SAVE ME THE PLUMS
By: Ruth Reichl
Published: April 2, 2019
Publisher: Random House
I wish this memoir of Reichl’s time at Gourmet magazine would have come out before her book, MY KITCHEN YEAR. I think I would have been more sympathetic and understanding of her deep sadness and regrets about the loss of her job at Gourmet. SAVE ME THE PLUMS gives readers an inside look into what it is like to publish a luxury food magazine and let me tell you, you will be shocked. It makes me wonder if the magazine hadn’t toned down some of the ridiculously luxurious expenses, they may have been able to save the magazine.
Here in Iowa, reading about all the exotic food and opulent restaurants mentioned in the book is hard to grasp. But, Reichl describes everything so precisely that you can imagine you are sitting at the table and tasting fresh mozzarella made from Jersey cows, lobster bisque, or chocolate cake with praline topping. I know it is pretty likely I will never taste eel or squid guts or sea-urchin roe, but I found reading about what they taste like fascinating.
Reichl loved her time at Gourmet magazine. She loved taking risks and taking Gourmet to new heights. She was fond of her staff and became as close as family to many of them. Even though I have never read the magazine, I enjoyed googling the cover photos that were mentioned throughout the book. Many of them were controversial or risky for their readership. I laughed when she talked about the hate mail they received for putting cake and cupcakes on the cover. Obviously, Gourmet readers were light years different from little me from Iowa. But, I clearly was not the target readership even though I did subscribe to their competitor Cook’s Illustrated for awhile.
I found all the work it takes to put out a magazine to be quite fascinating. All the tastings and reworkings needed before a recipe is allowed to be published and the number of cooks and dishwashers needed to try and test the recipes was incredible. Then photographing the food and the setting, factoring in the lighting, the dishes, etc just add to the enormity of the project.
Her chapter on 9/11 included how the magazine and restaurants joined together to feed all the first responders. That is something I never heard about and I found it to be such an inspiration, especially when many of their businesses were suffering afterward. I’m not sure I would have been as quick-thinking as she was when the towers were hit and she ordered all of her staff home. I think I would have been completely transfixed and not known what the right step should be.
Ruth Reichl is a phenomenal writer putting the reader right at the table, feeling like they are dining with her. Her writing is descriptive and emotional, and you can tell she loved her time at Gourmet. This was such an enjoyable read for me, even if I felt out of my element at times reading it. Even though I’ll likely never step foot into The Four Seasons or any of the places she mentioned in Paris, I can still feel like I was there and savor the moments she describes.
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