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 elseand 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 Im 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 lieI make a reservation under a false name. I stealthe menu, not
Friends who accompany me to meals are bored by the absence of conversation. They are unhappy with the dishes I choose for themthey have their hearts set on a lovely salad of poached Maine lobster and become cranky when I tell them they must sample the seared calfs brain. The warm mandarin soufflé theyve 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 its 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. Theres 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 (Its good, but am I the only person who likes it?), and part gluttony (Have I tried everything on the menu?).
Ive 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 Trotters terrine of asparagus with goat cheese, beet juice, and hundred-year-old balsamic vinegar.
I often make that point when its 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.
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