The high-profile restaurant critic knew that food could be his undoing.
He took up knife and fork and attacked.
by Susan Hudson Houston ’ 84
t first, the opportunity that came to
Frank Bruni ’ 86 in January 2004
sounds like a bad joke:
Q: What kind of job do you offer
a man who has struggled with eating
disorders for much of his life?
A: Dining seven days a week at
some of the world’s best restau-
rants, sampling the likes of
wood-fired pizza, fat-mar-
bled rib eyes, creamy fettuccine Alfredo and rich
molten chocolate cake night after night, and writing
about it all for The New York Times’ food-centric readers.
Three years earlier, the 5-foot- 11 writer had topped
out at 270 pounds, caught in a cycle of bingeing and
fasting. The job? He’d take it.
“When I was asked to be the restaurant critic, I said
yes, in large part because I felt like I had finally gotten a
handle on my weight and I felt like I had finally broken
free of the binge-purge cycle that had defined so much
of my life. And I remember thinking on that date, ‘If
I’m wrong about that, I’m going to be in for several
miserable years.’ ”
Through disciplined eating and rigorous exercise, he
had lost the extra weight and kept it off. When the
critic’s position became available, Bruni had achieved a
healthy balance in his life for 21⁄ 2 years.
“I also remember thinking, ‘Note to self: A couple
of years from now, if the job goes well and I’m still
wearing 34 pants and I’m not back up to 42, I may
have a story to tell.’ ”
Throughout his life, Bruni had ridden a gustatory
roller coaster of soaring, celebratory excess followed by
dips of repentant deprivation — from his diaper-wear-ing days, when he banged on his high chair for a third
fresh-cooked hamburger (and threw up the first two
burgers after not getting it); to his student writing years
in the mid-1980s, when his favorite place to regurgitate, sometimes as often as every other day, was the
men’s room across from The Daily Tar Heel offices; to
his 30s covering the campaign of George W. Bush,
when he would pile up his plate during some seven
meals a day available to the press corps, fast for a day or
two to make up for the overindulgence, then get up at
1 a.m. and raid the hotel minibar, running up a $2,000
tab at his own expense.
In becoming the Times’ restaurant critic, Bruni took
what could have been a recipe for disaster and turned it
into a challenge to maintain his size and his sanity.
The tales in his new book, Born Round: The Secret
History of a Full-Time Eater are often funny, sometimes
tragic and always brutally — like his name — frank. “I
think you kind of owe readers that sort of candor,” he
said. “The only way for the story to have any power is
for it to seem unvarnished and honest and not like
some whitewash of your own history.
“In for a penny, in for a pound.”
Born into an extended Italian-American family in
White Plains, N. Y., Frank Bruni Jr. picked up early on