Spoiler Alert: A Look Inside Frank Bruni’s Born Round


Frank Bruni’s Born Round: The Secret History of a Full-Time Eater doesn’t come out till September, but we’ve managed to score the uncorrected advance proofs. First things first: This isn’t a tell-all about Bruni’s tenure as Times critic. Sure, he recalls having to don a wig to avoid Chodorow’s wrath, but he doesn’t go so far as to reveal the depth of his expense account (though he does admit to blowing $2,000 of his own cash raiding minibars when, as a campaign reporter, he put away up to seven meals a day). More than anything, this is the confession of a lifelong compulsive eater, and it turns out to be quite a candid and touching one. You should read it for yourself (especially for the moving passages about Bruni’s family), but in the meantime, here’s an idiosyncratic index we drew up for reference.

(All page numbers refer to the uncorrected pages, which are subject to change.)

Amphetamines – dabbles in “little eggs” senior year of high school – 72
- goes from a 35” to a 33” waist thanks to Mexican speed – 123
- guidelines for ingesting – 123-124
Bacon – mom’s love of wrapping things in – 62-63
- mom wrapping cheese-filled hot dog in bacon – 92
Batali, Mario – “had a jolly way of rolling with the punches, even when I could tell he was ticked” – 308
Bulimia – as a toddler, has a tendency to throw up if refused a third hamburger – 9
- becomes a genuine bulimic in college, also dabbling in laxatives – “it paid to know where the good bathrooms on campus were” – 85–89
- quits after getting called out by college friends (“did it taste as good coming up as it did going down?”) – 98–100
Casella, Cesare – after an article teasing the chef for wearing a rosemary sprig in his pocket, sends a rosemary bush to Bruni’s office – 308
Cheesesteaks – at his low point, eats two or even three at a time late at night – 205
Chicken bones – during his time in Detroit, has a horrifying habit of throwing them on the car floor during “chicken runs” – 144
Chodorow, Jeffrey – the $40,000 letter – 310–311
- threatens to eject Bruni from his restaurants and offers a free vacation to the employee who ousts him – 312
- takes out a smaller “really glad you loved the salmon” ad after Bruni gives Wild Salmon a star – 319
Cuba – Bruni’s displeasure at being called “gordo” by half a dozen waiters while vacationing there – 204
Dating life – announces he’s gay during junior year of high school – 66
- starts dating at University of North Carolina – 96
- breaks up with a guy after throwing away a box of Valentine’s chocolates that he’s scared he’ll eat – 140
- puts dates off while trying to reach ideal weight – 147–154, 207
- as a Detroit reporter, is ashamed that a boyfriend let him get to a size 38 waist – 176
- becomes a “practiced, accomplished celibate” as his weight rises, having just “five physically intimate moments across more than four years” – 208
Delicatessen – regresses to binge eating after draining a third glass of white wine here. He downs the macaroni and cheese sampler, waffles, chicken, and meatloaf, then hits a bodega for a bunch of ice cream – 343
Diets – mom encourages him to pee on a strip while he’s on Atkins – 28
- in high school, breaks a three-day fast by caving to a burger – 70–72
- eats only bread and Greek salad during a trip through Europe – 127–129
- cooks Costco salmon fillets and skinless chicken-breast halves on a George Foreman grill – 233
- see also Ex-Lax
Disguises – once at V Steakhouse after seemingly being recognized: three-day stubble, slicked-back hair, and granny glasses. “My companions kept giggling at me” – 314
- another time at Per Se: slicked-back hair, week’s beard, purple-rimmed eyeglasses. Waiter seems to recognize him despite the fact that he looks like an “over-the-hill porn star” – 315
- At Wild Salmon: a custom wig, a green tie, and granny glasses. Picture the spawn of Farrah Fawcett and Andy Warhol – 315
- worried about fake mustache coming off during second visit to Wild Salmon – 318
Domino’s Pizza – trying to get down from 268 pounds, he treats himself to a weekly binge: A large sausage pizza and Buffalo wings, and then a pint of ice cream and an ice-cream bar and Nutter Butter cookies – 229
Ducasse, Alain – overhears an oblivious Bruni talking about him while at the next table, butts in to invite Bruni to his new restaurant – 276–277
Exercise routine
- getting up at 4:45 a.m. at the age of 12, in hopes of becoming an Olympic swimmer – 45–52
- traveling from NYC to D.C. in order to train with Maureen [Dowd’s?] trainer every Wednesday, at the cost of $440 per week – 286–287
- 90 minutes in the gym before special 30-course meal at El Bulli – 328
- 80-minute sessions at the Reebok Club or on trails in Central Park, two out of every three days – 328
- Pilates sessions in order to harden the “pudding of pink flesh that was my stomach” – 329
Ex-Lax – as a college student, almost has an accident and vows never to take more than three times the recommended dose – 95
- switches to Metamucil and takes it along with Branola bread slathered in Shedd’s Spread El Bulli 125
Flay, Bobby – “the classiest, reacting to a review in which I demoted Mesa Grill to one star from two by leaving me a voice mail that thanked me for at least taking the time to visit the restaurant” – 308
Fruitatarianism – a brief effort to be “pear-focused rather than pear-shaped” El Bulli 221
Gay bars – Avoids them in D.C. because he didn’t want to be rejected – 297
- the first-time thrill of picking up a guy at Therapy – 298
- going to them as much as once a week – 299 (“I liked knowing that the men who approached me or invited my approach did so without any knowledge of my job, which was considered unusually interesting by many people. These men were attracted by the way I looked.”
Getting made – at French Laundry, GM recognizes him from seeing him at Per Se and he’s offered Keller’s special tasting menu – 280–283
- politely accepts a tour of Per Se’s kitchen, causing gossip that he stormed in – 291
- leaves behind his issue of The New Yorker at a Japanese restaurant – 297
Guacamole – “I suppose there are people who can pass up free guacamole, but they’re either allergic to avocado or too joyless to live.” – 217
Hamburgers – prefers rare burgers “not out of taste but out of haste,” because they come fastest off the grill – 66
Influencing, attempts at
- two-faced publicists hype a restaurant and then agree with Bruni’s criticisms after he reviews them – 306
- chef’s mom (and then the chef) e-mails Bruni to let him know about family health problems – 307
- restaurateur guilt-trips him by showing photos of kids (“my four stars”), griping about his publicist, and saying he’s hoping for a good review – 307
Man-girdle (a.k.a. a cummerbund) – shamefully wears one at a New Year’s Eve event that ends in him being called “fat” by his brother. Tears follow.
McNally, Keith – “publicly attributed my one-star rating of Morandi, an Italian restaurant he opened in Greenwich Village, to its employment of a female chef and to my clear sexism” – 309
Mistaken identity
- Manager at Bar Tonno thinks he has seen Bruni twice when he never dined there – 300
- John McDonald e-mails Bruni to tell him he left his notebook behind, calling it a “Pandora’s Box that I prefer not to possess.” It isn’t Bruni’s. – 302
- Someone tells Eater that Bruni rides a scooter and wears a fanny pack. Not the case – 303
Parker, Sarah Jessica – requests no parsley while dining with Bruni and Matthew Broderick at Artisanal – 321
Portion control
- employs a “taste and trash” philosophy while sampling fast food at 35 restaurants in fifteen states over the course of a 3,650-mile drive – 325–326
- On reviews, confines himself to two bites from the edge of a pork chop (where it’s fatty) and three bites from the center (to determine whether meat is undercooked) – 327
- Pat Reynolds, J.T. Martinson, Robin Parker – 292
- Makes reservations using the names of authors of nearby books (Didion, Turow, etc.) or movie stars (Mr. Pitt, and mistakenly in one instance, Ben Stiller) – 294
- Clumsily uses the surname Gentile when dining at Kosher restaurant Solo – 295
- Blanks on reservation name at the Red Cat, and inadvertently uses the name of another (female) customer who is on the books – 296
Reviewing method
- decides on a restaurant around its two-month mark; separates each visit by at least a week; dines with three others who each order different things – 289
- at three-to-seven-minute intervals, has everyone pass their food Lazy Susan–style in what sometimes becomes a “table-top game of Twister” – 290
- text messages himself notes or speaks them into his voice mail while in the bathroom – 290
- uses pseudonymous cards specially made by American Express; sometimes has a companion present them – 291–292
- leaves fake callback numbers when making a reservation – 293
Ripert, Eric – instructs staff to get old TV footage of Bruni so it can be studied – 301
Robert’s Steakhouse at the Penthouse Club – expenses a fellow diner’s shoulder massage since it’s “integral, after all, to an appraisal of this particular dining experience” – 324
Sleep-eating – in his mid-twenties, starves himself to the point of making tuna melts while half-asleep – 146
Special treatment
- female waiters switched out for attractive males: “The restaurant had done its homework. It wasn’t going to leave any trick untried” – 303
- servers gawk at Bruni – 303
- managers from other restaurants are called in to gawk at Bruni – 302
- manager at L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon offers to launder Bruni’s shirt on-site when he spills tomato sauce on it – 304
- gets two glasses of wine comped at Nobu 57 and an offer of dry cleaning after a run-in with the soap dispenser (Bruni’s fault), then receives an extra apology from the manager who proudly reports that the soap is Kiehl’s – 304–305
Vegetarianism – experiments with it in college but finds that eating six slices of cheese pizza isn’t much better than six slices of pepperoni – 90
Waist size – 33” – 34” as a teenager – 65
- 35” down to 33” after college dalliances with Mexican speed – 123
- 36” while a junior reporter for the Times – 198
- 40” while on the campaign trail with George W. Bush – 210
- 42” shortly after – 227
- 38” during tour for Bush book – 234
- 36” two months after Maureen [Dowd?] starts him off with her personal trainer by writing him a check for two free sessions
- 35.5” while reporting in Rome – 263
- 33” by the end of the book – 328
Weight – 180 pounds as a teenager
- gets from 268 pounds down to 203. “It was a weight I could live with and sometimes even forget about, which was the main thing, the best thing.” – 263