To most gluttons, the life of a food critic seems charmed. We assume that the gourmand's biggest worry, while wining and dining at four-star restaurants on the company tab, is whether to order a cheese course with his tasting menu. But the job can be a taxing assault on the taste buds and stomach -- especially if, like Jeffrey Steingarten, you've cultivated an identity as The Man Who Ate Everything, the title of his first collection of humorous essays for Vogue. The book's sequel, It Must've Been Something I Ate: The Return of the Man Who Ate Everything, is similarly hilarious. In nearly 40 essays, Steingarten details his hand-to-mouth exploits as the "Indiana Jones of the food world." He gamely sets off on an epic hunt for bluefin tuna (the source of sushi-grade toro), travels to pizzerias armed with a Raynger T-8 noncontact thermometer with which to take the temperature of pizza ovens, and combs Louisiana's Cajun country in search of "Turducken" (a chicken stuffed into a duck stuffed into a turkey -- no, really).
When Steingarten started at the fashion bible in 1989, his mission was ambitious: to conquer his aversions to certain foods, like desserts served in Indian restaurants, clams, anchovies, lard, and blue victuals. "I felt an ethical responsibility to rid myself of every psychological and cultural prejudice and inhibition preventing me from becoming the perfect omnivore, the ideally neutral critic," he writes in the new book's introduction. For Steingarten, every meal became an opportunity to right his -- and by extension, his readers' -- gastronomic wrongs. (He's been successful, too, though he admits Indian desserts and bugs are still not his favorites.) The bon vivant's job isn't all work and no play, however: His epicurean pursuits have taken him around the world, and he remains unapologetically passionate about the pleasures of feasting, a refreshing approach in a world obsessed with health and weight.
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Many readers wait anxiously for Steingarten's monthly columns. Each is the result of meticulous research, fanatical experimentation in his home office/culinary lab, and plenty of humor. A former lawyer and Harvard graduate who wrote for the Harvard Lampoon, Steingarten manages to inject wit even into his recipes. (His instructions for braising ribs for his dog, "Sky King's Roasted Marrow Bones," suggest letting the skeletons cool to the "body temperature of a rabbit.") When questioned about his unusual ardor during a recent phone conversation, he was as articulate as expected: "Not cooking for your dog is a good example of abuse. People like you who don't cook for their dogs are real sadists." He was also strongly opinionated ("Anyone who is not fascinated by butter is probably someone I'd like not to talk to for long") and generous with advice ("If you taste everything, you'll be a universal eater, and know the secret of food -- taste"). His is the voice of a man obsessed, leaving us hungry for more.