After penning three much-loved memoirs, foodie Ruth Reichl has at last turned to fiction. Her latest book, Delicious!, is a delightful read that will send you straight to the kitchen as soon as you put it down. (There’s even a recipe at the end of the book for just this occasion.)
Many people know Ms. Reichl through her three memoirs of her life in the culinary industry: Tender at the Bone, Comfort Me with Apples, and Garlic and Sapphires. She has also served as food critic for The New York Times, where she received two James Beard Awards for her work, the Los Angeles Times and was editor of Gourmet magazine for a decade until its publisher, Conde Nast, closed the purse. (It was during Ms. Reichl’s reign at Gourmet that the magazine commissioned David Foster Wallace’s classic essay, “Consider the Lobster.”)
Delicious! tells the story of California native Wilhelmina “Billie” Breslin, who comes to New York and lands her dream job of working as the assistant to Jake Newberry, editor of the nation’s premier food magazine, Delicious! (basically a fictionalized Gourmet). Her nearly Rain Man-like ability to identify the ingredients of any dish with just one taste serves her well in her new career, and everything appears to be taking off for the young newcomer. However, this being fiction, and the world being what it is, things soon take a downturn at the magazine and the entire staff is summarily dismissed. The entire staff, that is, except for Billie, who is kept on the payroll to answer the phones so that the publisher may continue to honor its recipe guarantee. It is while performing this task in the magazine’s now empty New York City mansion, that she stumbles upon a secret room and the letters between a young girl from Ohio named Lulu Swan and James Beard himself, who had once been on staff at Delicious!, written during the early years of World War II. Billie becomes so entranced by young Lulu that she soon sets off in search of her, despite the chances of her still being alive being quite low.
This book is very enjoyable, but it will not be winning any literary awards. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Delicous! is still a delight, and whether you fancy yourself a bit of a gourmand or subsist primarily on take-out, you’ll find Ruth Reichl’s first book of fiction a joy to read.