What is it about Ruth Reichl that makes her feel like an old friend?
If anyone else had lost what might have been the most amazing job in the world—editor-in-chief of Conde Nast’s Gourmet magazine—we might have greeted the announcement with a little schadenfreude. Really, who among us has a job that allows us to get into, and eat for free, in any restaurant in the world? Not to mention working with the most gifted chefs, designers, writers and photographers on one of the world’s great food publications. And winning six James Beard Awards. Who wants to hear some overly privileged person whine about losing that?
As it turns out, I did. Because Reichl doesn’t whine, in fact the memoir she wrote almost by accident, My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved My Life (Random House; September 29, 2015), feels like being welcomed into your best friend’s kitchen and treated to fascinating stories and delicious food
I’ve long been a fan of Reichl’s. I devoured her memoirs Tender at the Bone, Comfort Me with Apples, and Garlic and Sapphires, hungrily pored over her New York Times restaurant reviews and followed her on Twitter. Little did anyone know, including Reichl, that those tweets she regularly sent out into the Twitterverse would become this book. They were warm, intimate and inspired more than a few of us to beg—“Where’s the recipe?”—when she posted about a meal she was thinking of creating.
My Kitchen Year has those recipes, as well as the diary entries that inspired them, chronicling what it’s like to lose your job, break your foot (in five places—ouch!) and try to figure out who you are once again. Along the way Reichl shares the recipes that save her, recipes we can make in our own kitchens. In addition, she includes tons of tips to kick the ordinary up a notch (Chicken Liver Pate with apples and brandy) or master something we’ve never tried (Spicy Korean Rice Sticks with Shrimp and Vegetables).
The warmth and intimacy of Reichl’s writing makes this the literary equivalent of potato chips—you want to read just one more entry and before you know it the book is done and filled with post-it notes for all the recipes you want to try. And the laid back tone—no buttermilk? Yogurt is an easy substitute—makes everything feel approachable, even Sea Urchin Pasta.
I was glad I followed Reichl on her journey from fabulous galas to chilling despair to her reawakening as a cook and an author during My Kitchen Year. It was a delicious ride from someone who, no matter what her accomplishments, is clearly one of us.