Passing Through

Ruthie in Wonderland

The feast may be over, but Gourmet’s erstwhile chief will dish again.

By Jessica Voelker October 20, 2009 Published in the November 2009 issue of Seattle Met

"OH DEFINITELY,” said Ruth Reichl when asked whether she planned to write a book about her reign as editor of Gourmet magazine. “I will write it when I leave. It’s a world I had never encountered before, so rarefied, so strange. Quite wonderful.”

On that gray day in October, Reichl had boarded a crack–of–dawn flight to Seattle from Portland, jawed about food with KUOW’s Steve Scher, then paused to feast on grilled pork and noodles at Tamarind Tree. She then endured the rush-hour crawl to Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park, where she was set to sign copies of her newest project, a recipe tome as thick as a street curb called Gourmet Today.

More than 10 years into her employment at Condé Nast, it was clear Ruth Reichl remained enchanted with her job. “I think of it as Ruthie in Wonderland,” she said. “I had never encountered privilege like that.” She described her early days wandering down to the magazine’s test kitchens where she saw that a staff cook was making the same tomato pie again and again, week after week, until it was perfect. “I thought they were crazy.”

It wasn’t like she was unacquainted with privilege. As a New York Times restaurant critic, a job for which she donned multiple disguises, Reichl ruffled feathers by reviewing noodle joints and Korean barbecues alongside the fancy French places favored by her predecessors. She also famously exposed the snobbery and biases of fine dining, writing about the different treatment she received when dressed as a shabby old lady or a sexy blonde.

Reichl ultimately embraced the many resources at Gourmet, however, even intensifying the recipe process. But in between meticulously conceived fruit–tart instructions and lusciously photographed roasted fowl, she found a place for issue—driven articles—a piece from last year exposed slave labor among vegetable pickers, prompting one of Florida’s largest growers to increase wages. “We get to create dreams, help people live better, and point out things that maybe we can change,” said Reichl. “That’s what’s so exciting about working at magazines.”

Four days after leaving Seattle, Reichl learned, along with the rest of the world, that Condé Nast was ceasing publication of the 68–year–old Gourmet. She has told reporters she plans to continue her PBS series Gourmet’s Adventures with Ruth. After that, says Reichl, she’ll start her next memoir, the one about all those tomato pies.

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