Adam Platt has been the restaurant critic at New York Magazine since 2000, when he took over from Gael Green. His own food background skews heavily to Asian cuisine as he spent his formative years in Japan and China, so while he has no formal cooking background, he has a deep understanding of the current food scene.
The early chapters of The Book of Eating read more like a very tasty auto-biography, detailing Platt’s childhood eating experiences in the US and abroad. These are engaging as part of the bigger story and especially for anyone interested in regional Asian cuisine, but I can see where and why some readers on Goodreads gave up near the beginning as Platt doesn’t really dish a lot of dirt on the NYC food scene, and he can tend to be repetitive with phrases that he presumes are witty (the term “boiled owl” appears far too often).
The Book of Eating follows in the footsteps of other (male) food critics such as Steingarten, Rayner, and Parker-Bowles. There’s a chapter on eating fugu, for instance, one of those edgy things male food critics always include to show they’re… manly?
Platt does go a bit deeper however, fleshing out the life of a critic and making it clear that it’s not the dream job many people think it is, detailing his ongoing struggle with weight and related health issues, getting banned from restaurants for previously having given the chef a poor review and being “made” when arriving at a restaurant for dinner.
Because The Book of Eating is so recent, Platt has been able to offer an up to date point of view on the many administrative issues faced by food critics these days. For instance, the shift to Instagram or other social media sites, the move by mainstream media away from running restaurant review columns at all (too expensive), and the straight-up closure of many media outlets in a time when mainstream media still hasn’t been able to effectively monetize the internet. Like many restaurant critics, Platt has found himself writing more and more “best of” listicles instead of full-on one-off reviews of recently opened restaurants. By the final chapters, he seems tired and burnt out by how the food scene has changed and what his job now entails.
As a former food writer and critic, I very much enjoyed The Book of Eating, but I finished it with concern for Platt’s overall well-being. It’s clear that he loves his job, loves food, and loves to write about it, but after 20 years and a scene that is moving towards something very different from the old school formal reviews of the past, you can’t blame his frustration at how hard it is to keep up.