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Reichl finds new writing life in her first novel

By Kathleen Purvis
Kathleen Purvis
Kathleen Purvis is the Food Editor for The Charlotte Observer.
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- Courtesy of Ruth Reichl
Ruth Reichl

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  • Want to go?

    “Ruth Reichl: A Spy in the House of Food” is March 27 at Temple Beth-El. Dinner starts at 6:30 p.m., followed by the lecture and dessert at 8. Tickets: $40 for dinner and the lecture; $18 for the lecture and dessert only. Details: www.jewishcharlotte.org or call 704-944-6757.


In the food world, it would be tough to top a resume like Ruth Reichl’s:

Restaurant reviewer for both the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times. Editor of the late, lamented Gourmet magazine. And writer of four culinary memoirs.

Even with all that, adding the title “novelist” was something she had wanted for a long time.

“My whole life,” she admits. “ ‘Don’t we all?’ Yes, exactly. I expect every writer to say that. It’s the thing we all yearn for and dread. And may I say, there’s a reason to dread it – it’s really hard.”

Reichl will be in Charlotte March 27 as the speaker for the Jewish Federation of Greater Charlotte’s 16th annual spring lecture, just weeks before the May 6 release of her first novel, “Delicious!”

Even with all of her experience as a writer, she admits fiction surprised her.

“With fiction, you have to find your characters, and you have to wait for them. And sometimes, they don’t come easily. Anything can happen.”

In the category of “anything can happen,” include Reichl’s life on Twitter. She was one of its earliest users, and her messages, describing her meals in haiku-like passages of perfection, ended up inspiring the parody @ruthbourdain, an unholy mashup of Reichl and profane TV chef Anthony Bourdain.

She says she got into Twitter by accident, when friends told her about it and signed her up. She originally intended her messages to just be seen by friends, a way to share what she was eating on her travels.

“I had this notion, I’ll just make little word pictures. And I loved the discipline of it – 140 characters. It was a great little riddle every day.”

Reichl doesn’t know Josh Friedland, the blogger who eventually confessed to being Ruth Bourdain, but she says she misses it herself now that it’s ended. “I was sorry when the real person came out.”

Another thing she misses: The daily give-and-take with the staff at Gourmet, which folded in 2009, and the luxury of running a magazine with deep enough pockets.

“We had the resources for investigative work,” she said. As editor, she could send writers and photographers out to try something new or to take a risk. She misses that in today’s food-writing scene.

“The traditional magazines are playing it very safe. They’re doing it by focus group. And many blogs and independent magazines – they don’t have the resources.”

She’s started blogging at www.ruthreichl.com, with posts and pictures on what she cooks and eats.

Before she visits a new city, she usually sends out a tweet asking for suggestions on where to eat. On a trip to Austin, she got more than 150 replies. Follow her on @ruthreichl if you have suggestions for her in Charlotte.

How does the queen of the 140-character food tweet reply to this? “Name three things in your refrigerator right now that make you happy to know you have them.”

She did in 72 characters.

“A really good piece of Parmesan. A bottle of sriracha. And some lemons.”

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