Growing up, I spent a lot of time reading Gourmet, Bon Appétit, and Saveur. Those publications really sparked my interest in the food world. But in those early and innocent teenage years, never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that I would be a food writer. Fast forward a decade and a half later, I’m a writer with two books and countless articles under my belt. But, the industry has changed so dramatically, that even the greats like Ruth Reichl aren’t safe. And expense accounts? Yeah, sadly I was too late to experience one of those.
Premiering in January 1941, Gourmet was the first of its kind- a monthly publication solely focused on food and wine. It offered a safe harbor for indulgence and escape, very much needed at the time. And for a select few, an opportunity to truly say, “Hey, food is my #1 bae.” Or, the equivalent of that in the 1940’s… Rounding out the year, the historic magazine came to an end in November 2009. Gourmet’s recipe archive now lives on the Internet, and the brand is repurposed from time to time for special editions and cookbooks, but if you enjoy the nostalgia of the print version, you hopefully have your old (hopefully stained and worn) copies to thumb through. And if you’re lucky and have time, you can find old issues in vintage shops and specialty stores.
Just like we have seen in Miami, no matter how important or significant an institution or entity may be, it will get dismantled for something shinier, newer, and on some occasions, cheaper. On the food end, this leads to a larger conversation about the great changes at Condé Naste and, really, the state of food publishing. But beneath the rubble, there is a light. The New York Times was especially positive in their article about the giant’s closing, “Condé Nast Closes Gourmet and 3 Other Magazines” on October 5, 2009. “The death of Gourmet doesn’t mean people are cooking less or do not want food magazines, “said Suzanne M. Grimes, who oversees Every Day With Rachael Ray, among other brands, for the Reader’s Digest Association. “Cooking is getting more democratic,” she said. “Food has become an emotional currency, not an aspiration.”
So, back to Ruth… Even she, who at the height of her career, as she puts it “could go to any restaurant in the world on any one else’s dollar.” Even she with a credentials list that reads a mile long- 6 James Beard awards, 12 books and counting, New York Times food critic (1993-1999) was not safe. When Gourmet abruptly ended, even she didn’t know it was going to happen. She was 62 years old at the time and all of a sudden she found herself without a plan and even a bit nervous, scared, and sad. And so began a year of arduous healing and re-self discovery, and that is the point of My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved My Life, which is part of her three-book deal with Random House. Her novel Delicious was the first of the trio. I think that’s definitely something many people can relate to. And for Reichl, it came naturally. Because, I suspect, like myself, at the true heart of every food writer is the joy of cooking, the delight of simple ingredients, and the magic of the kitchen.
Quickly perusing through the book, you’ll note that it’s extremely large and diverse, but that’s because she dedicated an entire year to cooking and it’s meant to take you through each season. This book really broke all the rules. Not only did she style the photos herself, but she is making her book tour interactive, incorporating a lunch or dinner component to her book signings.
Her book signing events actually include dishes from her book, chosen by the chef, a copy of her book, and one-on-one interactions with Reichl, who spends 2-5 minutes of her time visiting each table.
Luckily for us, we were in the hands of the James Beard award winning chef Allen Susser at The Café at Books & Books at the Arsht Center for Dish & Dine with Ruth Reichl last Wednesday 10/14. Susser instantly fell in love with “The Diva of Grilled Cheese” sandwich and he built an exquisite lunch around that, which included bright pink deviled eggs and apple crisp dessert. “At these luncheons, it’s very normal to always get a bland piece of chicken and I wanted to shake it up a bit,” said Susser. “I have a tandoori kitchen in my home in St. Lucia, so it was a no-brainer. As for the apple crisp, well, apples are coming back into season.” Thanks chef!
The menu below is straight from the pages of My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved My Life, quotes included. Those who follow Reichl on social media will instantly recognize her signature whimsical prose.
Pink Deviled Egg
Grass green. Sun shining. Radiant Easter morning. Pink deviled eggs. Saffron yolks. Set on a turquoise plate.
The Diva of Grilled Cheese
Grating cheddar, shredding scallions, slicing shallots. Tangled into buttered bread, melted into a crisp-edged puddle. Lunch!
Spicy Tuscan Kale
Leaves turning. Early fall farmers’ market. I’ll buy apples, pork, kale, squash and spend the weekend dancing in the kitchen. Can’t wait.
The lonely sound of rain thrums through this fog-shrouded valley. Need some spice. Yogurt-cloaked chicken scented with curry. So consoled.
Crisp Easy Potatoes
While the potatoes are hot, toss them in generous lashings of olive oil.
Black birds swooping onto orange trees’ beautiful ballet of the air, Ashmead’s Kernels whisper from their skins. Apple crisp!
Otherwise, it was very ladies who lunch-style affair. Really, it was all ladies convening over a shared love of food and great company. Such local celebrities in attendance included Linda Gassenheimer and Ellen Kanner.
Running out the door on the way to her next stop on her 30+ city whirlwind tour, she graciously answered a question that she probably receives at least 3 times a day. But, I wanted to hear it straight from the horse’s mouth.
Any advice for those in the food writing industry? And what are your thoughts on the digital age?
Everyone decrees the Internet, but the way I see it is that it’s opened up the world of food to more people. Sure, the world of stately editorial is gone, but I’ve made my peace with it.
We have these little computers in our hands now and because of that, we have to work all the time. It’s the reality. You just have to change with it. It’s a hustle.
In all this, though, print isn’t dead. It’s actually making a comeback. The small cities are really benefiting from this. Look at Feast and Sauce magazines, in St. Louis of all places.
And for those writing- Don’t give up!
My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes that Saved My Life is available at Books & Books or on Amazon.