A (Bulimic) Food Critic Coughs Up the Truth

Monday  August 31, 2009

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Listen to our GQ Radio podcast with Frank Bruni below or click here to download it from iTunes.

You had to feel sorry for the waitress. She was about to encounter Frank Bruni, the elusive New York Times restaurant critic who slapped David Bouley down a star and savaged Robert DeNiro’s eatery, Ago, both for fumbling the table service. And she had no idea. She bent over us to write her name on a cocktail napkin with a baby blue highlighter, which she festooned with two pretty hearts. This strange naming ritual put her powdery breasts on lavish display. “I’m Jillian,” she announced brightly, pushing her calling card into the middle of our table. “Have you been to Hooters before?”

Bruni was ravenous. He ordered two plates: medium-hot wings with no breading and extra blue cheese, plus the “Hooters ‘More Than A Mouthful’ Burger,” medium-rare with Swiss.

This, it turns out, is the real Frank Bruni. In his unusually revealing new memoir, Born Round, he peels back the aluminum foil on his long relationship with unhealthy (to put it mildly) eating. A rapacious toddler, he grew into a gluttonous adolescent who consumed astounding quantities of food and thought about almost nothing else. As an 8-year-old he was already on the Atkins Diet; by college, he was a full-on bulimic. For him, Freshman Fifteen was the number of servings he would eat at a sitting, and the number of minutes it took him to tickle it all back out in the john.

This went on for years, sometimes coupled with X-Lax abuse, yet he never sought help for it. He seemed to still have trouble grasping the depth of the pathology. “It was certainly disordered,” he said. “But there was a part of me that thought, I’ll be able to correct this myself.” And he did, after a fashion. He quit vomiting, but only once he discovered speed, then gave up speed for a diet consisting of nothing but Greek salads. Nothing tamed The Hunger nor slowed the weight gains. By his mid-30s, traveling around the country to cover George Bush’s first campaign for the Times, he began to pillage mini-bar after mini-bar, sometimes gobbling $100 a night in chocolate chip cookies, Snickers, and roasted cashews. The next 30 pounds seemed to go right to his cheeks, which Bush couldn’t help but pinch.

Bruni’s subsequent assignment, as the paper’s White House correspondent, was his “low bottom,” as the 12-steppers say—a time of inescapable depression and an opportunity for exploring even further reaches of his intestines. “My stomach was nothing but space—a McMansion of stomach,” he wrote, “with laundry rooms and powder rooms and walk-in closets and in-law suits that other stomachs didn’t have.”

Ultimately he pushed the scale to 268 pounds. “I looked like Jabba The Hutt,” he told me as Jillian brought our drinks (“a diet something” for him). He became so unsightly that the Times columnist Maureen Dowd, his friend and colleague, hired him a personal trainer, who turned Bruni into an exercise junkie. By the time he was named Restaurant Critic in 2004, he had lost 65 pounds and was able to have sex with the lights on for the first time in his life.

Which is why he nearly refused the column—a job requiring that he eat out seven nights a week, sometimes two dinners in one day, with an annual restaurant allowance of $150,000, a glutton’s wet dream. His friends worried he would backslide, but because of his twisted relationship with food, he actually saw the job as a solid bulwark against weight gain, he said. “In this job, I can’t diet and that’s my great salvation. Since I can never do extreme denial, I could never talk myself into extreme binging, because I can’t tell myself with any honesty that next week I’ll be better—because next week there are going to be seven more dinners out.”

In the end, he was right. Bruni wraps up his five-year stint this month in a 33” belt, heading to new challenges at the paper. He leaves food on plates now, even the most dreamy concoctions at Jean Georges or Le Bernadin. But on some nights, after an exquisite $200 meal, he cops to stopping for a pint of Ben & Jerry’s or a whole rotisserie chicken, somehow packing it all into his stomach at once. The feeling of near-explosion still gives him a high, like a drug rush. His book is about struggle, not victory.

“I wanted to write something that was in some ways an anti-food memoir, a completely different stripe of memoir that talked not about the seduction and glory of food, but the seduction and betrayal of food,” he said. “Because there are as many people out there who have a fraught relationship with food as a gauzy romantic one.”

When our lunch arrived, Bruni plundered the wings and pushed the burger past his teeth without joy. He found the wings passable, not plump enough but not overcooked. And the burger? “It was terrible,” he said. “If I hadn’t been so hungry, I would have let it be.” He ate all but a little pinch—a token sacrifice to the gods of willpower, proof the war is not yet lost.—david france

11:45 p.m., L'Entrecôte

Friday  June 26, 2009

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Steak, frites, salad. That's it. No menu at L'Entrecôte. Just decide what kind of wine to order, and Paris' most charming—and toughest—waitresses take care of the rest. (There are several locations in Paris; we ended up at the one in St. Germain des Pres.) And do like Jim Moore: Ask for crème fraîche and sugar with the berries.—a.r.

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Pork 'n Beans

Friday  June 26, 2009

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Big thanks to Christine Muhlke from the New York Times T Magazine for recommending L'Assiette in the 14th. God DAMN was that tasty.—a.r.

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Freshen Up

Monday  June 22, 2009

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One of my favorite small pleasures in Milan? These babies, right here:

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Bianconeri are licorice-flavored breath fresheners that give you just the right mix of cool and bitter. What I like about the licorice taste is, as the Italians will tell you, it acts as a digestif. A good thing to know when you are over-indulging in the pasta (or other things).

I intend to stock up before heading home.—m.h.

Balls!

Monday  June 22, 2009

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Polpettine

Favorite snack in Milano: the complimentary deep-fried polpettine (tiny meatballs made from ground veal, breadcrumbs, and herbs) that you get when you sit down at Torre di Pisa, the kind of great, unpretentious trattoria you just don't find in the States.—a.r.

A Toast to Alan Richman

Monday  May 04, 2009

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Last night, GQ correspondent Alan Richman won two James Beard Foundation Journalism Awards. They’re the culinary industry’s highest honor for food and wine writing, and the pair Richman picked up—for “¡Viva La Revolucion!”, his account of the men behind Spain’s winemaking revival, and “Made (Better) in Japan,” his look at a new breed of internationally-minded Tokyo chefs—brings his lifetime Beard Award total to fourteen wins, twenty-six nominations.

We think of it as just the most recent recognition of Alan’s distinctive voice. Since 1986, he has brought food and wine to life in the pages of GQ, showing us its depths and pleasures, and taking us to places we haven’t been but aspire to go. It’s been our pleasure to accompany him along the way. Thank you, Alan, and congratulations on your distinguished achievements.

Read Richman’s winning 2009 GQ stories below:

“¡Viva La Revolucion!”
GQ, September 2008
Winner, 2009 James Beard Foundation Award: Writing on Spirits, Wine, or Beer

“Made (Better) in Japan”
GQ, March 2008
Winner, 2009 James Beard Foundation Award: Magazine Feature Writing Without Recipes

And be sure not to miss his weekly restaurant reviews on "Forked," his GQ.com blog.


Strawberry Pizza, from Jeremy Fox of Ubuntu (Napa, CA)

Tuesday  April 21, 2009

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A yoga-studio-slash-vegetarian-restaurant named for an African tribal philosophy—sounds like a joke, right? Jeremy Fox is not kidding. With a two-acre garden supplying his kitchen, he’s serving not only some of the best vegetarian-friendly cuisine in the country but also—as critic upon critic has lately gushed—some of the finest food in the world. Singular pizzas, such as this savory strawberry-sauced one, are among his signatures. Pizzas are the perfect vehicle for showcasing everything you grow. “If you have a big garden, and you know how to make pizza,” he says, “the possibilities are endless.”

Makes 4 individual-size pizzas
2 medium white onions, minced
2/3 cup olive oil
1/3 cup pine nuts
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup canned San Marzano tomatoes, hand-crushed
1 pints strawberries, sliced
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
Pizza dough (available in supermarkets, or use Fox’s home-cook-friendly recipe below)
1/2 cup shredded whole-milk mozzarella
1 pound Burrata cheese
Basil leaves
Saba (concentrated grape syrup), if available

Sweat the onions gently with the olive oil, pine nuts, and kosher salt in a nonreactive lidded pot. When the onions are translucent, add the tomatoes and strawberries and simmer until the mixture thickens, about 2 hours.
Pour in the balsamic vinegar and cook an additional 30 minutes. Remove the sauce from stove and cool in a colander to allow excess oil to run o­. Adjust seasoning with additional
salt and black pepper to taste. To build pizzas: Tear the dough into four pieces and pull each piece into shape. Spread the sauce evenly across the pizzas, then sprinkle each crust with 2 tablespoons of the mozzarella. Arrange a few small pieces of the Burrata on each pizza, then bake in a 500-degree oven on a pizza stone or baking sheet until the crust is golden and the cheese has melted. Slice pizzas, then top with the basil leaves, a drizzle of saba, and a big chunk of Burrata in the center.

Strawberry Pizza Dough
(Makes enough dough for four individual-size pizza crusts.)

3 cups bread flour
1 1/4 cups water, heated to 110 degrees F
1.5 teaspoons dry active yeast
1.5 tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Combine the water and yeast in a small bowl and leave at warm room temperature for 10 minutes, until the mixture is frothy. Whisk the water/yeast mixture with the oil, salt, sugar, and half the flour until smooth, then add remaining flour and knead for 5 minutes or until all the flour is well incorporated. Let the dough rise, covered with a moist cloth for 15 minutes or until its size doubles. Punch dough down, place in an airtight container twice its size, and refrigerate overnight. When ready to bake pizzas, cut dough into 4 even chunks and roll into balls on a lightly floured surface. Use your hands to stretch the dough into pizza shapes about ¼ inch thick.

For a complete, beginner-friendly guide to growing your own food, pick up the May issue of GQ.

L.A.: The Best Breakfast City in America

Thursday  February 19, 2009

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(Above: Kings Road Café, 8361 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, CA; 323-655-9044; www.kingsroadcafe.com)

To visit L.A. is to act like you wear $300 chinos and drive a black Range Rover and wear sunglasses that would otherwise embarrass you. And to wake up in L.A. is to pretend that you don't have a job and eat breakfast at 10 a.m. L. A. is a breakfast town. Breakfast at ten in Cleveland or Houston is a lonely affair, where you'll meet the kind of people who steal Sweet’N Low and talk to their lottery tickets. In L.A., though, if you go eat a scramblette at Toast or some raspberry and lemon pancakes at Griddle Café, you'll be surrounded by people who seem famous even if they're not. Plus, there's the food—killer coffee at Kings Road, omelets with caramelized onions at the Chateau Marmont, huevos rancheros basically everywhere, and all that great produce (never have breakfast in L.A. without at least one avocado). It's a breakfast town because it's a town where people actually eat breakfast, at restaurants, every day of the week, where there are dedicated breakfast spots instead of lame brunch places. And it's one of the few locations where there's no shame in ordering the egg-white omelet with veggie bacon. Because L.A. is a place where, in general, there is no shame.—devin friedman

Photo: Cedric Angeles

Forked

Tuesday  January 01, 2008


Click here for ‘Forked,’ Alan Richman’s food and wine blog at GQ.com.