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Legendary Food Critic Mimi Sheraton Hasn’t Been Hungry In 60 Years

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May 18, 2015

This week's episode of The Sporkful podcast is up! Listen through the player or iTunes/Podcasts app. (And please subscribe!)

Mimi Sheraton is famous for her strong opinions and her toughness.

She was the first woman to hold the position of restaurant critic at The New York Times, where she was known for her fearless reviews. When a famous French chef physically accosted her after she gave his restaurant a negative review, she stood her ground.

"I expected him to do something like that," she later told People magazine. "I'm sorry I didn't hit him in the face."

Mimi is pushing 90 now, but she remains as wry and fearless as ever. So I was a little bit nervous when I interviewed her live onstage at Food Book Fair in Brooklyn.

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For one thing, Brooklyn is her home turf -- she was raised on Eastern European home cooking and Manhattan clam chowder in South Brooklyn's Sheepshead Bay. For another, even though I love eating, I'm no culinary expert. But Mimi has dedicated six decades of her life to researching and writing about food.

It turns out there was no need to worry. Although she was merciless on the topic of kale (her verdict: "Yuck!"), Mimi took it very easy on me -- even when I talked a little smack about one New York chef she admires.

Mimi is really one of us -- a dedicated eater in search of her next delicious meal.

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Mimi tells me she once packed 104 different pastrami and corned beef sandwiches into her car while "researching" an article for The New York Times. (Her husband was at the wheel.)

"We were almost overcome by the aroma," she says. "It's crazy."

That kind of attention to detail is evident in Mimi's new book, 1,000 Foods To Eat Before You Die. From schmaltz and dan dan noodles to frozen Milky Way candy bars and caviar, the book is a wide-ranging journey through her life in food.

"Ridiculous detail?" she protests, when I try to liken her methods to The Sporkful's obsessive approach to eating. "I would say complete."

And when I ask her the best way to eat a bagel with cream cheese and lox, she doesn't hold back. (It's a topic that's near and dear to her heart.)

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"Well first of all, you have to find a good bagel, and that's very difficult," she says, adding that many bagels today are "only good for cleaning wallpaper."

Listen in to the full episode to hear which type of lox Mimi prefers and get the low down on her bagel construction method, which prevents the cheese and lox from squishing out the sides at first bite. (It's ingenious!)

(And for more on bagels, check out our entire episode dedicated to this classic New York food -- featuring Brooke Gladstone of WNYC's On The Media and former congressman Anthony Weiner.)

Mimi also has a weakness for frozen Milky Way candy bars:

"The textures melt down as you bite in, and you have the experience of the chocolate, the caramel, the solid cream filling," she says. "It’s just a wonderful sensuous feeling on the palate."

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Whether she's describing a candy bar or caviar, Mimi knows how to talk about food. That's the mark of a true professional. And, as she explains to me, sometimes food writing is more about professionalism than deliciousness.

“Whether you’re in the mood or not, it’s your work and you have to do it," she says. "It has nothing to do with hungry. I haven’t been hungry in 60 years.”

Eaters, if you liked my conversation with Mimi, you can listen to a bonus clip from the audience Q&A on SoundCloud -- where Mimi reveals the one dish she ever refused to eat:

This week's episode of The Sporkful podcast is up! Listen through the player or iTunes/Podcasts app. (And please subscribe!)

Connect with me on TwitterInstagram and Facebook!

Interstitial music in this episode by BWN Music:

- "Coffee and Sunshine" by Erick Anderson

Photos: Clay Williams (courtesy of Brooklyn Food Book Festival); Noriko Okabe; Flickr/CC:Young Sok Yun 윤영석; Flickr/CC: Amy the Nurse; Flickr/CC: Jessica Spengler

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