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Food Writer Ruth Reichl on Tweeting, Baking, Writing, and Too Much Drinking

Photo by Marqui Akins

If anyone has rolled with the food-writing times, it’s Ruth Reichl. From her stint as the food editor of the Los Angeles Times in the ’80s to her celebrated tenure as restaurant critic for The New York Times in the ’90s, to her 10-year post as the final editor in chief of Gourmet, she hasn’t missed a beat—or a form of media for that matter. Known for her breathless, food-obsessed tweets and her smart, tell-almost-all memoirs, the New Yorker has recently settled into her role as the editorial advisor for Gilt Taste, a high-end online gourmet shop with food writing redolent of Reichl’s style at Gourmet. On Jan. 13, she’ll be presenting as a judge for the Good Food Awards, a salute to artisan food producers across the country, at the Ferry Building. She’ll join the likes of Alice Waters—part of Reichl’s posse from her days cooking at a Berkeley cooperative restaurant called The Swallow. Thirty-something years later and Reichl’s liberal values are still decidedly intact.
 
You’ve been here a lot lately.
I love San Francisco, so I grab every chance I get to visit. My husband would do anything to move here.

Do you pack your own food for plane trips?
No, I eat what they serve. It’s like a little bit of torture seeing just how bad the food can be.

Have you eaten anywhere memorable lately?
I haven’t actually been to many of the hot new restaurants here, but tonight I’m having two dinners. I’m going to the Slanted Door, and then I’m meeting Nancy Silverton [of Mozza] at Cotogna.

What’s the next frontier in food?
With the nose-to-tail movement, I’d say texture—it’s a big thing for Americans to get over.

What new product have you discovered 
working with Gilt Taste?
We’re selling this Flannery Beef from Corte Madera, and the I’ve Got Wagyu for Days burger is the best ground beef blend I’ve had. I happen to be married to a man who would happily eat 
a hamburger every day.

Is there anything you won’t eat?
I must lack the disgust gene. Why is eating an eyeball more disgusting than a leg? I ate live ants in Laos. They didn’t bother me. The problem is they didn’t really die, so they bite you as they’re going down. It was really creepy.

You’re a judge for the Good Food Awards. 
What would you win a blue ribbon for?
Apricot pie.

Let’s talk about the state of food magazines.
Gourmet didn’t die because readers didn’t like it. It died because its advertisers were luxury advertisers, and they didn’t have any money. It made me feel like going forward, it was going to be hard for a smart epicurean magazine to survive, and nothing has dissuaded me of that notion. If you look at what’s doing well in that space, it’s the Food Network magazine. Though I respect what they’re doing, it’s different.

The New York Times is hiring a new restaurant critic. What kind of person should they be looking for?
In the age of Yelp and Chowhound, it seems like the landscape has changed. Critics can’t just say, “Oh, I like it” anymore. Today, I think a critic needs to have done a lot of eating all over the world. We’re in a global marketplace. They have to know what the René Redzepi influence has been, what the Ferran Adria influence has been, and what’s happening in Japan.

What’s the best thing you’ve read this year?
In food, I totally admired Blood, Bones & Butter [by New York chef Gabrielle Hamilton]. She makes running Prune sound really hard, but she loves that it’s hard. She made me want to go back to restaurant cooking.

Organic or local?
I’d rather have an apple picked by my neighbor than an organic apple from Chile. Like everything though, there are no simple answers. The locavore movement is kind of great until you’re on the East Coast and realize you can never have another lemon.

What books are you working on?
I’m working on a novel called Delicious. And I’m working on a cookbook based on my tweets. Tony Bourdain read my dreamy tweets on the radio and called it the “Tao of Ruth.” He said, “What world is this woman living in?” So the cookbook starts with my tweets and then gives the backstory of the recipe I was tweeting about. The middle part is about my coming to terms with not having a job for the first time in my adult life.

What’s your biggest weakness?
I drink too much wine.

Tell me something that people might 
not know about you.
I’m totally miserable if I don’t have a cat.

What do you think of the word foodie?
I hate it. It’s so cutesy and slightly pejorative, which is how I used it in an article I wrote for the Los Angeles Times about food-obsessed people in the very early ’80s. But when I was working on “Diary of a Foodie” for Gourmet, I couldn’t come up with anything better. And I still can’t.

Ruth Reichl presents at the Good Food Awards on Jan. 13. Check out the winning products at the farmers market on Jan. 14. Ferry Building, 1 Ferry Building (at Market), 415-796-3713.