“My little cabin is at the end of a dirt road, looking out over a valley to the Catskills in the distance. I like color, and I’ve surrounded myself with friendly objects – photos of the people I love, art by various friends, antique toys I’ve picked up at tag sales over the years. It’s cozy, heated only with a woodstove, and I can sit in there and watch the seasons change.”
Ruth Reichl is a writer and editor who was the Editor in Chief of Gourmet Magazine for ten years until its closing in 2009. Before that she was the restaurant critic of the The New York Times, (1993-1999), and both the restaurant critic and food editor of the Los Angeles Times (1984-1993). As co-owner and cook of the collective restaurant The Swallow from 1974 to 1977, she played a part in the culinary revolution that took place in Berkeley, California.
Ms. Reichl began writing about food in 1972, when she published Mmmmm: A Feastiary. Since then, she has authored the critically acclaimed, best-selling memoirs Tender At The Bone, Comfort Me With Apples, Garlic and Sapphires and For You Mom, Finally, (originally published as Not Becoming My Mother and Other Things She Taught Me Along the Way). She holds a B.A. and an M.A. in the History of Art from the University of Michigan and lives in New York City with her husband, Michael Singer, a television news producer, and their son. (view Ruth’s full bio here)
FROM YOUR DESKS: How do you work?
RUTH REICHL: My favorite time to write is early in the morning, before the noise begins. I like to get up when everyone else is still asleep, creep out to my little studio in the woods and write. Before making coffee, reading the papers, answering emails, when I’m still in a half dream state. The deer come nosing around, the birds sing. It’s lovely. After a couple of hours I go inside, make breakfast for anyone who’s there, answer emails, etc. Then, if I’m not committed to something else, I go back out to the studio and write some more.
Invite people to your house for dinner, and then you can have as leisurely a meal as you like.
FYD: How do you unplug the outside world?
RR: My studio’s not wired.
FYD: Do you miss your old day job at Gourmet or is it nice to be out of the office?
RR: I miss Gourmet – miss all the people I worked with – and miss the camaraderie of the office. But it’s very nice to own all the hours in every day.
FYD: How much time a year do you spend in L.A? How has it changed culinarily since you left in 1993? Certainly we see more Wolfgang Puck restaurants at the airports.
RR: I don’t normally spend a lot of time in L.A., but this year, after shooting Top Chef Masters, my husband came out and we spent another month in a borrowed house. My son came out too, on Spring Break. It was really wonderful; I spent a lot of time with friends, and we ate way too well. L.A. is still the ethnic food capital of America, but now there’s this whole new movement of exciting young chefs who are cooking incredible food. I have to say that being able to go to the farmers market in the middle of winter and find strawberries, avocados, tomatoes, great greens, all that citrus… was really amazing. Not to mention sea urchins and crabs. L.A. is such a wonderful place to cook.
Look at how fast the meat supply has already changed in large cities…
FYD: You were miles ahead in terms of food consciousness. If social media were the norm in the early to mid 1990’s (ditto books and films like Fast Food Nation, Food Inc.) would people feel more socially responsible with regard to food and the earth?
RR: I am actually excited by how much HAS changed as Americans become aware of the importance of their food choices. There has been an enormous change in just the past few years, as Americans start to think about the implications of industrialized food, become aware of confinement animal facilities, look into the devastation of the oceans and start asking why we have this crisis of obesity and diabetes. Five years ago very few people were aware of these problems; today every thinking person knows that we are facing increasingly serious questions about the way the world eats. Has social media helped? Absolutely. And I look forward to an ever more educated public.
FYD: I recently returned from Buenos Aires where I ate cows upon cows of Argentinean grass-fed beef. Finding pasture raised animals and sustainable fish is surprisingly challenging in smaller market cities. Do you see this changing soon?
RR: Look at how fast the meat supply has already changed in large cities; we can now get grass food beef, humanely raised heritage pork, local lamb. Artisan butchers are all the rage. I think this will continue to accelerate, and I expect that it will quickly move to smaller markets.
I like to get up when everyone else is still asleep, creep out to my little studio in the woods and write.
FYD: Too often people are rushed in restaurants. I often feel pressure I’m “overstaying” my welcome. How can one enjoy without feeling rushed?
RR: One reason I stopped being a restaurant critic was that I was becoming worried about how much private time Americans were spending in public spaces. The answer to feeling rushed in restaurants? Invite people to your house for dinner, and then you can have as leisurely a meal as you like.
FYD: What do you think of the Twitter presence of one Ruth Bourdain?
RR: I’m flattered. And I find him/her very funny.
FYD: What is your spring looking like in terms of travel, food and writing?
RR: Very busy. I’m trying to finish a novel, part way through a cookbook, and I’ve got a big new project that I’m about to start working on. So I won’t be traveling much in the next few months.
Hungry? Give these recipes a look.