I’ve never been a particularly picky eater, but reading Jeffrey Steingarten’s book The Man Who Ate Everything about five years ago changed my life. Steingarten’s enthusiasm for food, his erudition, and his ability to combine the two into unmitigated gustatory delight are unique and inimitable. He’s a double inspiration: A gourmand, who also happens to be a terrific and amusing writer. Immediately I wanted to do the same — to eat, and get fat; to write about it, and get a column in Vogue. (Never mind the impossibility of these goals, given my tapeworm-like metabolism and my complete lack of interest in the fashion world.) More importantly, the book gave me permission to enjoy food in a bigger way than I had before — not just eating, but also cooking, savoring, and learning about food. I turned into an amateur culinary geek, roasting endless chickens, forcing my friends to eat my many attempts at an ideal omelette, trying to bake the perfect sourdough muffin. I got copies of Julia Child’s famous cookbooks. I started eating restaurant food more critically and carefully. And I started trying out new flavors, new food experiences, and new restaurants.
It culminated, during a lucky trip to Paris that was made possible by the sudden availability of an apartment Susan was renting, with a pilgrimage to L’Os a Moelle, a “haute bistro” Steingarten recommends in one of his essays.
I have never enjoyed eating so much as I did that night. Without being pretentious or formal, the restaurant put on a theater of food that was completely engrossing and amazing during the two hours that we sat there, shoulder to shoulder with a couple of cigarette-smoking Japanese tourists and a middle aged Parisian couple. Some highlights: A tiny, marble-sized, flavorful puff of pastry that awaited us as we sat down. Hot bowls that contained nothing but a few chopped chives, which, warmed by the bowl, gave off a delicious scent all by themselves, until the waiters filled the bowls in front of us with an amazing potage. A simply-prepared but nonetheless complex and delicate fish. An incredibly densely-flavored duck. Dish after dish, the dinner went on, like a magician’s act — now watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat! Now watch me saw this woman in half! Now watch me disappear in an explosion of light and color! At the end, I felt sated, overfull, inspired, and completely blissed-out. K felt good, too, but says she also felt a little “infused” by an excess of coriander, which was apparently the spice of the day.
Shortly after that trip, in November 2000, we adopted our baby girl, CC, and I have had much less time for gourmet pilgrimages and culinary experimentation. But I still read Steingarten every month (what other reason to subscribe to Vogue is there?) and pay much more attention to what I’m eating than I ever did before. A door opened to a new world of experience, and it has never closed, even if I don’t go through it very often these days. So I was delighted to find this online version, via Anil Dash, of Steingarten’s essay on learning to eat everything, the introduction to his excellent book. If you haven’t read it yet, do so–maybe it will change your life too.