magazine publishing giant Condé Nast announced in 2009
that it was closing Gourmet magazine, editor-in-chief
Ruth Reichl suddenly found herself unmoored.
basic philosophy is that when you’re in trouble, do
the hardest thing," Reichl says by phone from her
home in upstate New York. "Do the thing you don’t
know if you can do or not. Throw yourself off the dock
and see what happens."
Reichl, that hardest thing was writing a novel. The
result, titled "Delicious!," concerns a
fledgling food writer who lands a job at a prestigious
food magazine in New York.
Reichl is the author of five books, including the
best-selling memoirs "Tender at the Bone"
(1998) and "Comfort Me With Apples" (2001),
"Delicious!" represents her fiction debut. The
author, editor and former restaurant critic for The New
York Times and the Los Angeles Times describes herself
as "totally addicted" to fiction.
always thought fiction writing was the highest
calling," she says, citing Hilary Mantel, George
Eliot, Toni Morrison, William Boyd and George Saunders
as some of her favorite authors.
just off her 10-year run at Gourmet, before she could
begin writing fiction, she needed to cook — and cook
and cook. "I went into the kitchen at that point
and healed myself. It was an enormous pleasure to be
back in the kitchen. At that point, it kind of hit me
that the cooking had been very therapeutic for me."
Finally she said to herself, "OK, I feel better
now. Now I’m going to write a novel."
is a big fan of historical novels, and there’s a
historical component to "Delicious!," as her
protagonist, Billie Breslin, discovers a hidden trove of
letters written to James Beard during World War II in
the magazine’s library.
surprisingly, food and cooking have starring roles as
well. Strikingly, the dishes that stand out deliciously
in the novel do so for their simplicity: a gorgonzola
soufflé served for Thanksgiving dinner, cold chicken at
a picnic, "fragrant with lemon and garlic,"
salad and an enormous steak served in bed post-sex.
feel that one of the horrible things the food media have
done is making people feel they have to be chefs,"
Reichl said. "I really believe that great home food
is basically simple food. I think one of the ways we’ve
scared people away from cooking is making them feel they
have to do masterpieces every day. You don’t. When
push comes to shove, there’s nothing better than a
piece of really good bread with good butter on it."
an important theme in the book. "I really do
believe that the secret to life is finding joy in little
things. That daily life can really be something that
gives you great pleasure."