Special Sauce: Ruth Reichl on the Birth of a Food Revolution

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[Photograph: Noah Fecks. Strawberries photograph: Vicky Wasik]

If you've ever read one of Ruth Reichl's restaurant reviews, let alone one of her books, then you know what a wonderful, natural storyteller she is. Great storytellers and great stories are the heart and soul of Special Sauce, so when Ruth emailed me to say that she could record an episode with us, our crew scrambled to make it happen. Her episodes (yes, there will be a part two, taking us through her Gourmet years to the present day) don't disappoint.

In this week's podcast, Ruth starts out by describing her mother's unique cooking style: "My mother poisoned people. She didn't mean to. She didn't understand the concept of spoilage. She was just taste-blind." Ruth wasn't exaggerating, either—she describes her mother sending 26 people to the hospital with food poisoning when she cooked for her brother's engagement party. That's how a preteen Ruth became the family cook, a tradition she returned to after college, when she began hosting dinner parties for fellow broke artists and creative types at her loft on New York City's pre-gentrified Lower East Side. Her attraction to communal cooking continued in Berkeley, California, where Ruth worked at a restaurant collective called The Swallow before beginning her storied (pun intended) writing career. Hear about Ruth's early days reviewing restaurants and reporting on the nascent American food revolution led by her now-lifelong friend Alice Waters. How do the two flats of delectable Chino Farm strawberries that Ruth and Alice carried onto a plane fit into this narrative? You'll just have to listen to find out.

Special Sauce is available on iTunes. You can also find the archive of all our episodes here on Serious Eats and on this RSS feed.

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