It's a testament to Greenwood's growing reputation as a culinary destination that to the list of great food innovators who have visited in the past couple of years, including such luminaries as Alice Waters and Thomas Keller, we'll be adding Ruth Reichl. She comes to town next Wednesday, June 3, to visit Viking Range, and during her visit, we're pleased to say she'll be signing copies of her new book, Not Becoming My Mother, and speaking at Turnrow. (Her reputation as a great speaker, as well as food writer, precedes her.)
An enduring figure in the food world, Reichl began as a chef in Berkley during the 1970s, the epicenter of the culinary revolution. She went on to become a prominent food critic for the Los Angeles Times and later the New York Times, where she bucked the system by giving great dives and obscure ethnic restaurants serious coverage alongside uppity traditional gourmet palaces. Her popularity extended to several best-selling memoirs — Tender at the Bone, Comfort Me with Apples, and Garlic and Sapphires.
Her influence has only grown with her publishing success. She currently serves as editor-in-chief of Gourmet magazine, and just this month captured two James Beard Awards, one for magazine feature writing and one for multimedia food journalism, to add to her four previous honors.
And while food figures prominently in the opening scene from her new book, Reichl's Not Becoming My Mother focuses on her family and ancestry, especially the women. A popular and uproarious character from previous memoirs, Reichl's mother takes center stage here and is depicted in more somber tones. "(M)y mother was a great example of everything I didn't want to be, and to this day I wake up every morning grateful that I'm not her," she writes, which, in context, is not as cruel as it sounds.
Their relationship was so much more complicated, as any mother's and daughter's can be. In this brief and lovely meditation, Reichl shows how her mother, separated from her dream life by social mores and the lofty expectations of her own family, became someone a daughter would not wish to mimic. It was a kind of selfless sacrifice and sad inheritance, a host of generational hang-ups and mistakes that parents so often pass onto their kids.
What's especially potent, aside from the fine writing and observation, is how Reichl puts the story together. Having long put off analyzing her mother's effects, gathering dust in the attic, she describes how she came to finally uncovering the pieces of her life story,collected in a box of notes and confessional scraps that revealed a side of her mother she never knew. Her revitalized estimation of her mother, far from being a screed against a terrible family life, is instead a wise and touching tribute.
Join us if you can for the reading on Wednesday at 5 p.m. or reserve a signed copy here.