The Suitcase Lady


October 14, 2009, 12:02 am

After  68 years, Gourmet Magazine is going away. Since I do not have a subscription and I am not a gourmet, my remorse at the magazine’s demise may appear odd. But I am a fan of Ruth Reichl, one of my favorite writers and Gourmet’s editor who has abruptly joined the ranks of the unemployed.

In 1972 I stumbled on a delightful paperback book with the improbable title “Mmmmm, A Feastiary”. It’s a crazy stew of zany photographs, graphics, and writing about the sensual pleasures of seasonal food. For good measure, a number of recipes are tossed in.

This was Ms. Reichl’s first book, and I’ve been a groupie ever since. She’s the M.F.K. Fisher of my generation, and, although I love Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher’s writing, I do not need to know “How to Cook a Wolf”.

From cooking at the collectively-owned Swallow Restaurant in Berkeley, Ms. Reichl went on to be the food critic of California Magazine and the L.A. Times. She switched coasts when the New York Times offered her their prestigious restaurant review column. After six years as the Times critic, she moved to Gourmet.

Her books are pure pleasure. In “Tender at the Bone” she explains her penchant for fine food. Her mother’s bizarre food concoctions and casual attitude toward refrigerator mold brought young Ruth into the kitchen to protect visitors from food poisoning. Check out this excerpt, “The Queen of Mold”.

Before being hired for the N.Y. Times job, Ms. Reichl discovered her picture was posted in restaurant kitchens all over Manhattan. Every establishment would want to put their best plate forward if the critic came to dine. Ruth created not only elaborate disguises, but also assumed personas for her characters. She chronicles her alter-ego adventures in “Garlic and Sapphires”.

Here’s the good news. Ruth Reichl now has plenty of time to write a new book about her reign at Gourmet Magazine. I can’t wait to read it. Ms. Reichl knows that living well is the best revenge.

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