"You think what you do is so nice?" asks Mimi Sheraton's mother in the first chapter of Sheraton's memoir, Eating My Words: An Appetite for Life (Morrow, hardcover, $23.95). "A man invests a lot of money and a builds a beautiful restaurant and has a family to support. He has customers and everything is fine, until one day, in walks Big Mouth."
Big Mouth was the restaurant critic for the New York Times when her unsupportive mom made those comments. If Ruth Reichl, who held the Times critic position from 1993 to 1999, can be credited with popularizing the sense of sociology prevalent in restaurant criticism today, Sheraton refined the ethical and analytical aspects of the job years earlier. It was on Sheraton's watch at the Times, from 1975 to 1983, that restaurant critics first earned the reputation as "nitpickers" who could make or break a new venue's chance for success.
Sheraton's recollections are a juicy, resonant read not only for the insight into her time at the nation's most powerful paper, but for the rich life she led before and after. In a chatty yet commanding voice, she recounts tales from her Brooklyn childhood and early marriage to a man most notable for his prowess in the sack, to a frustrating post-Times gig trying to improve the food served at hospitals. Obviously, this is a memoir geared toward foodies, yet it's more of a contemplative reflection than a culinary tell-all. Don't expect pages and pages of gushing descriptions of foie gras-laced meals at Le Cirque.