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"He could start coasting, but he doesn't," says Beiser. "He works as hard as anyone on staff. Plus, he's not a food snob. You'll even see him in the office eating an Egg McMuffin."
Actually, what Richman seems to hate more than anything is dining with badly dressed customers like the L.A. men who wear "white T-shirts under unbuttoned dress shirts with the tails hanging out." He writes plaintively, "If people are going to dress like that in restaurants, is the earth really worth saving?"
Beiser says of Richman's voice, "It combines a cranky, self-effacing sense of humor with great authority. It's a combination of S.J. Perelman and M.F.K. Fisher." Richman also leaves behind unforgettable cultural snapshots: the porn star who frequents Matsuhisa in Beverly Hills, or the Harlem schoolgirl who does homework at M&G while listening to rhythm and blues. Beiser says Richman once turned a piece about the closing of a deli into an ode to the Jewish waiter.
Reading the work of these writers, I was reminded of a couple I know who recently toured Europe as undercover spies for Visa, with the job of racking up the highest possible bills at restaurants and shops, then observing the reactions of staff when their credit cards were systematically rejected. Like that job, food writing seems to be insanely demanding. Book reviewers only have to read, but this is Anthony Bourdain territory: Extreme Criticism. In your face.
I asked Beiser if Richman has grown fat on the job. "Miraculously he has managed to stay fit," he said, "though he doesn't work out with any regularity. He's a testament to the French dietif you drink enough red wine, it washes everything away."