The renowned food writer recounts her adventures as editor-in-chief of the noted epicurean magazine Gourmet in its last decade.
A native New Yorker, Reichl (My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes that Saved My Life, 2015, etc.) grew up reading the magazine, and food soon became her “own private way of looking at the world.” While working as a chef in Berkeley, California, in the 1970s, she began writing about food, at New West and then the Los Angeles Times, before returning to New York to become the formidable restaurant critic for the New York Times. In 1999, at age 51, somewhat fearfully—she lacked magazine experience and faced managing a staff of 60—Reichl took the editorial helm of Gourmet, at six times her Times salary plus perks, with free rein from Condé Nast publisher Si Newhouse to revamp the staid magazine. In this fun, gossipy, and beguiling memoir, Reichl offers revealing glimpses of her parents, both introduced in earlier books, but the focus is on the heady process of “magazine making,” which meant turning an old-fashioned book into a modern, edgy monthly. She describes the exhilaration of working with talented, quirky staffers, and she provides vivid snapshots of Condé Nast honchos, including publishers Newhouse (supportive) and Gina Sanders (who “relished” fights) as well as the “large, loud,” yet appealing CEO Steve Florio, who regaled her with tales of Newhouse (“You know that Roy Cohn was his closest friend?”). Throughout, the author tells winning stories—of goings-on in the celebrated Condé Nast cafeteria, midnight parties for chefs, zany annual meetings, and providing food to 9/11 firefighters. Her success in introducing provocative articles like David Rakoff’s “Some Pig,” about Jews and bacon, and David Foster Wallace’s classic “Consider the Lobster,” on the ethics of eating, taught her that “when something frightens me, it is definitely worth doing.” A dream job, it ended in the late-2000s recession, when declining ads forced the closing of the venerable publication.
An absolutely delightful reading experience.