A decade ago, out of all the food magazines published, the most famous was Gourmet, which offered a sophisticated look at culinary trends and cookery.
And Ruth Reichl, who formerly had been food critic for The New York Times, a job that entailed wearing disguises because her photo was plastered on a large number of kitchen walls in the city’s restaurants, was the magazine's editor-in-chief.
It’s a story she recounts in her latest book, "Save Me the Plums" (Random House; 2019 $27).
You don’t need to be a serious foodie to enjoy her take on what she calls “the golden age of magazines.”
Reichl didn’t want the job and though she had collected Gourmet magazines starting when she was 8, she saw it as old-fashioned and stuffy and at first said no. But the publisher wanted to take the magazine in a different direction and saw Reichl as the person to make that happen.
So she signed on to a job that included a limousine service, first class airfare and a lavish expense account. The selling point after turning it down the first time was that she would be home in the evenings with her son, not critiquing restaurants.
“I never wanted to become that person,” says Reichl about the luxuries and perks. She recalls flying coach and seeing two of her colleagues boarding the same flight, and they looked at her in wonderment as they headed to the first class section. She took the bus until a limo driver shamed her into using his service on a regular basis.
Despite being the food editor and restaurant critic at the Los Angeles Times, the experience of being Gourmet’s editor-in-chief made Reichl quickly learn how much she didn’t know.
She recalls freaking out her first day when the staff started talking about TOCs and she had to desperately call a friend and ask what that meant, as she didn’t want to look ignorant in front of her employees.
“Table of Contents,” she was told. How simple, but it shows the type of learning curve Reichl was encountering in her new career.
Being Reichl, multiple James Beard-winning and bestselling author, she also includes a few recipes in her book.
“All of my books have recipes, so I had to have some,” she says. That includes the turkey chili she and her staff used when they gathered in the Gourmet test kitchen on 9/11 and cooked for the first responders.
“I still love cooking and get an enormous amount of pleasure from it,” she says. “And I like to cook for other people. Every morning I ask my husband what he would like to eat.”
Indeed, for Reichl, food is such a sensory experience that she often likes to eat alone so she can savor every mouthful, letting it take her back to the source of what she’s consuming.
When the magazine folded and everyone went home, Reichl knew she’d write a book about her time at Gourmet and kept copious notes and saved emails. “But then my editor had to torture me into actually writing it,” she says.
She wants readers to come along for the ride when reading her book.
“I want them to get the sense of what it was like,” Reichl says. “I want them to enjoy themselves as much as I did.”
What: Ruth Reichl in conversation with Louisa Chu, a Chicago-based food writer
When: 6 p.m. April 24
Where: 210 Design House, 210 West Illinois, Chicago
Cost: The cost of one ticket is $56 ($58.95 w/service fee) and includes a copy of the book, wine, and tastes made from Ruth's book, "My Kitchen Year." Two tickets include one book, wine and tastes for $80 ($83.79 w/service fee). To purchase, visit brownpapertickets.com/event/4102551
FYI: The event is sponsored by the Book Cellar. For more information, (773) 293-2665.