Thought for Food
BY Matthew Breen
August 04 2009 11:00 PM ET
While he was following George W. Bush on the 2000 campaign trail, where an endless buffet greeted journalists at every whistle-stop, Bruni's weight ballooned to 268, and he was miserable. Then, when he was in his 30s, he finally, slowly got his weight under control through the unremarkable formula of portion control and exercise. He took a post at the Times ' bureau in Rome. He had a boyfriend, the first after nearly seven years of celibacy, and he was happy. Then a fateful phone call in 2004 changed everything.
An editor was calling from New York, asking Bruni if he was interested in filling the restaurant critic vacancy at the Times . He laughed, involuntarily. To have this job dangled in front of him, the job of eating for a living -- it was simultaneously a dream job and a potential nightmare. He took it, but not without a plan (to push back from the table) and some perspective.
"Given how screwed up in my thinking I was about dieting, if I hadn't been through this whole adventure, I probably would have looked up after a year in this job and been 300 pounds," he says. "That would have led to some really awful work done by a really miserable person. I've had a great time with this; I've embraced a lot of seemingly gut-busting assignments," including a cross-country tour of fast food joints.
His tenure as restaurant critic comes to an end this month (Bruni will become a writer at large for The New York Times Magazine ), but he has clocked some appropriately spectacular moments, including forging a nemesis in restaurateur Jeffrey Chodorow. Chodorow, who owns 20-plus restaurants, harangued Bruni in a $40,000 ad he placed in the Times opposite Bruni's column. He also offered a trip for two to any of his staff who spotted and evicted Bruni from the premises, hence the wigs and moustache.
"The Chodorow thing was really disorienting," Bruni says. "The prospect of one of his employees physically removing me from one of his restaurants in order to win a trip to Seattle, which was the prize at one point -- I couldn't imagine it. And I felt a little cheap. I didn't rate a trip to Venice? Or even Vegas?" An archrival and a virtual bounty on his head -- it was all very "Spy vs. Spy." Bruni need not worry about where his next meal will be coming from. He'll be able to dine out on the stories for years.