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For Ruth Reichl, key to delicious life is joy found in little things

May 27, 2014 

When magazine publishing giant Condé Nast announced in 2009 that it was closing Gourmet magazine, editor-in-chief Ruth Reichl suddenly found herself unmoored.

"My 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."

For 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.

Although 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.

"I’ve 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.

But 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."

Reichl 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.

Not 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.

"I 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."

It’s 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."





 


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