Interview with Gael Greene

Here’s the latest in my interview series of Best Sex Writing 2008 contributors.

Gael Greene wrote “The Insatiable Critic” column for New York magazine for more than thirty years and remains on the staff, writing a weekly “Ask Gael” column. The author of Blue Skies, No Candy, Doctor Love, and other books, she is also cofounder (with James Beard) and board chair of Citymeals-on-Wheels, an organization that delivers 2.2 million meals a year to elderly housebound New Yorkers. She lives in New York City. Visit her at www.insatiable-critic.com.

What prompted you to write your memoir, Insatiable: Tales from a Life of Delicious Excess, and who would you say is your intended audience?

I wanted to tell the story of how New York City and America fell in love with food from my early days as a foodie-ahead-of-the-times, before I forgot it and before people who weren’t there rewrote it. Feeling that the sexual revolution had prepared Americans for the food revolution by seeding sensualism, I wanted to tell that story too. In each decade what was happening culturally, on the streets and in the stock market, affected what we ate.

What has the reaction to the memoir been like? Did you get any flak from people who primarily think of you as a food critic for writing about your personal life?

There were some passionate food lovers who were offended by the erotic memoir. Some of the men in my life were pleased to be left out of the book and a few I neglected to mention were hurt. One wrote asking if we could meet for lunch so he could audition for the second volume.

The excerpt in Best Sex Writing 2008 (“The Prince of Porn and the Junk-Food Queen”) is about your dalliance with porn star Jamie Gillis. Looking back on that time of your life, is there anything you’d do differently? How did it feel to relive that era while writing Insatiable?

It was emotionally draining to remember all the sad times and mad times in the book but what fun to relive the great moments. I could almost taste the astonishment of dinner at Fredy Girardet and memories of incredible times in bed were so vivid.

Since you cover both of them extensively in your memoir, what do you see as the connection between food and sex?

Obviously, two of the greatest sensuous pleasures consenting adults can share. It seems so obvious…we use the same senses in both eating and making love — the eyes, the nose, the ears, the sense of taste. The more in touch one is with one’s sensuality, the more pleasure, and the greatest pleasure is in the moment. The ability to enjoy the moment is a gift.

Has he been in touch with you since Insatiable was published or have you seen him recently?

Jamie Gillis is living with Zarela Martinez, the restaurateur — she met him a few years ago at my birthday. They seem quite together and happy. The four of us had dinner two weeks ago.

What does the word “insatiable” mean to you?

Literally, “insatiable” means not being able to be satisfied. I have never found satisfaction elusive. New York magazine’s creator Clay Felker thought Insatiable Critic was amusing and my then husband did too, so it’s on my New York magazine column and my web site.

For me, too much of a good thing is just barely enough.

You are now writing for your own website, Insatiablecritic.com, in addition to your New York magazine column and other food writing. What’s different about writing on the web vs. print? Has being able to update the site whenever you want changed how quickly you write your reviews?

The big difference is I decide what I want to cover and how long to write. Alas, another difference is I have no determined fact checker on the site as I do at New York, although I do have two editors who read for typos, grammar, spelling. Everything is faster now than it was in 1968 when New York magazine was born and I came on as the critic; nobody waits for a restaurant to settle in. The competition is huge, beyond imagining. Most of my blog postings are about first visits to new restaurants, although some of the stronger pieces are rediscoveries of places and chefs I have admired.

Do you get more feedback from readers from the website vs. your New York magazine column?

The instant feedback of an email to the site is apparently very tempting.

What’s your favorite recent restaurant find?

I loved the food at Dovetail on the Upper West Side. Bar Boulud is a great gift to the Lincoln Center area. Chop Suey in the Renaissance Hotel will be good if it stays consistent. The Smith is better than it needs to be for the NYU students it draws and the amazing low prices.

You did a roundup of 2007’s Best Dishes on your site. In general, do you prefer to revisit old favorites or try new places?

After three or four new places that aren’t wonderful, I desperately need to go back to a restaurant I love.

What can visitors to Insatiablecritic.com look forward to in the near future?

I’ll keep up with what’s new. I hope my readers will feed me more good food world gossip. Every week, we post more vintage articles from the earliest days of New York magazine, not available anywhere else on the web. I think they are fun to read for those of us who were there, and newly obsessed foodies who want to know what it was like.

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