A.A. Gill is a very, very bad boy. That’s how he likes it – and that’s how we like him. In a world that has come to treat fine dining as a religious experience, trekking to restaurants like Copenhagen’s Noma as if they were oracles, the Vanity Fair food critic is that rare iconoclast who is willing to say that something tastes like crap, no matter who the chef or what the price. Others may wield a knife; Gill – whose latest book, To America With Love, comes out on July 9 – wields an industrial meat cleaver.
In case you missed them, here are a few of his especially brutal thrusts from the pages of Grayden Carter’s glossy, which Gill joined 2003 as a contributing editor:
The Michelin guide also created a new type of customer, the foodie trainspotter, people who aren’t out for a good meal with friends but want to tick a cultural box and have bragging rights on some rare effete spirit. Michelin-starred restaurants began to look and taste the same: the service would be cloying and oleaginous, the menus vast and clotted with verbiage.
English life is a series of unlabeled doors. Someone once pointed out that if lunatic asylums required a waiting list and a tie there would be a queue of Englishmen ready to put their names down.
The liver crumbles under the knife like plumber’s putty and tastes faintly of gut-scented butter or pressed liposuction. The fat clings to the roof of my mouth with the oleaginous insistence of dentist’s wax.
How clever are shrimp-and-foie-gras dumplings with grape fruit dip ping sauce? What if we called them fishy liver-filled condoms. They were properly vile, with a savor that lingered like a lovelorn drunk and tasted as if your mouth had been used as the swab bin in an animal hospital.
And now, Gill joins yet another fraternity: that of the European journeying through America, recording his impressions along the way. Among the very first was J. Hector St. John de Crèvecœur’s Letters from an American Farmer; Describing Certain Provincial Situations, Manners, and Customs Not Generally Known; and Conveying Some Idea of the Late and Present Interior Circumstances of the British Colonies in North America (1782), which was followed some 70 years later by Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America. In 1842, Charles Dickens toured the U.S., alighting in cultural marvels like the Bowery, which he called “loathsome, drooping and decayed” in his American Notes for General Circulation. In 2007, the French philosopher and public intellectual Bernard-Henri Lévy published American Vertigo, which was based on his reporting for The Atlantic. More recent and less serious is Scottish comedian Craig Ferguson’s American on Purpose: The Improbable Adventures of an Unlikely Patriot.
The most remarkable thing about Gill’s book is that he actually likes this democratic mess of ours – at least more than he likes stodgy old Europe, anyway. Some of To America with Love does feel padded with familiar history and observations. Nevertheless, even the most reluctant patriot will feel like waving Old Glory as the unrepentant snob who once described the Welsh as “ugly little trolls” lavishes his praise on our nation’s “essential genius.”
By the way, the A.A. stands for Adrian Anthony. He’s coming your way on July 9. Look out.