Friday, September 11, 2009

Frank Bruni: "I'm not the guy for this."

Frank Bruni is on a book tour, now that his book "Born Round" is out and he's no longer the New York Times food critic.

I just returned from hearing him chat with Warren Etheredge at one of the "Words & Wine" events that Kim Ricketts puts on in Seattle.  They talked about all manner of things: "eating widely" as a reasonable credential for being a food critic; mothers as stiff competition for Christian martyrs; good and bad food experiences; the expectation people have that you MUST be a good cook if you're a good eater (FB prefers to consume, he tells us); the reality that food criticism is no longer a "local" phenomenon in the internet age, and that a review is as much about a vicarious experience as it is about gathering data on whether a restaurant is worth (or not) visiting; the difficulty of finding synonyms for "tender" without resorting to "toothsome" and other verbal contortions.

I would have been content with hearing much more about any one of those conversation strands, but it was a different topic altogether that intrigued me the most, not at all food-related.

Bruni said that he often thinks, when first being offered an opportunity like New York Times food critic, "I'm not the guy for this."

And I wondered:

How does he get out of his own way in those moments?  How does he drive down the middle between humility and ego?  How does he take his self-doubts, his admitted issues with body image (which he battles not with fad diets but with exercise, good trainers, and a short attention span--being BORED with self-loathing, turns out, is more effective for him than The Cabbage Soup Diet), and STILL step right up to the opportunity and say "Yes.  I am called to do this" and go out and trump self-doubt with self-confidence?

It's not that I'm fascinated by the "imposter complex" as a psychological phenomenon (we'll save my own Ph.D. completion stories for another blog post). 

No, what I am musing on this evening is that, while there are many models of Ego Made Flesh who combine self-aggrandizement with success, they are far less compelling to me than Frank Bruni's combination of success and humility.  The ability to move between direct and honest critique of a famed restaurant and the statement that sometimes a 1/4-pounder with cheese is what's called for; the graciousness with which he indulges audience questions; the lowered eyes and covering of his face when Warren or an audience member points out his considerable attractiveness: these are endearing.

And while I might not say "no" to tagging along with him to a destination restaurant, the truth is that I left the evening thinking I would much rather share a conversation with him among friends, over scrambled eggs.  Or lingering over some modest fare made transcendent by embracing appetite, hospitality, intellect, and spaciousness of spirit around a big table of fellow travelers.

I'm glad he thinks he's "not the guy for this" as he greets the world every day, because if he did...he wouldn't be.

1 comment:

DJ said...

I have been thinking about Frank Bruni so much since reading an excerpt from his book in the paper here.

Your observation about his 'calling' and the result--totally fascinating. He took the job. But yeah, why/how?

Jeffrey Steingarten was a lawyer and took the call from Vogue.
That whole 'outsider' thing is important, perhaps.

But in terms of people deciding to get outside their comfort zones and accept what is offered to them, that is a great topic. Bruni got over his neurosis and suspicion of his own talent, but maintained skepticism within it all.

I wish I could have heard the talk along with you.