Until recently, I’m not sure I comprehended that food writing is a genre, but over the last six months the chef/half-owner of the shop where I work has recommended several talented authors. Always one for a succulent read, I dipped into his list, starting with James Beard award winning writer Ruth Reichl, formerly a New York Times food critic, as well as the Editor and Chief of Gourmet Magazine until it closed in 2009.
Tender to the Bone-Growing up at the Table, Reichl's memoir, is billed as: “…the story of a life defined, determined and enhanced in equal measure by a passion for food, unforgettable people, and by the love of tales well told. Beginning with her mother, the notorious food-poisoner known as the Queen of the Mold…”
From the onset, Reichl's stories swallowed me whole, starting with her tales of growing up in New York City with a manic-depressive mother, who exhibited “iron stomach” tendencies and was “unafraid of rot,” through her surprise exile (orchestrated by said mother) to an all French boarding school in Montreal (Reichl didn't speak French), her time at the University of Michigan, followed by Berkley, where she lived in a commune, working in a collectively owned organic restaurant before becoming a food critic for New West Magazine. Along the way, the author infuses the book with gulping mouthfuls of humor as she discusses her memories around well-loved dishes, the recipes for which she includes throughout:
“Aunt Birdie wasn’t really related to me; she was my father’s first wife’s mother. But she desperately wanted to be a grandmother, so when I was born she went to the hospital, introduced herself to my mother, and applied for the job. She was well past eighty, and this looked like her last chance…"Whether it is through her description of traveling to North Africa with her college roommate, or exploring the family owned food shops in lower Manhattan in the early 1970’s (“Some days I would leave the loft to get a stick of butter or a loaf of bread and be gone for hours…”), Reichl demonstrates her skill as an extraordinary writer, evoking her memories with a richness layered in vivid scenery, and the spices bestowed by the characters who inhabited her early years.
You don’t have like cooking to enjoy the stories in Tender at the Bone, though it will add to the experience. As a food lover however, I stabbed at the book with my fork and ran my tongue through each luscious bite—so captivated by Reichl’s words that like a starving reader, I forgot to stop and take a drink along the way.
Tender to the Bone
Growing up at the Table