Ruth Reichl one of the most noted food writers and culinary memoirists in the country wonders how she got here.
It wasnt too long ago when the genre of food writing didnt really exist. When she published what is still her most successful book Tender at the Bone, a memoir about her mother and food, No one knew what to do with it, she says.
Was it a cookbook or a memoir? How could it be both? Well, it could and with it, Reichl helped create this genre of culinary writing that now is entering what she calls its Golden Age.
What has happened is the landscape has changed, she says. Reichl has been an architect of that changing landscape through her extensive personal foodie history. As chef at the Bay Areas restaurant Swallow in the 1970s, she helped start the Berkeley food revolution that became the seed of todays Farm to Fork movement.
She served as restaurant critic for the Los Angeles Times and New York Times in the 1980s and 90s and helmed Gourmet magazine for a decade before it shuttered in 2009. Now, she is a judge on Bravos Top Chef Masters reality competition show and is the editor of The Modern Library Food Series and editorial advisor for GiltTaste.com.
Her passion for food writing began in 1972, with Mmmmmmm: A Feastiary. Since then, she has authored four best-selling memoirs, including Tender at the Bone, and The Gourmet Cookbook. Her first novel, Delicious! is due out from Random House in May and she has another memoir in the works.
Reichl continues to explore the cultural underpinnings of this food-culture phenomenon, thats all happening at a time when people arent cooking. Reichl will discuss that in her Readings & Conversations appearance.
Q: You once said your mothers terrible cooking taught you how to taste. How do you approach tasting?
A: The most important part of tasting is being mindful. Most of us eat without thinking. We eat with our minds more than anything. Thats how the industrial food companies have gotten us to get so fat, because we eat without stopping and considering our food.
Were starting to understand that a huge part of flavor comes from aroma. Smell is the only sense that isnt mediated. When you touch something the nerves transmit the sensation to the brain. When you smell something its direct (the receptors for scent are open in the brain at the top of the nasal cavity).
So, smell before you put it into your mouth. Start to think about what it tastes like. How does it feel in my mouth? Does it remind me of anything? When you do that, its game over.
You know, people are always accusingly asking, why arent you fat. Its because I take the time to eat slowly.
Thats when your body will tell you when youve had enough. So, when you enjoy the food, pay attention to it, it rewards you in many ways.
Q: I know you like to cook. What are your essential kitchen ingredients?
A: First Im huge believer in ordinary people NOT trying to cook like a chef. No ridiculously complex dishes that are set up to disappoint you. Im actually writing a cookbook about the pleasure of cooking. So, the recipes I cook are pretty simple.
I always have the ingredients on hand to make spaghetti alla carbonara.
Eggs, bacon, garlic, Parmesan cheese, butter, lemons I use lots of lemons pasta. Also, rice. I keep my bones and make my own stock, so I have a freezer full. With that I can pretty much make anything.
I love to make pies. I love the process of cutting the dough and feeling the butter in my hands feeling the flour and butter come together. Its such a pleasure.
And I have to admit I love carbs. If I only had one thing to eat it would be bread and butter.
I love the Jim Lahey no-knead bread recipe. Its so easy you get is a classic Italian crusty dough with a lot of big holes in it. I make it every few days. (Find the recipes in the box above.)
Q: Were running a contest for people who want to win tickets in which they describe their most memorable meal. So, I think its only fair that you do the same. Whats your most memorable meal?
A: On my first honeymoon in Crete, we walked up the mountain and came to this little stone hut sitting on a beautiful hillside. An old woman came out with bread she had baked and olive oil made from the olives on her trees. She brought out goat cheese she had made and picked some oregano and snipped it into the oil. Then she said she was going fishing, so we ate bread, olives and cheese until she returned with two fish. She lit a fire and we had that with some wild greens gathered from the hill. For dessert we had fresh yogurt and nuts.
This was the first time I had a meal that was completely of a place and a moment, and completely irreplaceable. I thought, this is what food is.
This was when American food was just supermarket food. You couldnt even get decent olive oil. It was a terrible time for American food, but I saw what food could be. We used to be a nation of farmers. Why are we eating at McDonalds getting fat, when we could have this? It captured my attention.
Dana Oland: 377-6442, Twitter: @IDS_DanaOland
RUTH REICHLS SPAGHETTI CARBONARA
1 pound spaghetti
1/4 to 1/2 pound thickly sliced good quality bacon
2 cloves garlic, peeled
2 large eggs
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano cheese, plus extra for the table
Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. When it is boiling, throw the spaghetti in. Most dried spaghetti takes 9 to 10 minutes to cook,and you can make the sauce in that time.
Cut the bacon crosswise into pieces about 1/2 inch wide. Put them in a skillet and cook for 2 minutes, until fat begins to render. Add the whole cloves of garlic and cook another 5 minutes, until the edges of the bacon just begin to get crisp.
Do not overcook; if they get too crisp they wont meld with the pasta. Meanwhile, break the eggs into the bowl you will serve the pasta in, and beat them with a fork. Add some grindings of pepper.
Remove the garlic from the bacon pan. If the fat looks like too much for you, discard some; youre going to toss the bacon with most of the fat into the pasta. When the pasta is cooked, drain it and immediately throw it into the beaten eggs. Mix thoroughly. The heat of the spaghetti will cook the eggs and turn them into a sauce. Add the bacon with its fat, toss again, add cheese and serve.