Ruth Reichl chats about chicken soup and Gourmet magazine
By LEANNE ITALIE
NEW YORK (AP) — Memoirist no more? It’s hard to believe, but “Save Me the Plums” just might be the last such narrative for Ruth Reichl.
Her latest, after “Tender at the Bone,” ”Comfort Me with Apples” and a lifetime’s worth of others, has Reichl taking on her decade as editor in chief of Gourmet magazine, and it comes nearly as long after the 70-year-old magazine was abruptly shut down on her watch.
This is Reichl’s side of the story, part ode to the friends she made at Gourmet (she thanks late publisher Si Newhouse) and part plain talk about 2009, the year of the end for the iconic monthly and a painful time for the magazine industry as a whole.
The multiple James Beard-winning and bestselling Reichl was credited with modernizing Gourmet while she was treated to a level of luxury served up by Conde Nast that took some getting used to. That after her stint — and disguises — as restaurant critic for The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times.
At 71, Reichl has been far from idle. She’s been at her typewriter, as always, putting out her first novel, “Delicious!”, and most recently a cookbook, “My Kitchen Year.” And she’s been cooking, joyously, for the people who matter most, friends and family.
Oh, and she still tweets delectably to her 1.3 million followers: “It’s spring! Ecstatic birds flit through sunny skies. Deer leap through the woods. Hot biscuits. Strawberries. Happy.”
Our conversation with Ruth Reichl:
AP: When did you start writing this book?
Reichl: I guess I kind of started writing it right after the magazine closed, or at least thinking about writing it at that point. I was so devastated. It took me a while. But I then decided I would write a novel first, that I would just go away and imagine myself into another place. It actually worked. I had a lot of fun writing that novel and just leaving reality behind.
Maybe three years ago I thought, now it’s time. It’s time to write the Gourmet book.
AP: Is it also time to finally write off the paper media industry, including magazines?
Reichl: I think it’s way too early for that. I think we’re in this revolution and none of us really knows how it’s going to come out. There are all these surprising moments in this. People thought that digital books were going to kill books. It hasn’t happened.
People want paper media. We’re still in that place now where we’re figuring out what’s better digitally and what’s better tactually. What do you really want to hold? Gourmet was something you could dream about. It wasn’t just information. We still need that.
AP: You transformed Gourmet. How did Gourmet transform you?
Reichl: I went in there as kind of a Cinderella. I was an ordinary person and suddenly I am dropped into this place where anything is possible, and you live like a rich person for a while. You have hair and makeup people show up at your house in the morning and fluff you for the day. It’s really, really fun and it’s kind of exciting.
But I got to this point where I realized what really mattered to me was the magazine, my staff, the wonderful things that we could do there. The rest of that stuff was just unnecessary.
AP: You took a transformative, on-the-cheap trip to Paris near the end. You harkened back to your hippie past at Berkeley and flew economy for the first time in a long while. When was the last time you flew economy as you did on that trip?
Reichl: Uh, this morning. Otherwise it’s a lot of money for a few hours. I was on stage the other night and somebody was talking about Uber and I said it’s really cheap if you do Uber Pool. And he looked at me and he said boy, you really still are a Berkeley hippie, aren’t you?
AP: Do you miss being a boss?
Reichl: I miss that enormous pleasure of the collaboration and what happens when you work with a group of people and somebody has an idea and somebody else takes it and says I can make it better. As a group, you build something. I miss that. I really miss that.
AP: How has the experience of cooking changed for you now that you’re a civilian?
Reichl: I find a deeper pleasure. Being someone who spends most of my time writing means I have time to cook. Being at Gourmet I was really trying to balance family life and work life. There were times when I would not even take my coat off before I was throwing things into the pan.
I still gain enormous amounts of pleasure from cooking.
AP: Do you have a favorite thing to cook?
Reichl: I mostly cook for other people. I get up in the morning and I say to my husband, what do you want for dinner? That gives me great pleasure. If people are coming over I think, oh, Peter really loves blueberry pie, so I’ll make a blueberry pie.
AP: What does Ruth like to cook just for Ruth?
Reichl: So much of cooking for me is about aroma. I love the way chicken soup smells when it’s cooking. It fills the house and calms you down. That’s a real pleasure for me.
AP: Do you make matzo balls?
Reichl: I’ve never made a matzo ball in my life.
AP: So what’s next?
Reichl: I’m about to write another novel and I have a contract to write a third.
AP: Will they be food themed?
Reichl: One of them is food themed and one of them is not. But I always go to the food place. It’s just in my DNA.