make sense of their lives by fitting the totally random and haphazard things that befall us into some kind of narrative arc, but it makes for more compelling reading than an honest recounting, and not many people can do it as well as Reichl. From being ID'd on the plane to her first disguise to her inevitable subduction into her own duplicity and her epiphanic exit, it all seems...more
I really went back and forth on the rating for this. I like Ruth Reichl, I like what she's done with Gourmet, I like her non-elitist attitude, I like her food writing, and by all accounts, she's a genuinely nice person. But while she has a golden tongue for tasting, she has a wooden ear for dialogue. While her adventures in disguise have been confirmed by outside sources, they seem impossible to believe because her characterization is so wooden and awful. Heck, I almost questioned whether she ac...more
When I started listening to the audio book, I didn’t pay attention to who was the narrator; just that I liked her and that she was exactly what I would imagine Ruth Reichl to sound like. I was almost half way through when I saw that it was, in fact, Ruth Reichl. That was special. She truly knows her food and a million and one adjectives to describe food and her emotion-packed experiences

There were pros, and cons. She’s one of my favorite authors, but maybe I’m feeling Reichl overloa...more
Lara Mckee
This book was a new topic for me- I have never read a book about the life of a restaurant critic. I learned something new about The New York Times, restaurant critiquing, and upscale food (like foie gras). I tried but could not relate to the author or her lifestyle. Call me cheap but it was distressing for me to read about these high-priced meals she was repeatedly consuming. I did not enjoy the way she described food either. She was too passionate and her descriptions seemed ridiculous to me. I...more
I listened to this on audiobook. The version I got from the library was read by Bernadette Dunne. Apparently there is a version out there that is read by Ruth Reichl, which I bet is superior. Bernadette was, well, mostly adequate but she mispronounced geoduck. Since I live in Olympia, I think I'm required to be offended by that. For the record, it's gooey-duck not geo-duck. Okay, thanks.

This book is 1-part meditation on fame and pretentiousness, 1-part hilariously delicious food writing, 1-part...more
When I picked up this book, I actually said aloud "alright, you horrible woman, this is your last chance with me. This one had damn well better be an improvement on the last two."

The good news is that it is.
The bad news is that it's nothing I'm the slightest bit interested in.

My reviews of Reichl's first two memoirs are available for anyone who cares enough to go find them on my profile, I'll sum up here: Tender At The Bone = interesting and fun to read until Reichl goes to a Montreal boardin...more
Perhaps in the stultifying context of NYT, food critics and privilege Reichl comes as a breath of fresh air . . .what she lacks is class. By class I mean the good grace to have actual humility - not the self-satisfied aww-shucks persona that feigns humility and self-doubt, but the real thing wherein you realize that you don't know shit and you're lucky to be celebrated in any context. Reichl takes pot shots at everyone and everything. . .people (editors, chefs, other diners, etc) emerge as caric...more
Cheryl in CC NV
Guilty pleasure. I loved the bits about how wearing (and using) a disguise altered her sense of self, her behavior & interactions with others. I do not understand the psychology of people fighting crowds in restaurants, for taxis, etc. I absolutely adore Nick - I hope he's grown to his potential.

I wonder if the Times really thinks they're 'all that' still. Each review must have cost the paper at least a thousand dollars - imagine what a difference that would have made in the lives of the ca...more
Reichl, a noted food critic, has written several books; this one is about her tenure as the New York Times food critic and the lengths to which she went to avoid being recognized at restaurants (so that the restaurants wouldn't cater specially to her and she could write a more fair review). Reichl pairs an account of each restaurant experience with the review she wrote for the Times, which was interesting as a comparison.

The food descriptions are marvelous and evocative; I loved how Reichl talk...more
I wish Ruth Reichl had more books. I've read all of them and her writing is just beautiful. I don't think many people describe food or the experience alongside food, quite like her. This is a story of her life and her beginnings as the New York Times Food Editor. It has a lot of comedy to it too as she tries to disguise herself so the restaurants don't treat her differently (name, wigs and all!)
Ben Canter
Garlic and Sapphires is memoir about a New York Times food critic who "dresses up" as other people when attending restaurants and doesn't just care about how the food tastes, but everything else as well. She looks at the service she is given and at the service the people at the tables around her receive. She originally dresses up in order not to be noticed when reviewing a restaurant in order to not receive special treatment and be able to give a fair review, but soon finds that she is dressing...more
Enjoyable quick read even though there's hardly a morsel of what she wrote about that would be on my vegetarian plate at any restaurant. I had to sigh over her experience at the only NYC restaurant she mentions that I've tried: Tavern on the Green. My friend and I thought we were lucky to get reservations there as well as a good table. I was chuckling while I read her descriptions of how she fooled snooty staff and recognized food so horrid that only fools would eat it instead of sending it back...more
If I could fix something for Ruth, what would it be? My lime trifle? My lemon trifle? I'm pretty sure she would take one bite and then rip it to shreds but it would be worth it, just to be able to talk to someone who understands food. I'm currently working on a new trifle, candy cane, and I would give anything to be able to discuss what should go inside with a professional. (Sigh)
Really enjoyed this one. I love how she makes my mouth water without me eating anything. She talks about foods I will...more
Ruth Reichl is the editor-in-chief of Gourmet magazine and the former restaurant critic of the New York Times. In this book she covers the period of her life that she was hired at the New York Times and eventually quit to work for Gourmet.

I'm fascinated by the restaurant industry. Of course I'm living in Syracuse Utah, so I'm not actually experiencing fine dining on a daily basis, but still I'm amazed by the dishes a good chef can create. The process of coming up with these dishes is very cool,...more
Serena McClain
Originally posted at a girl named sue

When a friend pressed Garlic and Sapphires into my hand while browsing Reston Used Books, I was skeptical. I was sure it would be a fine, entertaining read and agreed, thinking it would be a break after the intensity of The Twelve. What I wasn't expecting was the maelstrom of thoughts and emotions this book spurred. More than a simple memoir filled with entertaining stories (and they were entertaining), Reichl unwittingly schooled me in criticism and dipped h...more
Ruth Reichl is back, and this time she's the new restaurant critic for the New York Times. Although the Times is famous for its all-business-no-play reputation, leave it to Ruthie to take her job to the next level...and have fun doing it!

Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise chronicles Reichl's ten year stint with the Times, and her effort to bring good food to the masses. In order to do that, she decides to create alter egos a la Mrs. Doubtfire, to avoid red carpet trea...more
Dec 21, 2007 Katie rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: food lovers!
This is the third installment that Ruth Reichl shares about her life. This book follows her as she becomes the NY Times restaurant critic.

While flying to NY to start the job she realizes that she's going to be recognized and must come up with a plan to eat out and not be treated as the NY Times restaurant critic. So she comes up with the fabulous idea of transforming herself into different people. She enlists help from her mother's friend and "becomes" her characters. She finds out that when she...more
Carly Fisher
The plot: Former NYT food critic Ruth Reichl's personal narrative about assuming the coveted position and her struggle to remain anonymous, fair, and true to herself. In her attempts to do so, Reichl begins taking acting lessons and purchasing elaborate disguises to portray the role of different diners at various restaurants to see how her treatment differs. While the differing treatment is hardly surprising, Reichl begins to lose herself in each character in hopes of understanding the various r...more
I have to admit that even though everyone seems to enjoy her writing, I've been avoiding Ruth Reichl. Gourmet magazine is just so out of my league. Too many fussy ingredients, too many fussy steps. It's just not how I cook. I enjoy watching her show on TV; she seems as though she's a lot of fun. But her palate is so refined, and she knows so much about food, that she has intimidated me.

Silly me.

This book was such fun to read. She's fun and interesting and down-to-earth and is, of course, a wond...more
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Ruth Reichl is an American food writer, the editor-in-chief of Gourmet magazine and culinary editor for the Modern Library.
Born to parents Ernst and Miriam (née Brudno), she was raised in New York City and spent time at a boarding school in Montreal. She attended the University of Michigan, where she met her first husband, the artist Douglas Hollis. She graduated in 1970 with a M.A. in art history...more
More about Ruth Reichl...
Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table Comfort Me with Apples: More Adventures at the Table The Gourmet Cookbook: More than 1000 recipes Delicious! Not Becoming My Mother: and Other Things She Taught Me Along the Way

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“When a person has lived generously and fought fiercely, she deserves more than sadness at the end.” 11 likes
“A thousand years ago the Chinese had an entirely codified kitchen while the French were still gnawing on bones. Chopsticks have been around since the fourth century B.C. Forks didn't show up in England until 1611, and even then they weren't meant for eating but just to hold the meat still while you hacked at it with your knife.” 3 likes
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