Smoothing the cream cheese so that it slithered across the entire surface of the bagel, Gael Greene, the Instiable Restaurant Critic of New York magazine and author of one of the most explicitly erotic novels ever written by a woman, savored the memory of a porno actor named Jamie. "I watched him eat a passion fruit," she lingred over the image. "I could not believe the passion." A bite of the bagel sent the cream cheese oozing over the edge. "I couldn't imagine any being jealous of a fruit." But she was.
These days a lot of people could be jealous of Gael Greene. She takes spring and fall expense-account trips to France. Eats in all the best places. She summers in the Hamptons working on her novel -- maybe because her two homes (one an upstate New York house, the other a Manhattan apartment) are both converted chapels. She has a man who sends her flowers every Tuesday: a dinner cooked specially for her at Le Bagatelle. She tells a 9 a.m. television audience about sex, with and without love.She just turned 40, but boasts, "Nobody seems to be noticing." She is living out fantasies more delicious than most women even dare to dream.
By now she was slathering grapefruit marmalade on the bagl and washing it down with draughts of her double espresso. Conversation, as hers often does, intertwined food and sex until a listener could not be sure which was which, or whether there was a difference.
Her novel, "Blue Skies, No Candy," is probably read as lasciviously for the food scenes as for the sex scenes. "I tried very hard not to have any food in it," she ruminated. "But in the first 50 pages, there were three meals in bed." The main course of the book followed the characters from great restaurant to great restaurant on their way to Cannes. Even the meta phors in the book, a friend once pointed out to her, were of food, as in "licorice-colored boots." She looked as if indigestion were just beyond the next remark, then brightened, salivated, "Of course, my life is just filled with plots turning in restaurants. . . It all starts over food."
The "it" she referred to is having just returned from four days in Paris to watch the filming of "Someone Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe." ("No one would kill a chef. A food critic, maybe.") She reeled off the meals. (Le Camelia bakes its own bread, has a special machine for roasting ducks, smokes its own salmon.) She inhaled deeply and blurted out her own private Parisian fantasies. ("Walking along, I had a fantasy about duck steak.")
Her real-life plots include having those great chefs of Europe as her playmates, teaching cooking in the Napa Valley with one of the Troisgros brothers, rolling from great restaurant to great restaurant on the way to most controversial as well as the most blantantly mimicked, she has inextricably linked the words "sinful" and "silken" to food. Greene identifies herself these days as "part of the food world and the sex world," seeing these two worlds as natural cohorts. "Many of the food people are great sensualists. Their sexual lives are as full as their food lives." A nibble. A leer. "Since we haven't named names, everyone may take credit." Cannes with the chef of New York's Le Cirque.
In her real-life fantasy job she was writing 26 restaurant reviews a year for New York magazine, then 12, now "whatever I want to do," which includes overseeing the rest of the magazine's restaurant coverage.
If there is a public image of a restaurant critic, Greene is probably not it, there being no apparent excess poundage on her 5 foot 9 frame, a situation she attributes to dancing after dinner. On the other hand, if there is a public image of a female erotic novelist, Greene is not it either, her straight-edged, straw-colored bangs severely framing an already-sturdy face, her high-necked dress the color of red-eye gravy and certainly nobody's version of seductive.
But Greene works hard at passion. She explains herself with, "The two or three things in life that interest me. I am a scholar forever." So far, the interests are food and love. Having become one of the best-known food critics in the country, and probably the Conversely, she said, pornographic filmmaker Harry Reems wants to start a Cookie-of-the-Month Club.
As for why she doesn't do a book about food, Greene admits that an earlier book of restaurant reviews, "Bite", did not sell very well. Besides, "It would be my swan song in the food world if I told the truth."
So she writes about sex. She is working on a book about a porno actor -- the passion-fruit eater -- whom she met at a book-signing party, where he discovered that his name, Jamie, was the name of Greene's hero in "Blue Skies, No Candy." Greene encountered him again -- as the plots in her life tend to read -- at a wine tasting, and one thing led to another.
With a brother who is a doctor, she is now -- inevitably, as her life-plots go --Sexual Archives of Dr. Barney Kincaid." This one -- "about a man who is a great lover of women but who has never been in love" -- is told from the point of view of a man, a neat trick which many of Greene's male friends have volunteered to help her accomplish. Researching it, she spent so much time in emergency rooms that she began to feel she could diagnose her friends' problems.
Interweaving work and play, food and sex, writing a novel and visiting her brother, Greene recognizes the great good fortune of "getting someone to pay for what I would pay to do." But she is at a loss to explain how she got there, except, "I came from nowhere, just loving food." "Nowhere" was Detroit, with a father in the women's ready-to-wear and maternity-clothes business, and a mother named Saralee, which Gael once claimed had some impact on her career choice.
She spent a year in Paris at age 17, went on to the University of Michigan, then to work for United Press International in Detroit and The New York Post. Once she was married, she, just like everyone she knew, "cooked by Julia Child," took cooking lessons, competed with friends to produce elaborate dinners, and traveled -- any distance for a good restaurant. Now divorced, she does more traveling and less cooking, evolving her image from the Insatiable Critic to simply Insatiable.
As she progresses from sensual food writing to straight sensuality, one wonders how writing a book described by The New York Daily News as "a sizzling sexual odyssey" has changed her life.
"I'm richer." The bagel was gone.