Like all of her writing, Ruth Reichl’s new memoir, “Save Me the Plums,” which came out last month, will transport you—to a different time in the publishing industry and right to the table alongside the author and former editor in chief of Gourmet magazine. As tantalizing as tales of big expense accounts, private drivers and all-staff trips to Paris are, the descriptions of food, as in all her books, are even more evocative.
Reichl appears on Milk Street Radio this week, where she speaks with Christopher Kimball about her days at Gourmet, including working with David Foster Wallace on his now-famous piece “Consider the Lobster.”
“The worst thing you can ever do is underestimate your audience,” Reichl says of her decision to run the story, which resulted in a flood of affirmation and appreciation, instead of the disapproval she had anticipated.
We caught up with Reichl ahead of her radio interview to ask her some questions that go beyond the book. Stay tuned for the radio show (subscribe here) and get to know Reichl a little bit better in the meantime.
Milk Street: What is the single worst restaurant meal you have ever eaten?
Ruth Reichl: It was a now-closed restaurant in New York that I was reviewing. On my first visit our waitress quit halfway through the meal. On my second, the waiter accidentally poured an entire carafe of hot sake into my lap and the busboy, trying to clean it up, somehow doused me with a large pitcher of cold water. On my third visit, they lost my coat. And on the last visit, the busboy crumbing the table managed to deposit them into my purse. (The food wasn’t much either.)
What’s the best restaurant meal you ate last year and why?
RR: Dinner at Atomix. Because the atmosphere is serene, the plates beautiful and the food both unusual and delicious. I tasted vegetables and herbs I’d never before encountered, which was exciting. But what I liked best is that the Parks are proudly presenting their own vision of Korean food, and it was totally new to me.
If you had to pursue a totally different career, what would that be?
RR: I’d probably work in a museum. I thought I was going to be a curator of contemporary art before my life suddenly took a different path.
Who is the one person in history you wish you could cook for?
RR: Columbus. I’d like to show him how he changed the way the entire world now eats.
What is your favorite, quick go-to weeknight dinner these days?
RR: Spaghetti alla Carbonara. (I use bacon instead of guanciale.)
What pantry item is your secret, go-to ingredient?
RR: Apple cider syrup. I add it to vegetables and stews, toss it into chili, use it to glaze pork and fowl. What I like is that it has both sweetness and acidity, and a few drops go a long way to improving the flavor of many dishes.
What's your favorite kitchen hack?
RR: Is this a hack? Probably not, but it’s the first thing that comes to mind. I never bother deveining shrimp; total waste of time.
Name a tool or appliance that's overrated.
RR: I think most appliances are overrated. All of our kitchens are filled with many gadgets we don’t need.
What is the one question you hope a reporter will never ask again?
RR: What is your last meal?