How It’s Done
Fork It Over, by Alan Richman C’65 is so good that it comes with a highly complimentary blurb by Emeril Lagasse—despite the fact that, in the book, Richman blows the cover of Lagasse and other celebrity chefs who don’t do much cooking at the restaurants that brought them fame.

Subtitled The Intrepid Adventures of a Professional Eater, this collection of essays, many originally published in GQ magazine, shows why Richman has won more awards for food-writing than anybody else—and why this Penn alumnus, who was one of the first to make a career of food writing, still sets the standard in the genre.—J.P.


The Eating Life

I am a restaurant critic. I eat for a living.

Chefs complain about people like me. They argue that we are not qualified to do our jobs because we do not know how to cook. I tell them I’m not entirely pleased with the way they do their jobs, either, because they do not know how to eat. I have visited most of the best restaurants of the world, and they have not. I believe I know how to eat as well as any man alive.

I dine out constantly, but there is a great deal I do in restaurants that people who eat purely for pleasure would not consider part of a normal meal. You would not enjoy having dinner with me.

I lie—I make a reservation under a false name. I steal—the menu, not the
silverware. I wander. I am always getting up from my table in order to check out my surroundings. I drift around, and the meandering invariably ends when a well-meaning captain taps me on the shoulder and points me in the direction of the men’s room, wrongly assuming that is where I wish to go. I rarely talk to the people dining with me, but I love to chat with waiters and busboys. They know the secrets lurking behind the swinging kitchen doors.

Friends who accompany me to meals are bored by the absence of conversation. They are unhappy with the dishes I choose for them—they have their hearts set on a lovely salad of poached Maine lobster and become cranky when I tell them they must sample the seared calf’s brain. The warm mandarin soufflé they’ve been anticipating all evening is finally set before them, and I stick my spoon in it before they have a taste.

Yet everybody envies what I do. They think it’s the gastronomic counterpart of test-driving Mercedes sports coupes or helping Las Vegas showgirls dress. They believe it involves little more than eating unceasingly and being reimbursed for the privilege. There’s some truth to that, but sometimes I am obligated to eat three full meals a day, day after day, which is not always easy, even on an expense account. I generally receive little sympathy when I make that point.

A critic has to understand when food is correct, which is to be admired, and when it is inspired, which we would call a miracle. The job is part analysis (is this good?), part self-analysis (It’s good, but am I the only person who likes it?), and part gluttony (Have I tried everything on the menu?).

I’ve never been a victim of culinary fatigue, because I can reverse direction and concentrate on the humble whenever I weary of the haute. A natural-casing hot dog off the grill can be as thrilling as Charlie Trotter’s terrine of asparagus with goat cheese, beet juice, and hundred-year-old balsamic vinegar.

I often make that point when it’s my turn to pay.

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Reprinted from Fork It Over: The Intrepid Adventures of a Professional Eater, published by HarperCollins.

Copyright©2004 by Alan Richman.

© 2004 The Pennsylvania Gazette
Last modified 10/29/04

How It’s Done

Taste Quakers
By Nancy Davidson
Illustration by Phung Hyunh

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