When Mimi Sheraton graduated from her Brooklyn elementary school, she celebrated with pals in a Coney Island evening that ended in a comparative hot dog tasting. As she recounts the story in her engaging new "Eating My Words: An Appetite for Life" (Morrow), the childhood experience was prophetic. Downing eight hot dogs each, the friends evaluated appearance, aroma, texture, flavor and after-flavor. With and without rolls and mustard.

"In that simplistic comparison," she writes, "I unwittingly began a technique I would resort to when rating loftier fare such as caviar, truffles and cheese as a professional food critic."

Sheraton has been working as a food writer, cookbook author, consultant and reviewer for some 50 years. She's written for magazines from Good Housekeeping to Time to Vanity Fair. She's advised restaurants such as the Four Seasons in Manhattan and consulted at hospitals and high schools. Most prominently, from 1976 to 1983, she was restaurant critic for The New York Times -- the first woman to hold that position (and one of the first to wear disguises in restaurants to avoid special treatment).

To the many people who've asked her how they could do what she does for a living, she's told them, "Live my life." Her memoir is a lesson in the knowledge, experience, persistence and energy that life has required. But it's also an insider's guide to how the food world has changed since she was a young woman living in a tiny apartment in Greenwich Village and cooking on a three-burner stove. And it's an entertaining look at how a prominent food writer eats, shops for food, entertains, tolerates difficult restaurant companions, travels, remembers meals -- and diets (or not).

-- Judith Weinraub