Ruth Reichl Comforts with Apples, Beckett with Words

“How’s the carrot?” Vladimir asks. “It’s a carrot,” Estragon replies….“That’s what annoys me….I’ll never forget this carrot.”

If a food writer describes an ice cream cone with such description that we can taste it – ah, but that’s just the problem, we can’t taste words. Words have shape, perhaps even texture. They fill our mouths, or used to, when we read like the monks, but words don’t have flavor. This is the existential predicament of the restaurant and food critic.

Perhaps it explains the poetic license of their exaggerations. Reichl, explaining her resorting to fiction to enliven a restaurant review, explains to her editor at the LA Times, “Haven’t you noticed that food all by itself is really boring to read about?…It’s everything around the food that makes it interesting. The sociology. The politics. The history” (p. 250). Nevertheless, “…this won’t do,” her editor replies. “In journalism you have to tell the truth” (p. 250). She then goes on to describe the historic Hancock Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, where “…the houses were decrepit…” (p. 251). It’s been awhile since we’ve driven through Hancock Park, but surely only a food critic could describe the dwellings and lawns there as bedraggled.

But then the perspective is from one for whom meals last five hours, and where “For great balsamico, the process takes an entire lifetime, the vinegar becoming more concentrated as it progresses through subsequent barrels of oak, chestnut, mulberry, and juniper” (p. 59). She can comfort with words, and the words do, for the most part, describe food.

“Crritic!” says Estragon, “(with finality).”

Reichl, R. (2001). Comfort me with apples [with recipes]. New York: Random House.