Delicious! (Reichl)

Delicious!  A Novel
Ruth Reichl, 2014
Random House
388 pp.
ISBN-13: 9781400069620

Ruth Reichl is a born storyteller. Through her restaurant reviews, where she celebrated the pleasures of a well-made meal, and her bestselling memoirs that address our universal feelings of love and loss, Reichl has achieved a special place in the hearts of hundreds of thousands of readers. Now, with this magical debut novel, she has created a sumptuous, wholly realized world that will enchant you.

Billie Breslin has traveled far from her home in California to take a job at Delicious!, New York’s most iconic food magazine. Away from her family, particularly her older sister, Genie, Billie feels like a fish out of water—until she is welcomed by the magazine’s colorful staff. She is also seduced by the vibrant downtown food scene, especially by Fontanari’s, the famous Italian food shop where she works on weekends. Then Delicious! is abruptly shut down, but Billie agrees to stay on in the empty office, maintaining the hotline for reader complaints in order to pay her bills.

To Billie’s surprise, the lonely job becomes the portal to a miraculous discovery. In a hidden room in the magazine’s library, Billie finds a cache of letters written during World War II by Lulu Swan, a plucky twelve-year-old, to the legendary chef James Beard. Lulu’s letters provide Billie with a richer understanding of history, and a feeling of deep connection to the young writer whose courage in the face of hardship inspires Billie to comes to terms with her fears, her big sister and her ability to open her heart to love. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Birth—January 16, 1948
Where—New York City, USA
Education—B.A., University of Michigan
Awards—4 James Beard Awards
Currently—lives in New York City

Ruth Reichl is an American food writer, perhaps best known as the editor-in-chief of the former Gourmet magazine. She has written more than 10 books, including several best-selling memoirs. These include Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table (1998); Comfort Me with Apples: More Adventures at the Table (2001); Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise (2005); Save Me the Plums: My Gourmet Memoir (2019). Her first novel, Delicious!, was published in 2014.

Born to parents Ernst and Miriam (nee Brudno), Reichl was raised in Greenwich Village in New York City and spent time at a boarding school in Montreal as a young girl. She attended the University of Michigan, where she met her first husband, the artist Douglas Hollis. He graduated in 1970 with a M.A. in Art History.

She and Hollis moved to Berkeley, California, where her interest in food led to her joining the collectively-owned Swallow Restaurant as a chef and co-owner from 1973 to 1977, and where she played an important role in the culinary revolution taking place at the time.

Reichl began her food-writing career with Mmmmm: A Feastiary, a cookbook, in 1972. She moved on to become food writer and editor of New West magazine from 1973 to 1977, then to the Los Angeles Times as its restaurant editor from 1984 to 1993 and food editor and critic from 1990 to 1993. She returned to her native New York City in 1993 to become the restaurant critic for the New York Times before leaving to assume the editorship of Gourmet in 1999.

She is known for her ability to "make or break" a restaurant with her fierce attention to detail and her adventurous spirit. For Reichl, her mission has been to "demystify the world of fine cuisine" (CBS News Online). She has won acclaim with both readers and writers alike for her honesty about some of the not-so-fabulous aspects of haute-couture cuisine.

Though an outsider's perspective, she harshly criticized the sexism prevalent toward women in dine-out experiences, as well as the pretentious nature of the ritziest New York restaurants and restaurateurs alike.

Despite her widely-celebrated success, and hilarious tales of how she used to disguise herself to mask her identity while reviewing, she is quite open about why she stopped. "I really wanted to go home and cook for my family," she says. "I don't think there's one thing more important you can do for your kids than have family dinner" (CBS News Online).

She has been the recipient of four James Beard Awards: in 1996 and 1998 for restaurant criticism, one in 1994 for journalism and in 1984 for Who's Who of Food and Beverage in America; as well as several awards granted by the Association of American Food Journalists. She was also the recipient of the YWCA's Elizabeth Cutter Morrow Award, celebrating the accomplishments of strong, successful women.

Reichl served as host for three Food Network Specials titled "Eating Out Loud" which covered cuisine from each coast and corner of the United States, in New York in 2002, and Miami and San Francisco in 2003. She is also frequents Leonard Lopate's monthly food radio show on WNYC in New York. (Adapted from Wikipedia. Retrieved 2014.)

Book Reviews
Reichl has clearly done a great deal of research, but its results are never deployed in a heavy-handed fashion.... Her New York is a fairy-tale town where beautiful food abounds, purveyed and cooked and grown by passionate cognoscenti; a town where singular eccentrics are surrounded by loving communities of friends who save them when they need it and where a newcomer with the right attitude is sure of success.
Kate Christensen - New York Times

Former New York Times restaurant critic and Gourmet editor Reichl’s first foray into fiction is like an iced white cake. It follows a traditional recipe, it is really sweet, and it is dull.... Though Reichl is a marvelous food writer, the language used here is often cloying.
Publishers Weekly

[T]his first novel is still drenched in food lore and love. Billie Breslin is thrilled to find work at New York's upscale foodie magazine Delicious, then devastated when it is shut down. Left behind to answer the magazine's public relations hotline, she finds a letter that makes her rethink her own life.
Library Journal

Tragedy, war, fairy-tale makeover, trauma resolution, romance and—of course—food are just some of the ingredients in dining critic and celebrated memoirist Reichl's first novel, a bittersweet pudding with some lumps in the batter.... Reichl's first fictional outing is something of a curate's egg—good in parts.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
1. Billie eventually writes about Sal's as if it's "a way of life." Do you have a favorite establishment that you would describe similarly? What is it like, and how does it make you feel?

2. Mrs. Cloverly’s disastrous concoctions are even funnier because she’s unfazed by failure. She seems to keep trudging forward, turning ever-less-palatable dishes out of her kitchen. Have you encountered such a cook? What is the most astonishingly—and hilariously—unappetizing dish you’ve ever been served?

3. Diana and Sammy's friendships help the formerly-contained Billie become more confident. Has a friend ever given you the courage to be more fully yourself? What did you reveal?

4. Try to imagine a story that Sammy might have written for Delicious! Where in the world is he, and what is he writing about?

5. Lulu’s letters teach Billie about the relentless uncertainty endured by the people on the homefront during World War II. She learns that Lulu finds solace in cooking with Mrs. Cappuzzelli and for her mother. Can you remember a meal that helped get you through a particularly painful moment? Where were you? Who were you with? And what was the meal?

6. Rationing changed the way Americans ate. Lulu throws herself into this new food landscape, experimenting with unfamiliar vegetables like milkweed and pumpkin leaves. What would you make if you had no butter, meat, or dairy? What would you forage for?

7. If you had a victory garden, what would you grow?

8. Do you have friends or family who remember what it was like to eat during World War II? What stories have they shared with you?

9. Lulu writes: “When Mother, Mr. Jones and I were walking through those strange, crowded downtown streets, where people were sticking their hands into pickle barrels, pointing to smoked fish, and eating sliced herring, I saw the scene in a whole new way. They weren’t buying food: They were finding their way home.” What foods feel like home to you?

10. As the book closes, what does Billie discover she owes Genie?
(Questions issued by the publisher.)

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