Ruth Reichl mixes food, fiction

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Former New York Times restaurant critic Ruth Reichl has engaged readers for years through her reviews and memoirs. Now she’s turned her hand to fiction with a novel titled


Reichl is in the Bay Area this week promoting the book, which is inspired by her time as editor in chief of Gourmet magazine. Reichl served at the helm for 10 years until 2009, when the magazine was suddenly closed.


“Writing fiction is what I’ve always wanted to do, and I told myself that if there was ever a time I didn’t have a day job, I’d tackle a novel,” Reichl says. “I’d been on book tour for the Gourmet cookbook when the magazine closed, so by the time I returned six weeks later to pack my things, everyone else was gone.


“The office was so desolate! I went into the library, and suddenly I began to wonder what it would feel like if I was not in a huge modern high rise, but a grand old mansion. It was spooky, all alone in there, and I let my imagination run wild. I began thinking about a hidden room and what I might find in there. And suddenly, there was Lulu.”


In the novel, young Billie Breslin moves from California to New York to take a job at a food magazine called Delicious!
She’s barely started work when the publication is shut down, setting off a chain of events.


In the magazine’s library, Breslin finds letters written by 12-year-old Lulu Swan, who corresponded with chef James Beard during World War II.


Reichl says she wanted to write the kind of book that gives other people the pleasure she gets from reading books.


“I love fiction,” she says. “Truly, if I didn’t have books to disappear into, I don’t know what I’d do with myself.”


Reichl writes passionately about food and people’s relationship to it. Her memoirs “Tender at the Bone” and “Comfort Me with Apples” were both best-sellers.


What does she hope “Delicious!” readers will take away?


“That the secret to life is finding joy in ordinary things,” she says. “No matter what’s going on in the world — Egypt’s exploding, women are exploited, the climate’s in terrible trouble — there are always small things to celebrate.


“We have to try to make the world better, but we also have to appreciate the good things that we have. The pleasure of a perfectly ripe peach, the juice running down your arms … the smell of really good coffee first thing in the




Ruth Reichl


Where: Nourse Theater, 275 Hayes St., S.F.


When: 5:30 p.m. today


Tickets: $27


Contact: (415) 392-4400,

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