This is part of my Summer Reads series where I’ll be reviewing a series of “not just cookbooks”.
For the first in my Summer Reads series this year, I’m starting with one of this spring’s most anticipated releases, Ruth Reichl‘s latest, Save me the Plums, My Gourmet Memoir. For many, Ruth probably doesn’t need much in the way of an introduction. Formerly a restaurant critic for both The Los Angeles Times and The New York Times, she’s also the author of The New York Times bestsellers Tender at the Bone and Comfort Me with Apples. Reichl also wrote Garlic and Sapphires about her time “under cover” as a restaurant critic and, recently, the fictional Delicious! and My Kitchen Year, a cookbook (I’ve written about some of these previously). Reichl is, however, perhaps best known as being Editor in Chief of Gourmet Magazine for 10 years until it closed in 2009. Save me the Plums is the story of her time there.
From the publisher:
When Condé Nast offered Ruth Reichl the top position at America’s oldest epicurean magazine, she declined. She was a writer, not a manager, and had no inclination to be anyone’s boss. Yet Reichl had been reading Gourmet since she was eight; it had inspired her career. How could she say no?
This is the story of a former Berkeley hippie entering the corporate world and worrying about losing her soul. It is the story of the moment restaurants became an important part of popular culture, a time when the rise of the farm-to-table movement changed, forever, the way we eat. Readers will meet legendary chefs like David Chang and Eric Ripert, idiosyncratic writers like David Foster Wallace, and a colorful group of editors and art directors who, under Reichl’s leadership, transformed stately Gourmet into a cutting-edge publication. This was the golden age of print media—the last spendthrift gasp before the Internet turned the magazine world upside down.
Complete with recipes, Save Me the Plums is a personal journey of a woman coming to terms with being in charge and making a mark, following a passion and holding on to her dreams—even when she ends up in a place she never expected to be.
If you’ve ever wondered what happens behind the doors of a food magazine, wondered how high-rollers lived in the 90s in New York City, wondered “What DID happen to Gourmet magazine?” this is the book for you. I loved all Reichl’s other books and had eagerly anticipated this one but wasn’t sure I’d be that interested in the whole “high society” angle. In fact, though it does talk about that aspect of the job (and actually how Reichl grapples with her identity – she was, in a previous life, a restaurateur in Berkley during the heady days of the 1970s food “revolution’ so this lifestyle was new to her), the book deals mostly with the changing landscape of food writing and I ended up reading most of this in one sitting. Reichl writes so beautifully and descriptively – and I’ve had the pleasure of hearing her speak a number of times so when I read her words I hear her voice speaking them (I could listen to her for hours, she’s so down-to-earth, funny, real and smart) that it’s hard to put her work down.
Over the course of Reichl’s time at Gourmet, not only did the food (writing) landscape change drastically but so did the publishing world. I found it utterly fascinating (and a little sad) watching what was, essentially, the slow death of the magazine through the pages of this book. It’s also the story of Ruth coming to realise that those heady days of Gourmet were not necessarily the lifestyle which she felt defined her and the end of the book hints at her finding happiness with a much simpler life (which, if you read My Kitchen Year, you’ll see she makes a reality). There’s a wonderful juxtaposition of two Gourmet trips to Paris – one early on in her time there when practically the whole editorial team was sent over there with a team of cooks to research material for an issue of the magazine, the other very late on in Reichl’s time with Gourmet, where just two of them researched Paris on a shoestring. Definitely a sign of a changing readership and changing priorities for the magazine which, ultimately, did not last much longer. The advent of the Internet was also a huge nail in the Gourmet coffin and you might be surprised to hear the story of where the Gourmet recipes (developed by the Gourmet team in the Gourmet test kitchens) ended up online (hint: not on gourmet.com which was another contributing factor to the magazine’s demise).
If you were a Gourmet reader during Reichl’s years at the helm, you’ll likely remember some of the covers and stories she references and it’s so interesting to hear how they were conceived and came to be. The decisions! This book will make you think twice about any magazine you read (especially in this era which is a bit precarious for print media) – there is so much thought that goes into each and every decision about images, stories, even ads. Reichl’s writing is lively and descriptive and will make you feel like you’re right there in those editorial meetings, at those parties, in her kitchen with her. Definitely a summer (or anytime) “must read”.
Please note: This post contains product links from Amazon and The Book Depository which are affiliate links, meaning if you click over and purchase something, I will receive a very small percentage of the purchase price (at no extra cost to you). Thank you in advance!
Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book from the publisher. I was not asked to review this book, nor am I receiving compensation for doing do. All opinions my own.
MY BOOK! In the French kitchen with kids is out now! Click here for order details!