I’m a cook and not a book reviewer. That said, I recently finished “Ruth Reichl’s my kitchen year 136 RECIPES that SAVED MY LIFE” and discovered that we seem to share some similar experiences.
The year in question was October 2009 when “Gourmet,” magazine, where Ruth was Editor in Chief for 10 years, closed down in the blink of an eye. Of course, as per usual that’s what it was like for the staff, not those higher up the food chain. Just the other day I pulled out that final November ’09 issue and read through it again with pleasure and of course, sadness.
I suppose we assume that if a person has a background and reputation, such as Ruth’s, the job offers would just roll in the door and she wouldn’t have to worry at all about landing another great job.
What I found so touching was how open she was in talking about her feelings of loss, her grief and her fears.
Ruth and I are the same age, born in 1948…so do the math. We are not spring chickens! When on a July afternoon in 2000, my assistant and I were called down to HR…I figured something was up. The bank I worked for had merged with a smaller financial institution earlier in the year. With the usual re-structuring that takes place at these times, the corporate dining room I had managed and cooked in for 15 years ceased to exist that very afternoon! Unlike Ruth, I was not completely blindsided (that good old gut feeling I sometimes get, had kept my antenna up), still I was not prepared for what was to come either. Nor those damned anxiety dreams!
When I read about the day she went to clear out her office, tears welled up, I just couldn’t help myself. Can you believe it? Almost 16 years have gone by since I left the bank and yet there they were! Once her stuff was packed into boxes she went to the window and looked down at the lights below knowing she would never see the room again. The thing was, I did exactly that very same thing…it was gut wrenching, heart breaking and so painful to turn away and leave behind 15 years of my life and a job that I loved.
Perhaps this is true of most cooks, when as Ruth says she is confused, lonely or frightened she heads into the kitchen to cook. It’s comforting and reassuring getting lost in the process and thinking about what you are cooking rather than can we pay our bills or what the hell am I going to do now at this age???
Back in the mists of time I felt like a bit of an odd-ball having a passion for food and cooking. But now thanks to social media, we are able to have “friends” who are equally as passionate and want to share! In the acknowledgements at the end of the book Ruth thanks her Twitter friends with “you helped me survive a difficult year. I’m not sure I could have done it without you.” A classy thing to do and I applaud her for it.
There are times in our lives, when we question ourselves about ourselves! I mean, it is OK to have an obsession/passion for food and cooking? Yes, yes and yes if it’s what makes you who you are and makes you feel fulfilled and happy. Let’s then allow ourselves to accept and celebrate who we are! And from what I read in “my kitchen year,” I think we’re in pretty good company!
You can bet I’ll be making some of the 136 “life-saving” recipes of Ruth’s!
View, 29th Floor: painted by my friend/assistant and artist Yvonne who shared many an evening looking out at this view from our “perch” on the 29th Floor!
Click here to read my post “Cooking Makes Me Happy.”
Phyllis, a really good piece. I remember Gourmet’s passing – but never thought of what it must feel like from “the inside.” And of course I’ve heard your story and can clearly see the parallels. You’re right – cooking is a great escape. It requires planning, preparing, attention. And then, in the end, there is the reward of the food you’ve prepared! Truly enjoyed this piece. Would love to see in future your comments on the recipes you make from her book – and your own suggestions. Cheers.
Thanks so much Alba,I’m so glad you liked the post! I will be taking notes on the recipes when I start making them. Mostly, they are not complicated but full of flavour which makes them so interesting and some interesting ingredients I’ve not worked with like the Korean rice noodles…they are these large, long (6″ or so) and round…what she makes with them sounds amazing! Ciao, P Here’s a thought…maybe we should plan a Ruth dinner here with a barbecue, using only her recipes!
Oh Gosh Phyllis, you had me in tears just reading this! I get excited about cooking just reading your stories, and feel ‘safe’ with you culinarily speaking, knowing that you worked for so many years cooking for very high end customers. What a challenge you were set, what great amounts of energy and imagination you had to call forth. It must have been very ‘thwack-in-your-face’ when it all came to an end .. and good for you for carrying on your buoyancy, your enthusiasm, your sheer joie de vivre. 🙂
Thanks Jo love your comments! Well it really was having the rug pulled out to be sure! I think the absolute best thing about the job was coming up with menus all the time! In 1997, the APEC people were here and we were flat-out for 2 weeks, breakfast, lunch, dinner, receptions the works…that was a test! Passed though! How can you help not love your job when after each event the hosts come into the kitchen to thank you and say how much they enjoyed everything and pass on comments from their customers too! Have such great memories!
You have to admire Ruth for being so very open and honest about her experience. Most people would try their hardest to maintain a devil-may-care facade…
I know Frank…I think that’s why the book really touched me. She could have easily put on an act and pretended everything was just fine! I also liked the recipes…all about sharing and comfort…with lots of chili!