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OA Blog/Book Reviews

Jay Rayner Eats the World With a Little Help From His Friends

If you don’t mind, I am going to do some shilling on behalf of my friend Jay Rayner. For those of you who don’t know Jay, he is the restaurant critic for The Observer newspaper in London, and he also happens to be the author of the book pictured in the photo above Jay travels the world in order to see how the art of fine dining is progressing in the age of a global society. Normally I don’t have the patience to read anything longer than a medium length magazine article (a symptom of my rampant but undiagnosed ADHD,) but given that I am a character who appears in the book, I actually took the time to read it. For some reason I can read for long periods of time while sitting on a plane. But over the past few months, a trip to the West Coast as well as two round trips to Boston presented the opportunity to read the book from cover to cover.

Jay’s travels take him to seven major cities around the world; Las Vegas, Moscow, Dubai, Tokyo, New York, London and Paris. And slowly, meal by meal, each city’s personality is revealed through a careful study of what is on the plate combined with a description of the type of people who frequent that city’s restaurants. Over the course of the book we learn that despite all of the money that the hotels spend on luring famous chefs to the city, the restaurants in Las Vegas lack a certain authenticity – a legitimate culinary reason for existing in that location in the first place. In Tokyo we learn that while the Japanese are absolutely fanatical when it comes to sourcing the very best ingredients, they prefer to eat them in the quiet of small out of the way dining rooms where they can savor their majestic qualities in private, rather than in the more communal and celebratory manner you find in the West. And we also get a bit of insight into the current crop of Parisian restaurants, and while in spite of the fact that it is the birthplace of contemporary cuisine, and you can still get the occasional thrilling meal there, why some people in the food world have lowered their opinion of the city in terms of its current contribution to the culinary arts.

But I would be lying if I didn’t tell you that my two favorite chapters are about New York and London. Okay I’m a little bit biased since yours truly plays a big part on the chapter in New York City. You see the sub-title of the book is, “The Search For the Perfect Meal" and one evening back in May 2007, Jay and I set out to see if we could find the perfect meal by having dinner at Jean Georges, Per Se. Bouley, Eleven Madison Park and WD-50 all in the same night. I had written an article about it for my blog a while back, but in the hopes of encouraging you to go out and buy the book I won’t post a link to the article here. After all, Jay has a wife and family to feed and since the Observer isn’t regularly paying for their meals at restaurants, I figure that they will get the benefit of any royalties that Jay will earn from the sales of his book.

But of all the ground Jay covers, the parts that I enjoyed the most were the biographical aspects of his life. Let’s face it; for a number of reasons that I can write chapter and verse on, Jews have a weird relationship with food. And while Jay’s family has been in Britain for a number of generations, and my parents were immigrants (okay my mother was born in the U.S. but she might as well have been an immigrant) the relationship that his family has with food is very recognizable to me. In fact my single favorite part of the book is when Jay takes his elderly parents to lunch at Galvin Bistro de Luxe. For years the family had a tradition of going to Rules, but Jay determined that dragging them into the very center of the West End would be too much for them and he opted for Galvin instead. There is something sweet about the story as he recounts it, and in a book that is about eating the most extravagant meals, it is a good reminder that there is another side to dining; most of the time when we partake in a meal with others, it isn’t about a passion for food, but a shared social experience that allows us to spend time with the people we love.

So go out and buy a few dozen copies of the book and hand them out to friends and family as holiday gifts. Or when you go to your favorite bookstore this year to buy yourself the new Thomas Keller or Heston Blumenthal book, throw a copy, or ten copies, on the pile. I know Jay’s family will appreciate your efforts as I am know they would like to continue to eat well. And to be honest, the book has been an excellent source of new people registering for the OA Dining Survey and we can use all of the publicity we can get.