"One of my favorite things to do in the whole world is to spend a Saturday or a Sunday afternoon listening to an audiobook while I cook," says Ruth Reichl in the same warm, confiding voice with which she reads from her bestselling memoirs. "I listen to tons of audiobooks while I cook. This is for me the conjunction of my two favorite things: cooking and reading."
Now editor of GOURMET and formerly "the most important restaurant critic in the world" (read chief food critic at THE NEW YORK TIMES), Ruth is nevertheless the opposite of a snob. She came from L.A. intent on writing not just for the swells who eat weekly at Lutece but also for those who only dream about it and--perhaps most importantly--for those who scrimp for a lifetime in order to taste luxury once.
But how could this be done? "Every restaurant in town has your picture pinned to the bulletin board, next to the specials of the day," she was told on a flight East by the waitress sitting next to her, before she'd even started the job. "Forget anonymity."
Before the plane landed, though, Ruth had a plan. Sometimes she'd be Ruth Reichl, the most important, et cetera. Sometimes not. When she went to New York's famous and famously expensive Le Cirque, the owner spotted her--and she was treated like a king. The food and service were both superb. But when she went to Le Cirque disguised as Molly Hollis, a fictional schoolteacher from Michigan whose husband had made it big in strip malls, Molly found the service abysmal. The food wasn't all that great either. The review, which reported both experiences, created a furor among New York's foodies.
Having hit on the costume gambit, Ruth expanded her repertoire, taking on a variety of different outfits, wigs, and personalities. Her costumes were so convincing that they fooled her doorman, her friends, and even, sometimes, herself. Most importantly, though, she fooled the restaurants and so could be--what she'd always intended--a voice for the voiceless. You can hear that voice in the abridgment of GARLIC AND SAPPHIRES.
"I always go into it thinking, 'Oh, it's going to be terribly hard,' and then it's always fun," she says of her recording experience. "I mean, you have a perfect audience when you are doing a recording. You have these three people who are sitting out in front of you . . . rapt.
"We had blocked out three mornings from nine to one, but I don't think we ever started 'til ten, because we would sort of yak, and then we would stop and eat something. So I would guess that the whole thing probably didn't take more than eight hours. I mean, it's like anything," she says, giving a flash of her trademark optimism, "you go into it with dread. And then it's fun."
In any case, it's worth the effort. People who read her books and have also listened to them "have said that they much preferred listening to them," Ruth says. "The microphone loves me."
Ruth is not a fan of abridgments, but then her memoir is also out there at full-length, so true fans can hear Ruth herself as an aperitif and then chow down on the entire book. That's what I did.--Benjamin Cheever
AUG/ SEP 05
© AudioFile 2005, Portland, Maine