Jim Poris - December 2000
Food Arts presents the December 2000 Silver Spoon Award for sterling performance to Gael Greene, the indefatigable Insatiable Gourmet for New York magazine, whose criticism has revealed and reveled in, for better or worse, the food world's cultural and social rituals. No critic has trumpeted the glories and inanities, the just-discovered and best-forgotten, the deep meanings and profound banalities of dining out as much as Greene. For more than 30 years, her articles and restaurant reviews have, for example, altered and steered the salivating public to the imminence of nouvelle cuisine, the eminence of pretense of starry-eyed chefs, and the prominence of Chinese cuisine.
Along with the late James Beard and other prominent players in the food and restaurant community, Greene founded Citymeals-on-Wheels in 1981. The program, which raises private funds to supplement government-run weekday meal delivery programs, helped support the delivery of more than 1.8 million meals to 15,000 homebound elderly New Yorkers in 1999.
The "Velveeta wasteland" of hometown Detroit didn't prove to be as fertile a training ground for Greene's critical pen as New York City, where she first worked on the city desk of the New York Post in the mid-1960s. She gulped a spoonful of the city's restaurant glitz, wanted more, and so turned to freelancing to defray her burgeoning urges—including writing pieces for the legendary editor Clay Felker, who was just then untethering New York from its mooring as the magazine of the moribund Herald Tribune and relaunching it as a weekly, city-oriented news/features/service publication. "I was shocked when he asked me to be the restaurant critic, because I didn't have the background of a Craig Claiborne," she recalls.
Greene wrote her pieces in the charged-up, highly personalized style of the ascendant New Journalism, as epitomized by Tom Wolfe, another New York magazine contributor. "I wanted to put the readers in the chair and give them not just an idea of how the food tasted but how the restaurant felt and sounded and looked. It was so exciting to be able to write in my own voice. I had to find new ways of saying things so readers wouldn't become bored, especially with sensory words, like describing when something is overcooked. It's a somewhat controversial style of writing."
That's an understatement, as Greene has shown no compunction about puncturing overinflated, helium-hyped chefs and restaurants. "Crazed, obsessed, monomaniacal, a pain-in-the-ass, and proud of it," Greene wrote about one New York City chef. And that's one she liked. But he and other chefs can relax now, knowing that Greene removed herself from the critic's beat in August to work on a children's book, a novel to add to the three she's already published—Delicious Sex; Blue Skies, No Candy; and Doctor Love—and freelance articles, including many on food, because, she remarks with biting bemusement, "editors still think of me as a food writer." They do—and with good reason, because Greene is as responsible for the modern genre as anyone juggling fork and pen.