Ruth Reichl talks food at Berkshire WordFest

By Cathy Huyghe

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"Ruth Reichl is a familiar face to WGBH viewers and listeners, from Gourmet’s Adventures with Ruth to Diary of a Foodie. I’ve heard her speak in person on several occasions, most recently at the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena, California shortly after she heard the news that Gourmet magazine (where she had been editor-in-chief for some ten years) was closing its doors. At the time Reichl seemed shell-shocked, which she undoubtedly was since the news of Condé Nast’s came so suddenly and so, well, shockingly.

What’s clear now is that she’s over it.

On Saturday, Reichl spoke in dialogue with Albany-based WAMC‘s Joe Donahue at the first annual Berkshire WordFest, held at Edith Wharton’s estate in Lenox. Sure, she was asked about Gourmet – but mostly she talked about what she’s doing now and what’s on the horizon. She talked about her craft. She talked about how she does what she does.

Here’s how she does what she does:

    * With imagination. Reichl wrote her very first restaurant review, for New West magazine when she was living in Berkeley, as a short story. The food — the obvious point of a restaurant review — was woven through the story, but Reichl understood that even more than the highlights on the menu, readers want to be told a story. It’s a smart move.
    * With a strong sense of candor. “I think privacy is overrated,” Reichl said on Saturday afternoon. “Scratch the surface and we’re all pretty much the same. It’s comforting to know that.”
    * With the big picture in mind. “Restaurants are theater,” she said. “I’ve never thought they were just about the food. They’re about the experience.”
    * With a consistent voice. Reichl is at work on a novel now but, she said, “even if I think I’m not writing about food, I’m writing about food. I see the world food-first. I just do.”

Cathy Huyghe writes for the WGBH Daily Dish blog. Read new WGBH Daily Dish posts weekdays, where you can explore myriad ways and places to experience good food and wine."



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