Editor-in-Chief of 'Gourmet Magazine' Ruth Reichl
Reichl edited The Gourmet Cookbook, which includes more than 1,200 recipes culled from 60 years of the magazine's back issues. Reichl is the author of two best-selling memoirs, Tender at the Bone and Comfort Me with Apples. Before becoming editor of Gourmet, she was restaurant critic of The New York Times, and before that food editor of the Los Angeles Times.
Other segments from the episode on October 5, 2004
DATE October 5, 2004 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Ruth Reichl discusses her newly edited "The Gourmet
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
My guest, Ruth Reichl, knows a lot about food, how to prepare, how to savor it
and how to write about it. She's the former restaurant critic for The New
York Times and the LA Times, and she's the author of two best-selling memoirs
that revolve around food. Since 1999, she's been editor in chief of Gourmet
magazine, and now she's edited a cookbook collecting over 1,000 recipes
selected from the 60,000 recipes that Gourmet has published in its
over-60-year history. The recipes aren't meant to be food nostalgia. They
were tested and, when necessary, updated for the new book. Reichl learned to
cook from an earlier edition of "The Gourmet Cookbook." Putting together this
new edition immersed her in food history and also brought many memories to the
Ruth, welcome back to FRESH AIR. At the beginning of "The Gourmet Cookbook"
you write, `Reading Gourmet was the doorway to a magic land where
sophisticated men sipped drinks with names like Angel's Dream--brandy topped
with cream--while beautiful women nibbled on truffled chicken.' What are some
of the other magical recipes that you remember from the early years that you
were reading Gourmet?
Ms. RUTH REICHL (Editor in Chief, Gourmet Magazine): Well, among other
things, the early Gourmet had recipes for things like muskrat and raccoon.
GROSS: You're kidding. Really?
Ms. REICHL: No, I'm not. I mean, they really--there would be recipes that
said, you know, `Catch one otter' or really odd game foods, which...
GROSS: I guess that just says something about the diversity of the
Ms. REICHL: Absolutely. I mean, people were hunters in those days--and wild
boar. And then there were exotic things with Hawaiian names like Nu Amoy(ph),
which turned out to require coconuts and really, you know, to me, a little
girl in New York, incredibly exotic things.
GROSS: It seems some foods just expire over the years the way--you know, or,
like, they're out of print. Nobody uses them anymore. I remember when I
was growing up, one of my father's favorite dishes at the better restaurants
was lobster thermidor.
Ms. REICHL: Actually, we do have a lobster Newberg in this book, which is a
surprising recipe, because it's, one, not very complicated and two, incredibly
delicious. It ran in the 1940s as lobster thermidor, but it was incorrect.
Ms. REICHL: And one of the things, when we were working on in the book, we
actually started researching the history of these dishes, and Newberg is made
with cream, egg yolks and sherry, and thermidor is actually a flour-thickened
bechamel sauce. And what we have in the book is a lobster Newberg, and it is
really delicious and really not complicated.
GROSS: Wouldn't you say you never see either lobster thermidor or lobster
Newberg on menus anymore, that it's a food--it's a recipe that's kind of
Ms. REICHL: I would say that, yes. And I would...
GROSS: How do foods go in and out of fashion like that? Can you explain it?
Ms. REICHL: Well, I think one reason why this dish went out of fashion is
that lobster used to be very luxurious food, very expensive, and lobster has
become much more available. I mean, you can buy lobsters in the supermarket
from a tank. Anybody can. And so it was a hallmark of, you know, a very
expensive restaurant in the '40s, and I think it went out of fashion because
it was not so complicated or expensive or--you know, it no longer denoted the
most sophisticated thing you could get, and so restaurants moved on to more
difficult, more complicated, more expensive foods.
GROSS: What are some of the other recipes from the past that you think don't
really exist in life anymore? People might remember them, but no one makes
them, no one eats them anymore.
Ms. REICHL: Well, I mean, we spent a lot of time thinking about that for the
book, and you know, my thought was, I mean, one of those dishes was beef
Wellington, which used to be, you know, one of those connotations of a very
fancy restaurant. I thought that we needed to have one in the book, because I
thought, you know, you may only want to make it once in your life, but you're
going to be annoyed if you open this book and it's the only book in your
kitchen, which I was hoping it would be, and you didn't have a recipe for beef
Wellington. And so we argued about it a lot, whether it would go in or not,
and we did it an updated beef Wellington. We--instead of a traditional foie
gras and mushroom filling around the filet of beef, we put a cilantro and
walnut filling around it and made a very good pastry. And we've made a very
good version of beef Wellington, but that's certainly one of those dishes that
you just don't see that much anymore.
GROSS: You know, you point out that Gourmet magazine was born in the
meat-and-potatoes world. What are some of the recipes for vegetables? I
mean, what was the vegetable world like in the world of Gourmet in the '40s
and '50s, back when a lot of homemakers were basically serving canned
vegetables at home.
Ms. REICHL: Well, yeah. I mean, canned vegetables and frozen vegetables
came in in the '50s and pretty much decimated the vegetable selection...
Ms. REICHL: ...in this--yeah. In Gourmet's time, we've gone from an
agrarian society to a non-agrarian society. And you know, one of the things
that's been really exciting recently is the supermarket is exploding with new
vegetables, you know, not only great vegetables that we used to eat, like--I
mean, one of my favorite recipes in the book right now is--it's okra season.
I mean, people are growing okra and, you know, selling it in farmers' markets.
And we have this great recipe in the book for roasted okra, which, for people
who don't like the sort of gelatinous quality of okra, which is, you know,
necessary to gumbo but has a sort of slimy quality, if you roast it in a
really hot oven, it's this wonderful sort of candylike vegetable.
GROSS: Let's play a game. I'm going to name a decade, and after each decade,
would you tell me a food that was in Gourmet magazine--a recipe that was in
Gourmet magazine that is surprising or interesting to you because it's so good
or it's so bad or it's so hopelessly out of date compared to what people eat
today? So we'll start with the '40s.
Ms. REICHL: OK. My biggest surprise from the '40s was a salad with a butter
GROSS: Pure butter? Just butter?
Ms. REICHL: It's melted butter, and it sound....
GROSS: Can I say, that sounds horrible.
Ms. REICHL: I know. It sounded...
GROSS: That's really horrible.
Ms. REICHL: It sounded horrible to all of us, and I love butter. I mean,
butter is probably the thing that I would least like to do without, of all the
foods on earth. But the idea of butter lettuce covered with butter dressing
sounds really gross to me. It's wonderful. It's just wonderful. And that
is truly a surprise.
GROSS: Wouldn't the cardiologists of the world go on strike if that caught on
Ms. REICHL: Probably. Probably, but who cares?
GROSS: OK. The '50s.
Ms. REICHL: Well, almost the '50s would be shrimp DeJong, which is a great
shrimp dish that, again, was a real surprise to me, quite simple and very
GROSS: What is it?
Ms. REICHL: Shrimp DeJong, which takes all of 40 minutes to cook, is
basically just shrimp covered with a mixture of butter and bread crumbs and
garlic and sliced almonds and baked. And it's just great.
GROSS: OK. The '60s.
Ms. REICHL: Very simple, very clean, pretty wonderful. The '60s. Well,
actually, one of my favorite '60s recipes was a very ethnic recipe for kugel,
you know, a Jewish kugel.
GROSS: What is that, like, the noodle pudding?
Ms. REICHL: Noodle pudding, and it's very simple and really good and a
recipe I had completely forgotten, very, you know, homey and, you know, one of
those things that you taste and you think, `Oh, why haven't I had this in 30
years? This is great.'
GROSS: You know how popular the blackened fish craze was in the '80s?
Ms. REICHL: Yes.
GROSS: I don't think it's that popular anymore. I'm wondering, what happened
to that, and did you include any, like, blackened fish recipes in the book?
Ms. REICHL: There are no blackened fish recipes in the book. At least I
don't recall us putting any in. And, you know, two things happened with
blackened fish. One was there was this incredible explosion of interest in
Cajun food in the early '80s, and it was partly--we were thrilled to discover
that there was this really gutsy regional American food. For people who were
just falling in love with Italian food and French food, the notion that we had
our very own great regional American food that you could be really proud of
that was filled with spice and interest, was really exciting. And blackened
redfish was one of those things. And it was just, you know, you threw this
fish into a pan, into a really hot pan with lots of searing spices, and it
just woke up your taste buds. We fell so much in love with this that we put
the poor redfish on the verge of extinction. It was a red drum, and everybody
fell so in love with that dish that suddenly there were no more redfish.
Then we started blackening everything else on the face of the earth. But what
happened was that Cajun craze made us all suddenly say, `Well, are there other
places in America we should start looking for great food?' And because of
that, we went off and discovered that the Pacific Northwest had great food,
and, you know, there were these great, you know, chicken wings up in Buffalo
and that in St. Louis, they were eating toasted ravioli. And it was really a
great thing, because we went off and discovered the great regional foods of
America, and I think it came directly out of this passion for Cajun food.
GROSS: And yet, there's no blackened recipes in your book. Is that because
you don't like the taste anymore or you think it's just a phase, you know, a
craze that's totally out of date?
Ms. REICHL: It's also a very hard thing--it's not really home cooking. It
was restaurant cooking brought home.
Ms. REICHL: And one of the things we--although this book has our own recipes
and recipes from readers and recipes from, you know, all the different
countries of the world and also chef recipes, in general, I'm not a big
approver of people trying to cook chef recipes at home. I mean, there's a
reason why we go to restaurants, and that's to eat those really complicated
dishes. And what we've tried to do are recipes you want to cook at home.
And, you know, one thing, if you try and do a lot of blackened food at home,
you're going to set off your fire alarms and you're going to be waving plates
front of the smoke and it's a mess. So why bother?
GROSS: Now your new book, your collection of Gourmet recipes, is entering a
low-carb, no-carb world. I mean, the bookstores are filled with these
no-carb, low-carb cookbooks. They're on the best-seller lists. So do you
think that tastes or diets have gone completely in that no-carb, low-carb
direction, do you think?
Ms. REICHL: Oh, it'll pass. I mean, you know, we have a history of, you
know, first we eat only grapefruits.
Ms. REICHL: Then we decide that eggs are terrible for us, and now eggs are
good for us. And, you know, first you're only supposed to eat protein and
then you--you know, we go back and forth all the time, and there's always some
diet craze that's on the best-seller list. I can't remember a time in my
lifetime when there wasn't some diet that everybody was saying, you know, `You
have to eat this,' and they always go away, and they get replaced with
something else. But you know, sensible people still have to eat and cook, and
I personally think that a world with no carbohydrates is a pretty sad place.
GROSS: My guest is Ruth Reichl, editor in chief of Gourmet magazine. She's
collected 1,000 recipes from Gourmet in the new Gourmet Cookbook. We'll talk
more after a break.
This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: Ruth Reichl is my guest. She's former restaurant critic for The New
York Times and she left there to become of the editor of Gourmet magazine.
Now she's edited a new collection of recipes, updated from the history of
Now before going to Gourmet, you were restaurant critic for The New York
Times, and one of the things that you were famous for was wearing disguises,
using aliases on your credit cards so that people wouldn't know who you were
and that you wouldn't be given special treatment and specially prepared foods,
special tables, and therefore, you could assess what the restaurant was really
like, not what it was like when they were trying to please you because you
were the restaurant critic for The Times. So how is the dining-out experience
different for you now? You are still in the food writing business. You're
just not reviewing restaurants for The Times, so are you still using any kind
of disguises or...
Ms. REICHL: No.
GROSS: ...phony names?
Ms. REICHL: No, the disguises are over, and it's very different now. I
mean, I go out and most of the time use my own name, and I sort of figure
after 30 years of, you know, being the people's spy, being completely
anonymous, always getting the worst table in the room, it's really nice to go
out and get a good table, not have to wait for my table. Although I have to
say that my husband, who really does not like all the folderol, really prefers
it if we just go anonymously. So I would say about half the time we still
make them in somebody--whoever's name we're going with, and just, you know,
try and be ordinary people.
GROSS: When you were using disguises, wigs, I guess phony glasses, probably,
Ms. REICHL: Well, you know, I have a book coming out in April...
GROSS: In which you're going to talk about that?
Ms. REICHL: ...about the disguises. I mean, it's literally each chapter is
in the voice of another disguise. I mean, I had real people who I became, and
the disguises were very elaborate. And it was an amazing experience to feel
what it was like to be an old lady. My probably most effective disguise was
as a sort of very non-descript old woman, who was never treated very well.
And then I also had a--I thought she was pretty sexy, anyway--blonde woman,
and that, for someone--I am not blonde or sexy, and it was amazing to discover
my inner blonde with Chloe.
GROSS: Chloe. Perfect.
Ms. REICHL: Yes.
GROSS: What was the older woman called? Misses...
Ms. REICHL: The older woman was Betty Jones, and she was known...
GROSS: Oh, Betty Jones. OK.
Ms. REICHL: And she went out with groups of people, and she was known as
Aunt Betty, and everybody referred to her as Aunt Betty. And Aunt Betty had,
you know, really--I found her on a bus. I saw a woman--I got up once on a bus
to give my seat to an older woman, and she looked at me and she said, `Are you
really giving me your seat?' And I said, `Yes.' And she said, `Oh, no one
ever stands up for me. Sometimes I feel invisible.' And I thought, `That's
what I want. I want to be invisible.' So I actually followed her home and
her name--looked at her name on her mailbox. And she was Betty Jones, and I
turned myself into Betty Jones. And it was an amazing experience.
GROSS: Where did you go shopping to be her?
Ms. REICHL: I went to thrift stores, and I actually found a pair of
Anagetic(ph) shoes. Do you remember Anagetics? They were those sort of
lace-up Oxfords with the little holes in them, and I found a pair that fit me
perfectly. And I would wear layers and layers of clothes, so I got much
larger without having to have pillows on under me. And she really--nobody saw
her. Nobody saw her.
GROSS: But you can't be, you know, Aunt Betty and go to Le Cirque because
Aunt Betty isn't going to be able to afford Le Cirque. She's unlikely to be
there, so you were probably only able to be her in certain restaurants that
you were reviewing.
Ms. REICHL: Right, but I could be Aunt Betty in a group of people at Le
Cirque. Or I could take other people and disappear.
GROSS: Oh, and you'd be their Aunt Betty.
Ms. REICHL: I'd be their Aunt Betty and I might not be appropriate there,
but you get lost in a crowd, and she would just disappear, so we would all be
anonymous, and I would get to see what happened. But certainly Aunt Betty
alone in a restaurant was pretty conspicuous.
GROSS: Ruth Reichl, edited the new "Gourmet Cookbook" and is editor in chief
of Gourmet magazine. She's the former restaurant critic for The New York
Times. She'll be back in the second half of the show.
I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR. Here's Fats Waller.
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. FATS WALLER: (Singing) You're not the only oyster in the stew, not the
only tea leaf in the tea. However, I'm convinced, completely, fully, firmly
convinced, you're the only one for me. You're not the only wriggle in the
brew. You're not the only apple on the tree. Still in all the facts,
perfectly logical, positive facts, you're the only one for me. So well
supplied, the very things I seek. Oh, mercy, baby, your smile is refreshing,
kisses so unique. When I'm 'round, I'm susceptible and weak. I loves you. I
loves you, so to speak. There's seven million people in New York, 50 million
Frenchmen in Paris. Not to mention such as English, Irish, Italians and
Dutch, but you're the only one for me.
GROSS: Coming up, more disguises. We continue our conversation with Ruth
Reichl. And David Bianculli reviews "Tanner on Tanner," a mock documentary
series that takes on politics and documentary filmmakers.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with Ruth Reichl, editor in
chief of Gourmet magazine and editor of the new "Gourmet Cookbook." It
collects over 1,000 recipes spanning over 60 years. Reichl is the author of
two best-selling memoirs about food. Before moving to Gourmet, she was the
restaurant critic for The New York Times.
When we left off we were talking about the disguises she used when she was
reviewing a restaurant, so that she wouldn't be recognized and receive special
treatment. One of her disguises was a character she came to think of as Aunt
Betty, an older woman who Reichl shopped for in thrift stores.
I confess there are certain things that really bug me about certain
restaurants that I see as really pretentious. But I'm wondering when you were
in the guise of Aunt Betty if there were certain aspects of the more high-end
restaurants that seemed particularly snobbish or pretentious to you.
Ms. REICHL: The most difficult experience I had in a restaurant as Aunt Betty
was I went by myself once alone to a pretty fancy restaurant as Aunt Betty,
just for lunch, to check on something. I was writing the review, and I
suddenly realized that I had only had this dish once. And I thought to be
fair, I needed to have it a second time. So I became Aunt Betty, went there
for lunch. And the maitre d' was very nice, but it was the response of these
rich women in the restaurant not wanting to sit near me that really offended
me. The maitre d' started bringing this bejeweled woman--and she sort of
glanced at me and said, `I'd like another seat.' And I found that deeply
offensive, I mean, much more offensive than anything any restaurant ever did.
GROSS: Did that come up in the review that you wrote?
Ms. REICHL: No, although I did describe this woman with some glee in the
review, although not her response to me.
GROSS: What did you say about her?
Ms. REICHL: I said that she looked like an 18th century portrait and like a
GROSS: Oh, OK. That's the part that hurts.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. REICHL: And I hope she read it and recognized herself.
(Soundbite of laughter)
GROSS: Do you like coffee shops? And I'm talking about there's a certain
type of New York coffee shop where it's not--like, the coffee's probably
really terrible there. But, you know, they have your basic, like, omelets and
chicken and fish dishes that are prepared--nothing special, but they're really
cheap, they're perfectly serviceable, they're fast. I mean, I just love
places like that.
Ms. REICHL: And not only that, if you go there a few times, they know you.
And you walk in, you sit down at the counter, and they instantly know that
what you want is a corn muffin toasted and a cup of coffee with no sugar in
Ms. REICHL: And it just slides in--what I love about those places is I love
the daily ritual of it; I love that becoming part of a community. I mean, for
me, that's one of the things that's so great about restaurants--is that it is
a way for you to have a life outside of your ordinary life where you are
known, but you're known in just that small corner. And it's very comforting
to go in on a regular basis and have that sort of three- or four-time-a-week
conversation with someone and to feel like you are recognized. And, you know,
I mean, for people like the Betty Joneses of the world, who live alone, it's
something really wonderful that that kind of restaurant--it's a purpose that
GROSS: Well, you know, when you were Betty Jones, you would sometimes go
alone to a restaurant. I don't know if you did that in your other disguises
as well or if you do that as yourself, as Ruth Reichl. How do you feel about
dining alone in a restaurant? Some people are very comfortable doing that.
Some people feel incredibly self-conscious. For some people, it makes them
feel incredibly lonely, and they think that other people will be staring at
them, feeling sorry for them.
Ms. REICHL: Well, I did it--I almost always went to the restaurants that I
was reviewing at least once alone because I like to eavesdrop on people, and
it's very hard to do that when you're with a group of people. So I would
always go alone just to sort of try and soak up the atmosphere of the
restaurant and just to sit there and, you know, focus on what people around me
were saying and what they were doing. I have to say that I'm not
self-conscious about it, but for me, eating is a social act. And it's not a
great pleasure to me to eat alone. You know, I would do it for work, but
given my druthers, I would really rather eat bad food in a congenial group of
people than great food by myself.
GROSS: So you're not the kind of person who will go and prop up your
newspaper on the ketchup bottle and enjoy dining out alone (laughs).
Ms. REICHL: No. I mean, you know, as I said, it's a great way to sort of
soak up the atmosphere.
GROSS: I've done that a lot.
Ms. REICHL: No, I'm more likely to go home and eat a bowl of cereal if I'm
GROSS: Right. Right.
Ms. REICHL: No, I just love the social interaction of eating. And for me,
you know, the great joy of cooking, of preparing a meal is that you're
gathering people you care about, interesting people, around a table, and
you're facilitating the conversation. You know, one of the things that good
food does in a relaxed atmosphere is it just makes what happens at a table
that much more pleasurable and that much more interesting. And, you know, for
me, that's what cooking is about.
GROSS: You want to tell us about another one of your New York Times reviewer
Ms. REICHL: Sure. Well, my favorite was Brenda. Brenda was a big,
boisterous redhead, very messy red hair, long, slightly bohemian. And she
made people smile. Everybody smiled at her. And I just felt like Brenda's
world was a nicer place than my world. Everybody talked to her. Waiters
loved her, brought her extra food even in very fancy restaurants. One of my
great experiences was going with a group of friends as Brenda and having this
quite starchy woman at the next table lean over and say, `You know, it looks
to me like you don't come to restaurants like this very often,' and then
getting incredibly embarrassed because she'd realized what she'd said. And
Brenda said, `No, no, thank you. That's true. We don't.' And she said,
`Well, I just want to make sure you don't miss the great food at this
restaurant and be sure that you order this and this and this.' And, you know,
Brenda was a great pleasure and, you know, so much so that it scared me a
little. My family liked her better than they liked me.
(Soundbite of laughter)
GROSS: Were you ever in theater?
Ms. REICHL: No, but this was--when I started doing the disguises, my mother
had a friend who was a theatrical coach, and she helped me. With the first
disguise, she said, `You really need to inhabit this. You can't just put on a
wig. That's not going to work. If you're going to do this, do this right.
You're the restaurant critic of The New York Times, and you can't be a fool.'
So she made me--for my first review, which was the review of Le Cirque, she
made me really do the whole back story for the person that I was becoming, who
was a very middle-aged, Midwestern, very unexceptional woman. But she made me
know everything about her. And she came with me to the first meal, and I
really did find myself becoming that person. It was a little spooky but very
GROSS: Did you have voices for them?
Ms. REICHL: I did. It wasn't conscious, and I can't do them unless I'm them,
you know? I mean, it's just--now I can't do them, and I'm a little worried
because I'm going to have to read the book. And I'm afraid that I'm going to
have to get in--and I don't have the disguises anymore because when I left The
Times, we auctioned them off for charity. And I don't have them anymore, and
I don't know how I'm going to do the voices.
GROSS: My guest is Ruth Reichl, editor in chief of Gourmet magazine. She's
collected 1,000 recipes from Gourmet in the new "Gourmet Cookbook." We'll
talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Ruth Reichl. She was the
longtime restaurant critic for The New York Times. For the past three years
she's been the editor of Gourmet magazine. And now she has a new book
collecting recipes from Gourmet's over 60-year history, and there's lots of
recipes in there, all updated and retested.
Ruth, the last time we spoke was when your memoir, "Tender At The Bone," was
published. And in that you wrote a little bit about your mother, who you
described as being food-blind in a way that some people are color-blind...
Ms. REICHL: Right.
GROSS: ...and that she would, like, just serve food that had turned bad and
wouldn't be able to tell the difference. And I was trying to remember, was
your mother mentally ill? Was this a symptom...
Ms. REICHL: Yes.
GROSS: ...of a larger problem?
Ms. REICHL: Yeah. She had what's now called bipolar disorder, which in those
days was called manic depression, and we didn't know it for a long time. And
then in the beginning of the '60s, when the first people who were working
with, you know, psychopharamacology, my mother went to see one of those
doctors. And for her, it was just a huge relief to know that it wasn't her
fault. You know, she'd been in analysis, and it was all about, `This is your
fault.' And, you know, she said that, you know, being told that there were
drugs that you could take for it was, you know, just a huge, huge relief. In
the book, I initially tried to make her a comic character, and when it didn't
work, I sort of just came clean and said, you know, she did have this illness.
GROSS: Were there different foods that she'd make, depending on whether she
was in a manic or depressive period?
Ms. REICHL: Well, when she was depressed, she just went to bed. She'd go to
bed for months on end and literally read the same book over and over and over
again. And, I mean, one of the reasons--and I didn't put this into the book,
but one of the reasons that I started cooking so early was that Mom would
just--you know, you'd come home from school, and she would not have gotten out
of bed all day. And so the cooking really did fall to me. I didn't think
that was something that you'd put in a book. But when she was manic, she was
really--when she did--I mean, in the beginning of that book, I describe a
party she gave for my brother's engagement when she put 26 people in the
hospital with food poisoning. And that was at her absolute most manic; when,
you know, she went to Horn & Hardart and came home with a car filled with
little tiny boxes of food that they had been selling as seconds and mixed it
all together in this disgusting mush. And, you know, that was about as manic
as you can get.
GROSS: Are there foods that you developed a revulsion to because of something
that your mother served, not realizing that it had gone bad or that it just
simply tasted terrible?
Ms. REICHL: Oddly, no. You know, what my mother's illness did for me was
make me very acutely aware of food, make me very conscious of tasting it to
see, `Is this good or is this not good?'--really honed my taste buds; I mean,
I think made me really focus on flavor and describing it to myself; I think
made me into a food writer. And for whatever reasons, because I'm genetically
predisposed to love food and love cooking and love eating or whatever, there's
almost nothing that I don't like. And even some of the foods that my mother
made most miserable I still love.
GROSS: Now one of the things you did when you were young, you co-founded a
co-operative restaurant in Berkeley in the early '70s. And I'm wondering,
what are some of the values at that restaurant, you know, what the ethic was
at that restaurant, and what seems out of date to you, and what are the values
from that restaurant that you still feel are important today?
Ms. REICHL: I have to say I don't think any of it's out of date. I mean, you
know, one of the things that I'm really proud of is that that Berkeley food
movement has turned into a great American food revolution. And, you know,
it's because of, you know, our collective and Alice Waters and that whole
movement in Berkeley that, you know, were really thinking about sustainable
agriculture and, you know, what it means to be protectors of the Earth, what
it means to really think about growing foods with no pesticides; that the
whole organic food movement had started; that we really think about what it
means to, you know, try and feed people and not eat more than your share of
protein; you know, really think about the Earth as a whole place with
diminishing resources. And I don't think any of that is outmoded. There's
not one bit of it that I would change today.
GROSS: You have a son who, I believe, is about 14. Is that right?
Ms. REICHL: He's 15, yes.
GROSS: OK. How has being a mother changed you as a cook? Because, let's
face it, children's tastes and adults' tastes in foods are pretty different,
and so you had to learn to cook for a child in addition to cooking for you and
Ms. REICHL: I have to say the one thing that I feel as a mother is the most
important thing, and it's why I ultimately stopped being a restaurant critic
and took a job where I could be home cooking dinner every night, is that I
think the most important thing you can do for your children is sit down to
dinner together. We have breakfast and dinner every day with my family. And
I don't think it matters what you put on the table or how you get that food on
the table. I don't think it matters whether you cook it yourself or you order
in. But I do think it's important to sit down and eat dinner with your
And so I have tried to cook foods that Nick will like, but I think the notion
that children have different tastes is sort of silly. You know, children in
Vietnam eat different foods than children in France and children in the United
States. And children eat what they are given. They aren't born with tastes.
And I've never forced Nick to eat anything. I, you know, will cook things
that he likes, but he started out as a kid who ate five white foods, and as a
15-year-old, he's an omnivore. He will eat anything. And I think it's partly
because he just saw that we loved food.
GROSS: Ruth Reichl, thank you so much for talking with us.
Ms. REICHL: This has been a pleasure.
GROSS: Ruth Reichl is the editor in chief of Gourmet magazine and editor of
the new "Gourmet Cookbook."
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. LOUIS ARMSTRONG (Musician): (Singing) I don't want french-fried potatoes,
red ripe tomatoes. I'm never satisfied. I want the frim fram sauce with the
Ausen Fay with chafafa on the side. I don't want pork chops and bacon. That
won't awaken my appetite inside. I want the frim fram sauce with the Ausen
Fay with chafafa on the side. Now a fella's really got to eat, and a fella
should eat right. Five will get you 10. I'm going to feed myself right
tonight. I don't want fish cakes and rye bread. You heard what I said.
Waiter, please serve mine fried. I want the frim fram sauce with the Ausen
Fay with chafafa on the side.
Ms. ELLA FITZGERALD (Singer): (Singing) I don't want french-fried potatoes,
red ripe tomatoes. Believe me, I'm never satisfied. I want the frim fram
sauce with the Ausen Fay with chafafa on the side. I don't want pork chops
and bacon. That won't awaken my appetite inside. I want the frim fram sauce
with the Ausen Fay with chafafa on the side. Now a fella's really got to eat,
and a fella should eat right. Five will get you 10. I'm going to feed myself
right tonight. I don't want fish cakes and rye bread. You heard what I said.
Waiter, waiter, please serve mine fried. I want the frim fram sauce with the
Ausen Fay with chafafa on the side.
GROSS: That's Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong recorded in 1946.
Coming up, David Bianculli reviews on "Tanner on Tanner," the sequel to the
mock political documentary "Tanner '88." This is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Review: Sundance Channel's "Tanner on Tanner" is an unusual,
quirky and fabulous sequel to "Tanner '88"
TERRY GROSS, host:
Sixteen years ago "Doonesbury" cartoonist Garry Trudeau and film director
Robert Altman teamed up for an innovative HBO series called "Tanner '88,"
casting an actor as a pretend politician and sending him out on the actual
campaign trail. In February of this year, when the Sundance Channel
rebroadcast the series, Altman and Trudeau teamed up again with some of the
original cast members to shoot new introductions framed as a fake documentary.
That, in turn, worked so well and proved so popular that a new series called
"Tanner on Tanner" was commissioned by the Sundance Channel. It begins
tonight, and TV critic David Bianculli has this review.
(Soundbite of drumroll)
Unidentified Group: (Singing in unison) Exercise your right to vote. Choose
the one you like the most. It's your individual right to choose the one you
want to fight for you. Pick the proper candidate...
DAVID BIANCULLI reporting:
Long before "The Sopranos," long before "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and "The Larry
Sanders Show," "Tanner '88" was one of the first great series ever made by
HBO. Michael Murphy starred as Jack Tanner, a charismatic politician in the
Kennedy mold. Pamela Reed played T.J. Cavanaugh, his no-nonsense campaign
manager. And Cynthia Nixon, more than a decade before "Sex and the City,"
co-starred as the candidate's idealistic daughter, Alex, who brought even more
liberal passion to the campaign than her father.
The "Tanner '88" series was written by Trudeau and filmed by Altman with a
combination of careful planning and inspired improvisation. Trudeau would
script certain scenes in their entirety for his actors. At other times he'd
just throw them into the mix at a caucus meeting or other political event
alongside real-life politicians, like Gary Hart, Pat Robertson and Bob Dole,
and trust the actors and Altman to go with the flow. It was brilliant. The
target was the intersection of politics and show business, of news and
entertainment. And "Tanner '88" nailed it early and savagely.
This time around in "Tanner on Tanner," the target isn't so much politics as
documentary filmmakers and filmmaking. Jack Tanner's daughter, Alex, is
determined to make a film looking back at her dad's failed 1988 campaign,
looking for lessons and even warnings as Democrats field new candidates for
the 2004 race. So Alex Tanner hits the campaign trail again to conduct
interviews and assemble footage for her new film. She's there with her dad,
who's there to support her even when things get rough.
Here's a scene from tonight's opening episode of "Tanner on Tanner." Alex has
just showed an early version of her documentary about her dad at something
called the Rough Cut Film Festival. After the screening the reaction during
the question-and-answer period is so unenthusiastic, she begins to cry on
stage. Then an audience member stands up and scolds her. She doesn't
recognize the man or his voice at first, but you will. He's Robert Redford.
(Soundbite of "Tanner on Tanner")
Mr. ROBERT REDFORD (As Himself): Ms. Tanner, you can't cry. You can't cry in
an independent film. This is the Rough Cut, OK? This is the Rough Cut Film
Festival. People come here to make mistakes. Now it seems like you made a
big one. You're showing people stuff they already know. They already know
the mechanics of the campaign. Forget all that. As your father says, what is
so different about people that they put themselves through this? Why? Why
are they different? What are their losses? What sacrifices are they forced
to make? You should have Tanner talking to his fellow warriors, that small
band of brothers that have been through all this. Now that's a movie I'd
like to see.
BIANCULLI: Robert Redford isn't the only actual celebrity, politician or
newsmaker taking part in "Tanner on Tanner." In the opening episode, other
people showing up to play themselves include Martin Scorsese and Mario Cuomo.
Later on everyone from Michael Moore and Al Franken to Chris Matthews and
Janeane Garofalo take part. And in episode three, filmed at the Democratic
National Convention, this new series hits the same home-run heights of the
Unsuccessful fake presidential candidate Jack Tanner swaps campaign-trail war
stories with unsuccessful real presidential candidate Howard Dean. Then
there's a mix-up when Alex Tanner shows up to interview Ron Reagan at the same
time as another documentary filmmaker named Alex--Alex Kerry, John Kerry's
real daughter, who actually had a crew there filming.
Think of what's going on here. Cynthia Nixon as Alex is walking the
convention floor with Michael Murphy as her dad. The actress is getting all
this attention and access because people know her from "Sex and the City."
But it looks like the crowd and everyone else is responding to Jack Tanner, so
it works. And when Alex Tanner has her film crew and Alex Kerry has hers and
they're both filming at the same time, Robert Altman is one step back filming
them both and filming them brilliantly. The overlapping sound and wandering
cameras are every bit as crisp and invigorating as his classic work on
"M*A*S*H" and "Nashville."
"Tanner on Tanner" is a four-part series airing each Tuesday in October on the
Sundance Channel. It'll be over by Election Day. But like "Tanner '88," it
won't be forgotten. It's a wild, strange, unusual, quirky and densely layered
show. It's also fabulous.
GROSS: David Bianculli is TV critic for the New York Daily News.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.