If you've spent the last two years laughing over the comic genius of Ruth Bourdain, you'll need no reminder that her eagerly (to some) awaited book has just come out from Andrews McMeel Publishing. If you are not among the initiated, here's a thumbnail sketch: In March of 2010, a hilarious Twitter feed written by an anonymous author debuted in the voice of an imagined mashup between Ruth Reichl and Anthony Bourdain. And, well, you know who they are. In the last two years, Ruth Bourdain has won a James Beard humor award (the first of its kind), signed a book deal, and remained anonymous (no small feat). Ta-da.
The book, which was released Sept. 4, is titled Comfort Me With Offal: Ruth Bourdain's Guide to Gastronomy. This is not a surprise, as Comfort Me With Offal is the name of her Tumblr, the subtitle of her Twitter feed and the raison d'être, to paraphrase the Coen Brothers, of her project. As for the author credits and acknowlegments page, sorry — no insight into her identity there. (We use the feminine pronoun because Ruth is feminine; if the mashup had been “Anthony Reichl,” we'd have used the masculine. Because “him/her” is stupid.) The book is dedicated “for pork,” and the epigraph is from Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin. You were expecting something else?
The book is, as you might imagine, a very funny read. From the Introduction, in which the author credits James Beard himself with suggesting that she write a book (“his speech was slurred from smoking way too much tarragon”), to the Prologue (July 1966, Paris: “I was strung out on macarons”), to the obligatory fond memory of Julia Child (“she was one of the few women — or men, for that matter — who could drink me under the table”), to the also obligatory glossary (“FILFS: Sexy farmers”).
Comfort Me With Offal is neither a food memoir nor a cookbook, for which we are very grateful, but a somewhat random collection of Very Funny Stuff. There are no pictures, unless you count things like the positions of “Gastro-Yoga With Rick Bayless” and the graphics (The Alice Waters MyPlate; the various options for Celebrity Chef Hair). And the text is more a collection of lists and comic bits than an actual narrative. While this is somewhat frustrating if you bought the book wanting a tell-all or an expose, it works very well for what it is: a parody of the current food scene, in which Sandra Lee and Ferran Adrià get equal billing (and equal amounts of satire), and so-called “foodies” are lampooned as mercilessly as the people who actually love the Olive Garden. In other words, we're all fair game.
There is much to love here, especially if you read the book as you would a self-help guide (this is one, if you think about it) or that super crammed page of trivia towards the front of the new-look New York Times Magazine. Read the highly amusing bits and pieces here and there, while you stir the risotto or watch a college football game or have a pee. Don't expect to read it as you would Tolstoy or Marcella Hazan.
Some favorites of many: Culinary Vestiges of Early Man (flat molars date to the '50s, when we lived on tuna casserole); Stage 10 of A Food Trend's Journey: Backlash; and the finger test for meat doneness, in which well done is very firm and “there is absolutely no give when touched, like Todd English's abs.”
Also please read the Appendix, in which the author provides a test for GQ, or gastronomical quotient. Number 29? Truffle oil : Truffles. We'll give you the answer: it's d, or Pamela Anderson : Real breasts. There's also an utterly hilarious reading comprehension test and a terrific True/False section. (True or false? “Wolfgang Puck has not been outside of a QVC studio since 1992.”) One could go on, but it's better if you just read the book.
In the Acknowlegments, Bourdain thanks a number of culinary big shots, including Eric Ripert, Dario Checchini, Michael Ruhlman and Jeremiah Tower, with whom the writer claims to have toilet-papered Alice Waters' house one summer night “when when she annoyed the shit out of me.” Equally informative is the list of people Bourdain is “not grateful for whatsoever,” which includes Guy Fieri, Rocco DiSpirito and Gwyneth Paltrow.
As for the identity of the author, we've conducted our own informal poll and have a pretty good guess, but we're not telling. Some mysteries should remain so. (See: Deep Throat, Joe Klein.)
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