Saturday, June 5, 2010

Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table

Ruth Reichl's memoirs make an excellent companion to Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers, which I read about a year ago and don't appear to have written about.

In Outliers, Gladwell demonstrates how external factors work to make some smart, talented, hard-working people into billionaires and sports champions, while others lead unremarkable lives. Reichl, who grew up in the 50s and 60s in Greenwich Village, was sent to boarding school in Montreal on her mentally ill mother's whim, toured Italy with a favorite professor, then lived in a Berkley commune around the time Alice Waters was coming into prominence, is an excellent example. Her writing is wonderful, her life filled with unique opportunities (and some unique challenges as well). And she makes this point herself.

When Reichl, who went on to write for The New York Times, was first offered an opportunity review restaurants, she writes, "I wasn't sure I could do it, but I was willing to try. To my surprise, I had a lot of help. When I walked into La Colombe Bleu a waiter was standing at a table boning a fish, and without a moment's warning Marielle materialized at his side, casting a critical eye on his every move." She describes how other people who taught her how to cook, serve, eat and appreciate were all on her mind as she began to evaluate the restaurant. "With this chorus of voices the review practically wrote itself."

Her article was well received, she reports:
"You were born to do this," said the editor when I turned the piece in.
"No," I said softly. "but I was very well trained."

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