Just weeks after food world royalty Ruth Reichl got the staggering news that Gourmet, the venerated culinary magazine she ushered into the 21st century, was shutting down after a nearly seven-decade run, she was still at a loss as to what she might do next.
Would she consider returning to the punishing work of reviewing restaurants? As a critic for the New York Times and before that the Los Angeles Times, she sometimes ate at a place nine times before doling out stars — or relieving a stalwart of stars it no longer deserved.
"Unlikely," says Reichl. "I was a critic for 20-something years. I don't have anything to learn from that anymore."
For Reichl, editor of Gourmet for 10 years, Conde Nast's unexpected announcement last month that it was pulling the plug on the magazine came at an especially awkward time. (The November issue on newsstands now is the last.) She had just hit the road to promote Gourmet Today (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $40), an epic cookbook she edited, and was 10 days away from the premiere of Gourmet's Adventures With Ruth, a public television series in which she runs around the globe with foodie and actor friends, getting hands dirty at far-flung cooking schools.
"The TV show is going forward," Reichl, 61, says from her home in New York. "We have a couple of other books which will go forward. I probably will be involved. At the moment I'm still with the company, but I'm kind of figuring out what I'm going to do next. I'm still in shock."
Reichl says that though Gourmet's circulation was at an all-time high with more than a million subscribers, advertising revenue had fallen off considerably in the recession.
"But I was totally surprised. I felt that things would come back and that the company would stick it out."
Reichl made her name in the book world with four bestselling memoirs that explore her relationship with the culinary world, with love and with the mother she didn't want to become. Her focus on a recent book tour is Gourmet Today, a 1,000-page tome that brims with fresh, often down-to-earth recipes and enlightening tips: when to use fresh pasta and when to use dried, the differences between antibiotic-free, certified organic and free-range chicken, why wooden skewers are better than metal ones.
The cookbook's more than 1,000 recipes use a global palette of ingredients. Paying attention to the times, it offers lighter, quicker-to-prepare, more sustainability-conscious dishes.
"None of it duplicates the old Gourmet cookbook," Reichl says. "And we went out of our way to put in everything that we knew and thought would be helpful to people. How to buy vegetables. How to store them. How to quick-soak beans.
"When you're doing a magazine, you're always saying to yourself, 'I wish I had the space to do THIS.' But you never have the space. This book is every fantasy about what we thought people would want to know."
The recipes are a result of research and testing by a dozen Gourmet staffers working in the magazine's eight test kitchens. It covers drinks, hors d'oeuvres, soups, salads, pasta, noodles, dumplings, grains, beans, vegetarian main courses, fish, shellfish, poultry, beef, veal, pork, lamb and a wide range of desserts. Every recipe tells the harried cook how long the cooking will be, and there are plenty of dishes that can be completed in less than 30 minutes.
"Having more people cooking at home I think is very healthy. There's a sense of security, of being cared for, when someone is at home cooking for you," Reichl says.