Tuesday, December 29, 2015


I'm not sure why, but somewhere into the first 50 pages of MY KITCHEN YEAR: 136 RECIPES THAT SAVED MY LIFE (Random House; $35.00), Ruth Reichl's memoir with recipes, really began to piss me off. Ruth Reichl was fired as editor-in-chief of Gourmet along with the entire staff as Conde Nast shut down the beloved and venerated cooking publication just short of its seventieth anniversary. It sent a deep shock waves into the already struggling magazine publishing world. Reichl herself had spent a decade atop the masthead as it's editor-in-chief. But in 2010, the country was bogged down in a deep financial recession. In all more than eight million lost their jobs; six million lost their homes. It was a financial catastrophe that we're still reeling from.

Ruth Reichl has enjoyed a storied career as a restaurant critic for both The Los Angeles Times and The New York Times before she landed one of the most coveted culinary jobs at Gourmet. During her decade there, Ms. Reichl published three volumes of her memoirs--all of them bestsellers. Since the demise of Gourmet, she has written a successful novel, landed a contract as a sort of culinary editor at large at Random House, and because she is a recognized culinary brand, has continued to work.

I am sure MY KITCHEN YEAR was intended to be a book that chronicled her shock, sadness and depression following the loss of a wonderful job--a job which she clearly loved and excelled at. But this slight narrative comes off as selfish and clueless. Millions lost their jobs, many of them are still picking up the pieces of shattered lives. So when Reichl worries that she won't be able to maintain both her Manhattan apartment and country home, I was a little offended. How tin-eared can you get? She risks being taken too seriously over her rhapsodic purchases of very expensive organic, farm-to-table ingredients, which would be one of the first economic cuts made by your average unemployed family when facing a similar crisis. There's no thought given to the human tragedy that caught the entire world during the long recovery. Perhaps it's churlish of me to expect that, but I wasn't expecting the "poor pitiful me" tone that permeates nearly every page.

One expects good recipes from Ruth Reichl, and to be very fair here, she offers many tasty indulgences:  Cider-Braised Pork Shoulder, Nectarine Galette, Anchovy Bread, High-Heat Turkey, Chinese Dumplings, Pumpkin Pancakes, Sriracha Shrimp Over Coconut Rice, The Cake that Cures Everything, Lemon Panna Cotta, Spinach and Ricotta Gnocchi, Thai-American Noodles, Bulgogi at Home, Pink Deviled Eggs, Three-Day Short Ribs, Fabulous Hummus, Fresh Apricot Jam, Real Fried Chicken, Magret of Duck with Easy Orange Sauce are all inspired. For the most part, Ms. Riechl's instructions are chatty and colorful, rather than set forth in the usual list-and-preparation format.

Because MY KITCHEN YEAR was more of a memoir with recipes, I decided to get the Kindle edition rather than the book (my shelves are overstuffed with cookbooks already). I wanted to like this book. Ruth Reichl has been a writer, editor, and witness of the big changes in the food world since she burst onto the national scene when she joined The New York Times.  She has much to say still and I hope she back to it soon.