Renowned restaurant critic Frank Bruni sits down with ABC News’ John Berman for his first network interview to air on “Nightline” Wednesday, August 19. In the exclusive interview, Bruni discusses his new autobiography, “Born Round: The Secret History of a Full Time Eater” about his life-long struggle with food. Regarded as one of the most powerful journalists on the national restaurant scene, Bruni is stepping down from his post at the New York Times after five years on the beat as he dishes about everything from his battle with bulimia to the disguises he has worn on the job.
John Berman’s interview with Frank Bruni will air on ABC News "Nightline" next Wednesday, August 19, 2009 at 11:35pm (ET/PT). A portion of the story will also air on "Good Morning America” on Thursday, August 20th.
Excerpts from the interview are below. Please credit ABC News “Nightline.”
“Nightline” is anchored by Cynthia McFadden, Terry Moran, and Martin Bashir. James Goldston is the executive producer. “Nightline" airs at 11:35 p.m. (ET/PT) weeknights on the ABC Television Network.
Frank Bruni on his struggles with weight:
BERMAN: The subtitle of your book is “the secret history of a fulltime eater.” Well it’s not secret anymore.
BRUNI: Well the secret’s out. The secret’s coming out.
BERMAN: Why reveal the secret?
BRUNI: Well I reveal the secret because I think it’s an interesting story and I think a lot of people will identify with it. I went through some extreme behaviors, I threw up some of my meals in college. Some of my binges later in life were just epic and beyond what most people can imagine. But in all of that behavior is an extreme version of a lot of peoples’ love/hate embrace/avoid relationship with food. And I think my story, for a lot of people, will be an exaggerated funhouse mirror of what they’ve been through themselves..
BERMAN: Frank Bruni, exaggerated funhouse mirror?
BRUNI: I am an exaggerated funhouse mirror. Don’t you always think of me that way?
BERMAN: You were 8 years old on the Atkins Diet?
BRUNI: Yeah… the Atkins Diet came out in hardcover when I was 8, if I have my arithmetic correct. ‘Cause I remember mom bought it in hardcover so this was serious stuff and I remember leafing through it and learning about ketones and ketosis and you know, having no idea what that meant, I was 8 years old, but I thought, ooo that’s profound stuff. If I can get into this ketosis thing I’ll be home free. I’ll be skinny.
BERMAN: You’ve tried a lot of things that aren’t as legal, aren’t as conventional.
BERMAN: Such as…?
BRUNI: Well, uh, fortunately for me it was a very short period so my experience isn’t very representative. But during my freshman year of college I threw up a lot of my meals whenever I would eat a meal that would get out of hand I would throw it up. I took laxatives. Later on in college and later on out of college I sometimes took amphetamines to try to control my appetite. So I did all of that.
BERMAN: bulimia, laxatives, amphetamines.
BRUNI: Yeah, in my case, which again is not a representative one, always for short periods of time.
BERMAN: When did it all start?
BRUNI: You know, my mother used to always talk about a time when I was 18 months old and I was sitting in a high chair. And she had fed me two good sized burgers and I threw a tantrum because she wouldn’t feed me a third one. And that was sort of like the defining narrative of my childhood. I could just eat and eat and eat and by the time I was 8 I was enough overweight that people were teasing my initials FB stood for fat boy.
On his Experiences as a Critic:
BERMAN: We’ve talked to a number of chefs and restaurateurs in the city and they talked about you like you’re Darth Vader. You know, one guy said when they heard you were coming the first thing they would do is say a prayer. You sound like menacing guy.
BRUNI: I am not menacing guy. It’s a job that has a certain amount of economic consequence because in a given city there are only so many people reviewing restaurants, that’s true even in New York. And the New York Times as the paper of record has always enjoyed a special stature. So it’s a job that has enormous economic consequence and is bound to leave the people who are the victims or beneficiaries of that consequence, frightened of the person who’s making those decisions. But I don’t walk in there with the desire to intimidate people. It kind of bums me out to hear that. I’m really just there, really to have a good time. I walk into every good restaurant prepared to have a good time and hoping to have a good time, not hoping to find reasons to take the restaurant down. I go in there with an open mind, an open wallet, and then what happens happens. And I’m always happier if what happens is a great experience and I can communicate and describe that than if it’s a lousy one.
BERMAN: You say you try not to be capricious. You can be hearsh in some of your interviews.
BRUNI: I can be snarky and pointed and my feeling about that is, if you’re going to write a negative review that you’re writing on the merits. If you’re appraisal of a restaurant is genuinely negative, people aren’t going to read that review as a map and a guide to the restaurant. They’re not going to use that review as a way to map the restaurant. So if you want them to read it you need to give them a good time as a reader. So yeah, I’ll use pointed humor, I’ll be snarky, but the restaurant is what it is. But I’ve got to write something that I want you to read with some pleasure.
BERMAN: You do revel in some of the snarkiness…
BRUNI: I don’t think I revel in it.
BERMAN: Any pet peeves?
BRUNI: I’m sure there’s a million of them. I hate it when serves use incredible stilted language. Like I think courtesy is wonderful, politeness is wonderful, but when they use stilted language and stilted phrases. I hate it when (inaudible) I hate that common phrase in a restaurant, you know, are you done working on that? As if you’re chiseling away at a sculpted piece of marble. Or I hate it when they say have you enjoyed all of that, that you want or are you done enjoying that, don’t say whether or not I enjoyed it, whether I am finished with it or not, whether I’m enjoying it or not is another matter.
BERMAN: Isn’t there a huge irony in that it took 5 years of being a profession eater for you to beat food?
BRUNI: there’s an enormous irony in it and there’s an enormous lesson in it. Which is that as soon as I stopped being as afraid as I was of food. As soon as I said I’m going to enjoy food and I’m going to figure out how to enjoy it in a healthy fashion as opposed to I’m going to shove food far away, I was in fact able to integrate my diet in a healthy way.
BERMAN: So you’re cured?
BERMAN: Bruni: oh I don’t know about that. I don’t know that I would give a name to my affliction. I am, after 5 years as a restaurant critic, as healthy as I was in the beginning. No heavier than I was at the beginning. And that suggests to me that I’ve worked something out in my head and I hope it lasts.