This was the second book I’ve read by Ruth Reichl, former LA Times restaurant critic, New York Times restaurant critic, cookbook writer and food lover. Here is a short review of her book Tender at the Bone.
I’ve always wondered if all food people (anybody who cooks, creates, or enjoys food enough that it’s more than just a hobby) grow up around food. How is this love of food instilled in them? Is it because Mom made great food or really bad food? Is it because of ethnic roots, a family-centered environment, or did it just come out of nowhere?
Ruth Reichl was born into food. She just wouldn’t realize it until she grew up.
Tender at the Bone is about how Ruth grew up, while Garlic and Sapphires were much more about Ruth later in life, although several flashbacks were there to help you understand her relationship with her mother.
Now I really understand that relationship. If you thought your mother was weird in any way, meet Ruth’s mom. Later on in the book, you realize there’s more than just an eccentric personality going on, but you’d think that poor Ruth had a starving child. Eating things way past their expiration date, or just downright disgusting, Ruth’s mom was just too eccentric for the kitchen.
Childhood is not a complete struggle for Ruth. She complains about how her mother dropped her off at a French boarding school for girls when she was in middle school, leaving her there for months in a place she hated, but it was actually a blessing in disguise, not only teaching Ruth how to speak French but opening her up to a new world of food she had never experienced. While I’m sure that I would be just as upset if this happened to me, it really helped shaped Ruth’s future career.
The oddest part of this book was not about the food she ate but her overseas adventures. Maybe I don’t understand because I was not alive at the time, but I would never dream of spending as much time in Tunisia or Italy like she did. I could be reading too far into it, but I don’t get the feeling that Ruth is even grateful for the many adventures she takes. It could be that she wasn’t grateful at the time, but it’s obvious that Ruth is going to have a life of food when she travels around the world with friends and her brother, enjoying life one culinary adventure at a time.
Parts of me wanted to slap Ruth for being so passe about her life, and other times I really relished her experiences living in a commune or spending time working in some of the restaurants she apprenticed in. Ultimately it is quite obvious that her career is in food. Despite my mixed feelings about Tender at the Bone, I plan on picking up Comfort Me with Apples in a few weeks, just to finish reading about her life.