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Ruth Reichl on Food Writing

Thanks to her tweets yesterday, I learned that Ruth Reichl was speaking at Stanford last night. So after a quick stop at Ike’s for sandwiches, Jon and I arrived at the auditorium just in time to grab two of the few remaining seats. She spoke for about 45 minutes about food writing, but it was the brief Q&A afterwards that yielded these tidbits:

  • Since she’s always asked about Gourmet magazine’s closure, she decided to address that issue. Even though the magazine’s circulation was at its highest when it shut down in 2009, its main advertisers fell into five categories that were hit big by the recession: travel, automobiles, financial institutions, jewelry and large appliances. But Reichl maintains that there’s still a market out there for “a food magazine for smart people.”
  • She believes that all of the online food sites are pushing professional writers to be better. Forty years ago, when she started out in food writing, she said you didn’t need to know much about food. But now that’s all changed because of social media. Professionals need to give readers more.
  • She stopped being a restaurant critic (for the New York Times) because she felt like her job encouraged folks to “spend private time in public spaces.” And what she really wanted was for people to connect with each other on a more intimate level. Because it is such a personal thing, she described inviting friends into your home as “an incredible act of bravery.”
  • Her book, Garlic and Sapphires, is set to become a movie with Anne Hathaway attached to it. (HBO originally bought the rights to the book way back when, but the script apparently wasn’t very good and the project never went anywhere with the cable network.)
  • She is a big fan of Grant Achatz (and Alinea restaurant), but thinks there are a lot of chefs who are trying their hand at modernist cooking and doing it really badly.
  • She is also a big fan of Ruth Bourdain and hopes s/he wins the James Beard Award for humor so his/her identity will be revealed at the awards ceremony!