KPCC's John Rabe talks in-depth with food writer Ruth Reichl about her debut novel, "Delicious!," in which a food prodigy from Santa Barbara comes of age at the ideal food magazine, called "Delicious!" Reichl says it's an amalgam of her former workplaces: the LA Times, the New York Times, and Gourmet Magazine. Here's a taste of their conversation:
You've said that you kept writing memoirs because you were afraid to write a novel.
I think of fiction as the highest calling. I'm kind of addicted to it. It's the thing that has gotten me through all the hard points in my life. Once, years ago, I had a long conversation with M.F.K. Fisher who said, "Well of course I always wanted to write fiction but I couldn't." So I always had this feeling of "Well, wait a minute, if Mary Francis can't write fiction, what makes me think that I can do it?" And I've always been terrified of doing it but I sort of put it off by saying, "I have a day job, so I really can't write fiction. But if I didn't have a day job, that's what I'd do." And then Gourmet closed and I didn't have a day job.
In the "Delicious!" test kitchen, every once and a while, one of the test cooks will yell, "Taste!" and then all the other test cooks rush in to taste the food, and comment. Is that something that really happens in a test kitchen?
That is absolutely real. I mean, what does happen in Gourmet, we had eight test kitchens and at any given time there were like ten or twelve test cooks. And whenever anybody finished something, they would yell, "Taste!" and everyone would go running towards it, and then taste, and then brutally deconstruct the dish. I mean it was about everybody weighing in. And so the scenes where that's happening and people are saying, "Too much salt," "What's that thing that's closing my throat," "Why'd you put fenugreek (see below) in there," I mean that's a very real depiction of what happens in a large test kitchen.
Are you a fan of (early 20th Century author) Christopher Morley? Because the beginning of "Delicious!" has the feel of "The Haunted Bookshop."
It's so funny that you say that because my mother had a bookshop and one of the things that I have is a long correspondence between her and Christopher Morley. He had wonderful handwriting. I wasn't thinking of that. If it's there it's unconscious. But there is that romanticized idea of what a bookstore can be, what a library can be, what a shop can be. And to me, they are that. These are places that open doors into other worlds if only you're open to them.
There's much more in our audio interview, including Ruth Reichl reading an extended excerpt from "Delicious!"
The Library Journal says "Delicious!" "...will have readers salivating, and an insider's look at life at a food magazine is fascinating." Reviewers for Booklist praised it for having "Rich characterization, a bright New York setting, and transcendent discussions of taste and food." For a list of Reichl's favorite food memoirs, check out this episode of Morning Edition. Reichl also talks about her time at Gourmet in an episode of Fresh Air.
(Fenugreek, Wikipedia Commons)