Well, it's not every day that a food scribbler—particularly one who aspires to nothing in particular in the food world—gets to share space on the air with such luminaries as Ruth Reichl, onetime NY Times and LA Times food critic, best-selling author and editor-in-chef of the most popular food magazine in North America.
But I did, today. And I found out a couple of things. Number one, writing about food and talking about food are two very different things. Ruth was the one who pointed that out to me. Can you imagine, a stalwart icon of the food world deigning to give a couple of pointers to a lowly bottom-feeder? Neither can I, so that was why I was blown away by the fact that Ruth, in facultas dicendi (oratorical talent, for you non-literati-latin-phrase-dropping rabble) is very, very far removed from her down-home chickenscratch self. No wonder she hasn't spanned the chasm and become a Food Network regular. And that gives me hope and prevents me from staying in my basement all day. And I also happily discovered that a couple of glasses of wine makes practically anyone a potential novelty talk-show meshugginah.
But let's start at the start: I, Average Schmoe, was somehow (and randomly, I suspect) asked to appear on the radio show Homerun by the folks at CBC radio. It was to be a part of a wider project about food in Montreal as envisioned by the Highlights Festival, which annually takes place when most folks have antifreeze running through their veins. My claim to fame? A website about food in Montreal. Not about my years as gadabout food editor and reviewer undergoing multitudes of hilarious though soul-affirming hijinx with celebrity chefs and quirky-yet-lovable serial-adulterer food mavens.
So it was with considerable trepidation that I ticked off the floors in the elevator of the hotel that was hosting this live radio show in one of their showcase restaurants. What the hell was live radio anyway? Was I going to be dissected by a top-ten list host in front of a jeering audience, or otherwise be roasted, basted and served with an apple in my snout?
I really did not want to find out. Besides, what could possibly be useful in my opening my mouth about anything, let alone in front of a shambling mob of "Nigella Bites" zombies, possibly numbering in the hundreds, if not thousands? Nothing, nothing at all, is the healthy response each and every one of us should have to such a question. And my worst fears were proved correct when I exited the elevator and surveyed the scene of my undoing: people sat at tables wearing headphones and wires stretched away from them and noises came out of speakers around the room that boomed in hall-size reverb to a 50-strong legion of blue- and white-haired table dwellers sipping house wine and munching scones. There goes my hope for anonymity, I thought.
I don't suppose many of us carry around a rulebook on how to prepare for a live radio interview, so that's why I consider myself lucky for inadvertently having the rules memorised by default, without even the need for notebook or day organizer. As an example, I proffer rule number one: drink wine. This is easy to do when there is a complimentary tray of wines by the glass at the entrance to the venue; Ruth, next time I advise you highly to avail yourself.
Countdown To Eternity is an attractive name for a film treatment but it doesn't serve well as a persistent thought while one waits to be interviewed on live radio, so I was glad to thrust it to hindsight as I was ushered to the large, fuzz-enhanced microphone and forced to listen to a chipper weather/traffic report while my host chatted, headphones on, to a couple of his technicians and welcomed a couple of "big fans" with a barrel laugh and congenial twinkle.
And before you know it, it was all over, before it had begun, almost. Really not almost, but that's what it seemed. It actually lasted five minutes and 18 seconds, but if you think about it, that's several hours in dog years, 18 days in tapir years and almost eight months for the common Australian cane toad.
I was terrified when the music died down and the host's introduction ended in a syrupy "So tell our listeners about what it's like to have a great job like a food critic!"
The actual interview is a blur. I didn't record it and all I can remember talking about is how much I didn't think I was a food reviewer. To be precise, I explained how much I thought I was the least qualified in the world to be a food reviewer (he kept calling it "critic.") The interview deteriorated as I found myself prattling on about the website as the host gazed steely-eyed at me and interjected the occasional "Hmmph."
It all came to an abrupt end when he said "Well, let's say thank you . . . "
Crushed, I slunk away and called a taxi. I was not a performer or expert; Ruth Reichl, up ahead of me in a few moments, was. Ruth! The goddess of food. She was going to be on in a few minutes. The voice of foodies everywhere; multi-award author of many books, career history involving almost every single name of anyone who is relevant in the food business today—now that was going to be a killer interview.
Home after a self-congratulatory taxi ride, I tuned in to the ongoing broadcast, just in time to hear Ruth Reichl's segment. It was phoned in, presumably from LA or NY or perhaps from DKNY, and I eagerly awaited her foodie-fueled pronouncements on all things food in Montreal, from the pinnacle of the most revered food magazine on the planet. That would have been great, but that didn't happen.
She sounded stressed, tired, bleary-eyed and hungover as she recounted all the reasons why Montreal food mattered to her, starting with the reminiscence that she had once attended French school here in 1965, and petering out with a "Well, you have a great city," or some other similar platitude.
I imagined her in her bathrobe after waking up a mere hour before, having stayed out at a foodie extravaganza at perhaps Rao's in NY, the Chateau Neuf du Pop '76 reverberating in her brain.
Wow, I thought wonderingly as she clicked off the line. You kicked Ruth Reichl's ass! Hmm . . . next time maybe I'll phone it in too.