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Q & A With The Insatiable Gael Greene

Gael Greene began her career in food even before New York was a city worthy of culinary reckoning.  Finding her way onto the dining scene by way of New York Magazine, she launched her column, “Insatiable Critic”, and simultaneously pioneered the very notion of a foodie.  From her infamous sexual encounter with Elvis and a fried egg sandwich to the imminent 21st century launch of, Gael’s witnessed over four decades of food history.  Unabashedly mixing business with pleasure, Gael’s pretty much seen, done and eaten it all…

What did you want to be when you grew up?
A novelist. My heroes were Scott Fitzgerald, D.H. Lawrence, Katherine Anne Porter.
Carson McCullers. Hemingway.   I wanted to sit at the Deux Magots Cafe in Paris writing and feel the earth move.

An accidental critic of sorts, you curiously pioneered the foodie movement in the seventies.  How do you think the dining landscape has changed over the last forty years in NYC as well as across the country?
It took me 350 pages of Insatiable to tell what happened…but, in short, from a basically conservative and uptight population —when even quite sophisticated and traveled New Yorkers thought an overcooked lamb chop and rice pudding was a perfect dinner and no one talked much about food…we have grown into the most food obsessed nation in the world. We didn’t have celebrity chefs or prepubescent vegetables or gastronomic emporiums as big as a small town, or boutique chickens. Cholesterol had not been invented.  There were no American chefs anyone had ever heard of.  The best American restaurant in Manhattan – the Four Seasons – had a Swiss chef.  Urbanites didn’t eat out eight nights a week. There were only a tiny handful of restaurant critics that counted.  Not one thousand bloggers and heaven only knows how many Zagat voters.

When you were a critic for New York Magazine, you dined at glamorous French haunts of the likes of La Cote Basque, Le Pavillon & Caravelle.  All gone but not forgotten, what do you make of the present culinary state of affairs?   Do you see it as an evolution or spiral into the culinary abyss?
I’m not sure yet if La Cote Basque in its semi-brasserie form is gone forever…And La Grenouille is still with us, younger and more welcoming in style.  I don’t miss the copycat menus and the limited imagination or the ferocious snobbism of the fancy French restaurant in the Sixties and early Seventies. Though I do miss many of the great heroes of New York dining who are no longer with us…And when I crave an element of French tradition, I have Le Bernardin, Jean Georges, Daniel, many small bistros.  We have the various chefs who cook French for Alain Ducasse and it’s fun to see what a transplanted chef like Laurent Tourondel can do with American tradition.  New York is full of endless options, ethnic outposts we never dreamed would come, enough BBQ and steakhouses to feed our denial, great ice cream, glorious bread…high prices, some ridiculous techno-food and absentee chefs are the small price we pay.  And hunger in our own bountiful city is impossible to accept.

Your book, “The Insatiable Critic: Tales From A Life of Delicious Excess” just came out on paperback.  Two words: food & sex.  If you had to give up one, which would it be?
Alas, biology rules.  You can live longer without sex than you can live without food. It also seems longer.

Do you ever eat junk food?  If so, name your poison.
Jujy Fruits. Swedish fish.

You often refer to your significant other as a “steak & potatoes guy”.  Does that ever create a riff between you two?
I also call him the Road Food Warrior.  He seems amused. 

What are your top five restaurants in NYC?
Gotham, Le Bernardin, Esca, Bar Americain, Balthazar, Sfoglia.  Those six are my top five.

Do you have a favorite trend of late?
I love the dominance of potatoes. There can never be too much macaroni-and-cheese for me. I like Vietnamese food and BBQ. Exploiting seasonal products is a wonderful obsession except I’m already ramped out and those cute little wild asparagus stems are almost flavorless.

What’s your least favorite food trend (and yes, you must pick one)?
Bizarre combinations that are “interesting” rather than delicious.  Herbs and other lawn cuttings in my dessert.

Rumor has it you’re gearing up to launch a website. Do tell… was set to launch May 8 which means…hopefully in May.  I’ll be writing BITE, my journal of what I ate and overheard. It will also carry travel tips, recipes, favorite places and an archive of articles from New York Magazine including vintage favorites not available anywhere on line.

Any other new projects on the horizon – spill the beans.
Still working on a children’s book about a little girl whose mother is a restaurant critic, while deciding if I have another novel in me. The distinguished writer Simon Wincester and I are the entertainment on a Remote Lands Private Jet Cuisine and Culture Tour through Bangkok, Burma, Bhutan, Kashgar and Cochin in October.

Until we eat again,
Restaurant Girl
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