Fork It Over: The Intrepid Adventures of a Professional Eater
by Alan Richman
Chef James Quick Take: This book is a winner - I found it hard to put down - a definite BUY!
Alan Richman has dined in more unlikely locations and devoured more tasting menus than any three other food critics combined. Over the decades, his editors have complained incessantly about his expense accounts but never about his appetite. He has reviewed restaurants in all the best Communist countries (China, Vietnam, Cuba) and supped heartily all over the free world. Wherever he's gone, GQ magazine's acclaimed food, wine, and restaurant critic has brought along his impeccable palate, Herculean constitution, and biting humor.
In this globe-trotting literary smorgasbord, the eleven-time winner of the James Beard Foundation Award for food writing retraces his most savory culinary adventures. Richman's inexhaustible hunger and unquenchable curiosity take him to the best restaurants and most irresistible meals, from Monte Carlo to Corona, Queens. He seeks out the finest barbecue in America -- it's in Ayden, North Carolina, by the way -- the costliest sushi in Los Angeles, and the most perfumed black truffles in France. Along the way he has studied at Paul Bocuse's cooking school in Lyon (and failed), moonlighted as a sommelier in New York (and failed), and charmed his way through a candlelight dinner with actress Sharon Stone (and failed big time).
Through it all -- roughly 50,000 meals and still counting -- one thing is certain: Alan Richman has never come to a fork in the road without a fork in his hand.
Review by Bill Marsano
Just about every columnist of any kind reaches a point at which he thinks it a fine idea to bundle his columns together and make them into a book. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. A few years ago the novelist Jay MacInerney did that with his wine columns for Vogue magazine and the result was, to my mind, embarrassing. What was on display was, mostly, tedious repetition, little imagination and surprisingly dull writing.
Now Alan Richman, food writer and restaurant critic for the likes of GQ and Food & Wine, has taken the gamble--but this time the result is a winner.
Richman is a generous and imaginative soul with an easy, flowing style; he is articulate, not glib; he is funny and drily witty; he is adventurous, with firm but not savage opinions and prejudices. He's old enough to have a wide frame of reference backed by an excellent memory. And he has the rare gift of being able to take a reader along with him. He makes you feel like a confidant.
That makes it unalloyed pleasure to follow his adventures: dining extravagantly for a week with rich wine collectors in France; fumbling his way through two nights as a wine steward at a fancy restaurant; suffering a disastrous dinner with Sharon Stone; driving the coast of North Carolina to gorge himself on his beloved barbecue sandwiches; memorializing that disappearing artifact, the Jewish Waiter. These are but a few of his explorations, and those I haven't mentioned are just as much fun.
His prejudices are pointed, openly admitted and neatly expressed. I'm inclined to agree with many of them, including the vexed question of men dining with women and especially the problem of waiters who won't shut up. Indeed, I recently was a guest at Per Se, a notably expensive new restaurant in New York opened by the star of Napa's French Laundry, and I was astonished by the intrusiveness of the service. There were ten of us at table, all engaged in eager conversation--and constantly being told to hush up by our waiter, who insisted on interrupting at every course to describe at length the very dishes that were so clearly described on the menu. I guess that I, like Richman, am of the old school: I think waiters should wait (for a pause), say "Excuse me"--then put the plate down and scram.
A serious failing of this book is that it's so short--but that suggests rigorous selection. Richman has given us only his best here, so reader discipline is required. Read these pleasures one at a time, now matter how tempted to tear through them one after another, or you'll be at the end of the book in no time. On the other hand, you can always start over again.
--Bill Marsano is an award-winning writer on wine, food and travel.