An engrossing excerpt from restaurant critic Frank Bruni’s forthcoming book, Born Round: The Secret History of a Full-Time Eater, caught my eye in the New York Times Sunday Magazine.
Fascinated, I read the account of his youthful indulgence, which so closely paralleled mine – thankfully, only up to a point. But here are some tidbits that resonated:
- As a youngster, he would demand and devour two hamburgers at a time, wanting more. For my school lunch, my mother had to pack two sandwiches.
- Bruni remembers almost everything about his childhood in terms of food. I am told that when I was 2 years old and my folks engaged in a rare indulgence in a lobster at a restaurant, guess who ate the whole thing? Of that I don’t have a specific recollection, but ah, those BLTs in later years, the slices of processed cheese smeared with French’s yellow mustard, the fresh (rather than canned) vegetables that I urged my mother to try cooking, the apple pie I mastered at 15.
- He recalls, as well, ice cream smothered with his mother’s homemade chocolate sauce. For me, it’s hot fudge sundaes from Brigham’s on Beacon Street in suburban Boston.
- Then there were the lamb chops his mother served. He gnawed off every last sliver of meat and fat. Me too!
- Bruni loved pumpernickel bagels with cream cheese – one and half for every one his brother ate. For me, it was egg bagels with cream cheese and, if my mother felt uncharacteristically flush, lox as well, the salty kind. And I didn’t stop at one either.
- Because of his growing waistline (of course), he had to be taken in shame to the husky section of boys’ departments to find clothes that fit him. Still do I blush with that memory, which lingers in my self-perception.
- Bruni became the restaurant critic at the New York Times. I wrote a couple of restaurant reviews for a local D.C. weekly, but I decided to give up that lark: Keeping notes about food while trying to enjoy it got too much in the way for this heavy eater. So, now I confine myself to watching the Food Network, lurking at buffets, dreaming about the big lobster that has my name on it in Provincetown two weeks from now, and being a pretty good cook.
There, our resemblance ends, and that’s a good thing. Bruni went on to diets and bulimia in his youth. I went on to cook for two summers in camp kitchens, stuffing myself with pizza and beer during college and graduate school, and then undergoing rigorous physical training at the Navy’s Officer Candidate School in Newport, R.I.
While my love of food never has abated and cravings continue to haunt me, at least my troubled days in the husky department have ended. But I can’t help wondering whether Bruni – whose heritage and years are completely different from mine – wasn’t separated from me at birth.
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