Friday, August 1, 2014

Delicious! by Ruth Reichl

I can't remember where I heard about this book, but I'm so glad I did.  It really was a "delicious" read.   This is the first novel for the former cookbook author, food critic and editor in chief of Gourmet magazine.  Not surprisingly, a lot of the narrative revolved around food and the descriptions of recipes, meals and food shops were fabulous.

The novel starts with Billie Breslin who has just dropped out of university and moved to New York from her native Santa Barbara to take a job as an administrative assistant for the editor of the food magazine, Delicious.  Her real dream is to make it through her trial period and become a food writer.  We learn early on that Billie has a talent for identifying obscure flavours, creating recipes and cooking, but for reasons that are slowly revealed she has given up on cooking.

At first Billie is lonely and her main interaction is through e-mails to her sister, Genie.  There is clearly a rift between the sisters now but the reason for that is also only revealed over time.  Eventually Genie befriends others at the magazine, especially the cook Diana and the eccentric travel writer, Sammy.  She also impresses a local cheese merchant, Sal, so much that he hires her to work on weekends - the first person outside his family who has been given that honour.  There she becomes an honorary member of his family and meets the "Complainer", a frequent shopper who she also gets to know better as the book progresses.

When Billie is finally feeling settled, the magazine is closed by its parent for financial reasons and everyone is let go, except Billie who is retained to continue to honour the magazine's guarantee to its readers.  It has always refunded the cost of ingredients to anyone who is dissatisfied with its recipes and wants to maintain the guarantee for the reputation of the magazine empire.  In this lonely job Billie befriends the lonely, Mrs. Cloverly whose complaints get more and more bizarre each day.  But more importantly she discovers a secret room in the magazine's mansion offices which contain letters written during World War II by a 12 year old girl in Ohio to the magazine's most famous chef at the time, James Beard.  Slowly Billie and Sammy piece together the history of this girl, with help from the clues left by the magazine's former librarian, and realize she may be alive so set on a quest to find her and see how her story ended.

This is well written, intriguing and a pleasure to read!

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