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.