After a career setback, a foodie who fell from grace finds her voice anew.
I needed to lose everything to try something new," Ruth Reichl is saying. From bohemian beginnings in the kitchen at an early organic co-op in Berkeley, Calif., Reichl became a pioneer of gonzo food writing in the New Journalism Wild West of the 1970s. She went on to critique the food establishment from the inside: through the '80s and '90s, she wore a wig as restaurant critic for the Los Angeles Times and then the New York Times. Deploying a sharp pen, she lampooned pretensions and deflated outsized chef egos.
But a fierce resume doesn't guarantee a soft landing.
By 2009, Reichl (pronounced RYE-shil) had hit the wall. Adrift that year in the aftermath of the shuttering of Gourmet magazine by Condé Nast, the title for which she had been editor-in-chief for a decade, she blamed herself for the loss of 65 livelihoods alongside her own. Then 61, she says, "I truly thought I would never get another job."
Now 68, she landed in Toronto late last year for an event in support of her new book, My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved My Life. This is a journal of her reinvention, which was named as one of the best books of 2015 by dozens of newspapers and magazines around the world.
Later that day, she was greeted at George Brown College by a mix of hard-core fans who have followed her whole career, plus a new generation of food obsessives who found her on Twitter, where Reichl is a sensation (with 750,000-plus followers).
It was through Twitter's staccato rhythms that Reichl mourned alongside Gourmet readers. The account took on a life of its own. Her signature style verges into the campy in tweet format.
My favourite: "Power still out. Storm raging. Running out of food. What can I cook with this sad cabbage?" But her little updates are addictive. I wanted to know what Reichl was cooking each day; it is obvious, but nonetheless compelling, the way she links up food emotions to the seasons, to the weather, to the small moments of life.
This is how she nails summer: "Sun splashed sky. Yellow birds dart through spray of outdoor shower. Local eggs, bright golden yolks, tangled with green garlic. Happy."
Well now I am, too!
Reichl retreated to her country home in Hudson Valley, N.Y., that fall of 2009 (worried she may not be able to afford to keep the property, post-Gourmet). She cooked her way out of her funk, watching the seasons swirl by outside her kitchen window and finding joy in feeding herself and her husband, veteran news producer Michael Singer, three meals a day.
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