In Save Me the Plums (Random House, Apr.), Reichl tells the story of her 10 years as editor-in-chief of Gourmet magazine.
What inspired you to write about your time at Gourmet?
It was a dream, and I thought it deserved to be written about, that time which is gone forever now. I don’t think anyone will ever publish magazines in that way again. I had loved Gourmet my entire life, and then I got a chance to run it.
You were eight years old when you came across a story in Gourmet that captivated you. How did that experience shape your career in food?
There I am with my father in a used bookstore, and I happened upon this beautiful piece of writing by Robert P. T. Coffin, poet laureate of Maine. It was so vivid. I could taste the food, feel the air, and it changed how I thought about writing. I had read children’s books that were fanciful, but this was about real life. For me, it was: Oh! You don’t need magic. You don’t need fantasy. It was life-changing because it made me feel like food was a kind of magic door that I could walk through any time, as long as I paid attention.
How did you want Gourmet to grow during your tenure?
I felt it was time for the magazine to start tackling serious issues. I wanted to give people information that they could use in their cooking. I wanted it to embrace everything about food, including its science, politics, and sociology. We tiptoed into gender and race issues. Food was way too big a subject to just be about recipes and restaurant reviews and wonderful trips you can take. I thought I would have to persuade the staff into doing this, but it was very much a collaboration between all of us. They were bringing these great stories and writers in. It was thrilling to be around all those like-minded people.
How did the New York of the early 2000s shape your time at the magazine?
9/11 was a stunning event for all of us in New York. When the staff of Gourmet went down there with our trays of lasagna and chili and brownies, the firefighters came staggering out of the hell that was Ground Zero and fell on the food. I remember one man saying, “Thank you, you brought me a taste of home.” I think, for all of us, it underlined how important food is, and made us all the more determined to tackle the subjects with seriousness.
How has the world of food publishing changed since your time at Gourmet?
Everything has changed. The iPhone didn’t exist in those days. People were not taking pictures of their food. Now there are people doing amazing things every day on the internet. It’s changed what magazines can be. Magazine editors have to ask themselves, “What is the purpose of this print magazine? Why are we doing this? What should we be doing?”