I Met Ruth Reichl at the Brattle Theatre

On Friday, May 9 I sat three rows away from the Brattle Theatre stage in Cambridge where Barbara Lynch and Ruth Reichl talked about food, cooking, the restaurant industry, and Ruth’s newest book, Delicious! I adore Ruth – she was The New York Times restaurant critic, editor-in-chief of Gourmet, and continues to be an amazing food writer. Since reading Garlic and Sapphires, I became fascinated with her life, understanding of food, and descriptive writing style that lingers on the details for just the right amount of time. Delicious! is her first fictional book, so it was interesting to hear that she finds fiction much easier than memoir writing because there’s no right or wrong; there’s no checking in with people from your past to be sure they’re comfortable with what you wrote about them. Makes sense!

Barbara Lynch had just won a James Beard Award four days earlier, so it was great to see her still reveling in the happiness and surprise of her win. It had been ten years since an independent woman won the Outstanding Restaurateur award – this award is a huge deal for anyone, but, as Ruth commented on Friday night, for a woman who is a chef AND a business woman to win, it’s a big victory and very well-deserved.

Ever since I was editor-in-chief of my high school newspaper, I had this idea what I would become an editor of a food/travel/lifestyle magazine. Meeting someone who has been there and still has such a down-to-earth approach to life was such an inspiration.

The Q&A/conversation between Barbara and Ruth seemed very honest and intimate. They discussed Delicious! – Barbara mentioned a number of sections in detail that demonstrated how much she loved the book and how enthusiastic she was to share it. In the book, Billie Breslin travels from her home in California to New York City for a job at a food magazine. Then, the publication suddenly shuts down (not too different from the real-life Gourmet closing that Ruth experienced). In the library of the magazine, Billie finds a collection of letters written during World War II to James Beard. The story is about her adventure of learning through the letters about food, love, and life.

Both Barbara and Ruth spoke at length about inspiration. Ruth said that she wrote the letters in Delicious! at the time the idea came to her, all in one sitting. That was a powerful example for me of being inspired and immediately acting on the idea. The ability to plan (Barbara spoke about constantly having one-, three-, and five-year goals), be action-oriented, and trust that results will come were all themes in the conversation. At one point Ruth said “I kind of hate writing, but I love having written.”

They discussed how food media is shifting, mentioning Lucky Peach and Cherry Bombe as publications that are changing the way we think about food magazines. Responding to a great question from the audience, they also talked about fears and phobias, sharing what they have overcome and are continuing to work on today. Ruth summed it up well: “It doesn’t matter how old you are, you can change yourself.”

Next project for Ruth? She’s writing a cookbook based on her tweets from the year after Gourmet closed (you may already be a fan of Ruth’s poetic Twitter style). And for Barbara? She is also writing a book – her first one, a memoir.

Toward the end of the night, when answering a question about inspiration, Ruth said “there’s so much pleasure in the everyday.” These words rang particularly true for me. It was a treat to listen to such accomplished women in the food industry talk about what they love.

Delicious! was just released on May 6 – a copy was included with my ticket to the event through the Harvard Book Store. I look forward to reading it soon.