Delicious! by Ruth Reichl
Ruth Reichl’s first work of fiction Delicious! expands her already illustrious career as a chef, critic, and nonfiction writer. Delicious! follows the story of young writer Billie Breslin as she takes a job at the gourmet food magazine Delicious! Little does she know the magazine is about to close (echoing Reichl’s own experiences at the closing of Gourmet) but Billie is kept on to take complaint calls. She discovers the magazine’s library and a stash of letters written during World War I between a young girl, Lulu, and legendary chef James Beard. Reichl’s characters are wonderfully written and the work as a whole is creative, playful, and a delight to read. As chef Barbara Lynch described it, it is “sweet, tangy, and crispy.” Reichl provides a rare insight into the world of gourmet food magazines with their test kitchens, colorful characters, and devotion to food. It’s when Reichl talks about food though that she is at her very best. Her passages describing Billie’s first exploration of the New York culinary scene are some of the best in the book:
“I opened them to find Kim dancing with a molten river of chocolate. I stood hypnotized by the scent and the grace of her motions, which were more beautiful than any ballet. Moving constantly, she caressed the chocolate like a lover, folding it over and over on a slab of white marble, working it to get the texture right. She stopped to feed me a chocolate sprinkled with salt, which had the fierce flavor of the ocean, and another with the resonant intensity of toasted saffron. One chocolate tasted like rain, another of the desert. . . Now the scent changed as Kim began to dip fruit into the chocolate: raspberries, blackberries, tiny strawberries that smelled like violets. She put a chocolate-and-caramel-covered slice of peach into my mouth, and the taste of summer was so intense that I felt the room grow warmer. I lost all sense of time.” (27)
The letters between James Beard and young Lulu, which Reichl says she wrote in one sitting before the ideas for he rest of the book had really come to her, provide an unexpected look at rationing, war recipes, and cooking during World War II, as well as the renown chef James Beard. Delicious! was over far too soon for my taste but luckily for readers Reichl has two more novels in the works.