Montgomery Fellow Ruth Reichl, the second fellow of this winter’s Montgomery Series, “Tell Me What You Eat, I’ll Tell You Who You Are,” recently discussed her career as a professional food critic with Dartmouth graduate students.
A self-proclaimed “foodie,” Reichl has written about food in publications such as Gourmet magazine, The New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times. In addition to her editorial work, one of Reichl’s memoirs, Garlic and Sapphires, is currently in development to become a feature film. The book details her experiences as the dining critic of The New York Times and her humorous attempts to avoid detection at various restaurants. By disguising herself in such costumes as a midwestern tourist and a bag lady, Reichl found that her outward appearance frequently dictated the service that some restaurants provided.
“Restaurants didn’t like me because they had to be nice to everybody,” laughs Reichl.
When asked why many rising chefs are gravitating away from standard haute cuisine toward more eclectic, nontraditional menus, Reichl attributed it to generational differences in tastes.
“I think that young people are exciting to cook for,” notes Reichl. “They’ve been raised on sushi, ethnic food… Your palette is open to different tastes.”
As the editor of Gourmet Magazine from 1999 until its demise in 2009, Reichl spoke about the current lack of publications that tackle the larger ethical issues behind the food that we eat.
“I do think the end of Gourmet has left a vacuum for people who want to look beyond having the ‘most delicious experiences in life,’” notes Reichl.
She identified the next “big thing” not as a particular food trend, but as a fundamental shift in how people think of food. The emphasis on “eating local” and supporting local farmers is a movement that is rapidly expanding throughout the country, and is a reoccurring theme of this winter’s Montgomery series.
Holding a master’s degree in art history, Reichl never thought she could make a career out of her lifelong love of food. Having published several books and essays, including the definitive tome, The Gourmet Cookbook, Reichl spoke about the difficulties of the writing process during the luncheon.
“Cooking is fun, but writing is hell,” laughs Reichl.
by Erin O’Flaherty