Customer Reviews: Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table
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on July 16, 2001
In this autobiography, Ruth Reichl, the longtime food critic for the NY Times, now the editor in chief at Gourmet, explains how she came to love food. The book weaves a tapestry of stories, including some about her mother (dubbed the Queen of Mold for serving completely unpalatable dishes) and her early childhood (how an early trip to Paris and her time spent at a French-Canadian boarding school influenced her tastes) to her adulthood, working in a collaborative kitchen and becoming friends with influential foodies.
The stories are often laugh out loud funny, and some are very touching (her mother's manic behavior is explained later in the book). The book allows the reader to see Reichl's influences and her deep love of food through the stories, without Reichl ever coming out and saying "these are my influences."
Food lovers in particular will probably adore this book, but lovers of autobiographies will probably also enjoy it. The book is not about food, exactly, but about a woman's coming of age (and part of that coming of age is that she simply loves food and the art of its creation).
A delicious read--I couldn't put it down.
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on November 16, 1999
This is a very enjoyable autobiographical account of a foodie discovering a range of cooking and eating possibilities way beyond her first, rather ghastly, home experiences. Reichl introduces us to memorable characters who accidentally or deliberately guided the development of her taste/s. I read it through at a sitting the first time. Now I am reading it more slowly and photocopying some of the recipes because I don't want to cover the book in grease. Highly recommended as a story of a personal "getting of wisdom", as well as a narrative which is crowded with memorable characters. P.S. I ordered as a companion, and am still reading, the 1998 compilation of essays about food, We are What we Ate, edited by Mark Winegardner.
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on May 14, 2002
Light, yet rich and tasty. Restaurant critic Ruth Reichl's memoir is all of these. Easy to read, yet filled with insight and well-rounded characters. The author's mother suffered from manic depression, and one way it manifested itself was in bizarre - and often downright poisonous - culinary creations. The author describes herself as having been shaped by her mother's handicap, beginning at an early age to use food as a way of making sense of the world. She effectively conveys this food-sense in a series of funny and poignant tales that take us from her childhood in New York up through young adulthood in California. She lovingly introduces the significant people in her life, revealing them to us in how and what they cooked. Her stories are punctuated by recipes (I didn't cook any of them, but they look like they should work).
The author is equally effective when she moves away from the table to tell more directly of her relationships with friends and family. She describes some episodes that could be seen as time-bound clichés - living in a commune, working in a collectively managed restaurant - with a perspective sometimes lacking in baby-boom memoirs. She brings similar good-humored perspective to her mother's mental illness and her own struggle with anxiety attacks, never wallowing in graphic description of symptoms. You don't have to be a "foodie" to enjoy TENDER AT THE BONE, just a lover of warm, tender memoirs.
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on July 6, 2002
The friend that I borrowed this book from was devastated when I returned it and she (subsequently) couldn't find it. Synchronously, I received it in a recycling effort from one of her dear friends. Imagine how excited she's going to be to receive it back!

With good-humored perspective, Ruth Reichl, NY Times Food Editor, lovingly introduces the significant people in her life and the way she managed to find a path for herself and build a wonderful life in spite of a tumultuous childhood. A childhood that was filled with emotional trauma and rather ghastly home experiences, (imagine) Ruth's Mother picks her up from middle school, and without any preparation or explanation, drives to Canada, where she deposits Ruth in a Catholic boarding school where only French is spoken. When Ruth begs not to be left there, her Mother reminds her that she is the one that wants to learn French!
Reichl introduces us to quirky, memorable characters that thankfully guided the development of her love of fine food. A story filled with wit, sadness, resourcefulness and occasional mishap, Ruth will tell you she learned early in life that the most important thing in life is a good story!
You will be as amazed as I by the life Reichl led and discover a range of cooking and eating possibilities way beyond today's lifestyle. Excellent!
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on March 28, 2003
Why I like this book can be best summed up by the beginning of the second-to-last chapter: After reading Reichl's first restaurant review, her editor remarks that she was born to do this, and she replies softly, "No, but I was very well trained." Although she was gifted with an appreciative palate and a knack for cooking, Reichl acquired her knowledge of foods from a series of good teachers, ranging from the eccentric quilt-maker Mr. Izzy T to exacting French winegrowers and tart-makers. Her ease with a wide variety of people, and her willingness to learn, were as crucial to her success as her way with words. She's a good storyteller, but there's genuine warmth beneath the engaging (and sometimes scary) portraits of her friends, family, and mentors. (I was a graduate student at Berkeley during some of the time she lived there, and her picture of commune living and the restaurant business was dead on -- but, unlike many other writers who came out of the same milieu, she neither romanticizes the hippie lifestyle nor sneers at the political mind-set.) The book is like having lunch with a friend who's knowledgeable about food and wine, but not pretentious or smug, and I found it perfectly delightful.
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on April 26, 2000
Tender at the Bone is engaging when food is in the room and loses momentum when the conversation too directly deals with the human beings doing the cooking and eating. Reichl has spent her life relating to the world around her through food, and her relationship to that world is most clearly and earnestly told in that context.
Reichl's book is well worth reading, especially for the early chapters about her childhood. Those early vignettes are terrific. Once she enters college, the book drifts into the iffy world of memoir, and Reichl's skill with storytelling is notably more limited when reflecting on adulthood than when reminiscing about childhood. The storytelling is also weakened by less attention to the lessons of cooking, eating, and serving than were given to the early chapters.
It's a fast read, and there's enough in the second half to keep the reader going... but just enough.
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on August 2, 2000
Tender at the Bone is filled with many wonderful adventures, although not always happy ones. Imagine being sent off to school in Montreal for several years to learn French cold turkey! It may be nice to know the language, of course, but it seems a rather rude shock for a young kid. It's good to know that she survived to become editor in chief of Gourmet Magazine, but that's 20-20 hindsight.
Interestingly enough, amazing meals of all types and varieties are instrumental in her survival of this and other many other adventures, filled with wit, sadness, resourcefulness and occasional mishap. Ms. Reichl is kind enough to include the recipes in this warmly written memoir. I haven't cooked any of the recipes (although I definitely dog-eared some pages, particularly the delicious-looking Artpark Brownies) but I enjoyed reading the book and could easily read it right through again.
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I picked up this book to read a chapter during lunch and finished it by dinner, laughing all the way. Not only are the meals tender but so are the characters. A grand tale of family life rife with passion, with eccentric behavior taken for granted. The stories are delightful and unusual, flowing easily as if Reichl were sitting in the next chair bending your ear over a tray of iced oysters. From her first souffle to dumpster diving, each meal left me hungry. The progression slowed a bit for me when she came to her early wine education. The rhythm felt out of joint with the rest of the narrative. But, overall, I highly recommend Tender at the Bone to anyone who likes to cook, eat, or read a good book.
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on October 18, 1999
"Root," the young French-Canadian girls called her when she arrived to study here in Montreal. This is an entertaining book about Ms. Reichl's growing-up years. You don't have to be a foodie to get into it. I'm a culinary numbskull yet I thoroughly enjoyed her numerous anecdotes about the people and places she has known. The writing is clean and polished, just what you'd expect from a former New York Times restaurant critic. A pleasure.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon February 24, 2001
One of my favorite books, far more than just a memoir written by a food writer. Absolutely delightful, full of humor and charm ( and a few great recipes), this is the story of an amazing woman who was born into a chaotic family and managed to break away and find her own identity. Ruth Reichl's mother was an unpredictable woman who literally left chaos in her wake - she was later diagnosed as a manic-depressive. What's more, she was a terrible cook, often preparing not just inedible meals but many that were actually dangerous to eat; she was rather absent-minded about food storage. Instead of being discouraged by the chaos in her life, Reichl learned to cook - probably as much for her own survival as anything else and eventually became a celebrated food writer. But all I've said so far is really a bare-bones sketch of a remarkable book. I was amazed by the life Reichl led and the way she managed to find a path for herself and build a life in spite of a tumultuous childhood.
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