hill country observerThe independent newspaper of eastern New York, southwestern Vermont and the Berkshires


Arts & Culture July 2016


Ruth Reichl, locally sourced

A world-class foodie finds a feast in Columbia, Berkshire counties


Ruth Reichl took up full-time residence at her weekend home in Spencertown after Gourmet magazine, where she’d been editor for a decade, abruptly closed in 2009. Now she forages locally. Richard Sands photoBy STACEY MORRIS
Contributing writer



Ruth Reichl took up full-time residence at her weekend home in Spencertown after Gourmet magazine, where she’d been editor for a decade, abruptly closed in 2009. Now she forages locally. Richard Sands photo

Great food has been at the epicenter of Ruth Reichl’s world for more than 40 years.
She chronicled her love affair with food in her books “Tender at the Bone” and “Comfort Me With Apples.” She lingered in top-notch restaurants as a food critic for the Los Angeles Times and, later, The New York Times, where she was known for the elaborate disguises she employed to keep from being recognized by restaurateurs.

In 1999, Reichl was handed a crown jewel of the culinary world when she became editor-in-chief of Gourmet magazine, a position from which she continued for a decade to refine her passionate but discerning taste in food.

Then in late 2009, Conde Nast abruptly shuttered the nation’s longest-standing food and wine magazine. Reichl and her entire staff were blindsided. Dazed and suddenly retired, she and husband, Michael Singer, retreated to their weekend home in Spencertown.

Reichl’s plan, as it unfolded without premeditation, was to process the pain while simultaneously indulging in her favorite outlet: cooking. As the months rolled by, it soon became clear all that quality time at the stove -- creating soups, entrees and desserts for Singer and sundry visitors – could provide the foundation for a bona-fide cookbook.

With a little nudging from an editor, Reichl’s latest book, “My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved My Life,” was released last year. In it are her recipes for everything from “shirred eggs with potato puree” to “giant chocolate cake.”

Reichl describes the book as more than a recipe collection; rather, it’s an emotional journal of the food that got her through that first year without Gourmet and all of its trappings.

“I was living this very high life, and it was all nonsense,” she recalled. “In the long run, you don’t look back and remember things like the limo rides.”


Foraging for ingredients
It’s obvious now that the pain from that first year of forced retirement is ancient history. Reichl has settled happily into her new upstate life.

Frequent travel for book signings and lectures means she still gets to sample some of the nation’s most acclaimed restaurants. But when she’s home in Columbia County, Reichl loves nothing more than to cook for Singer, a retired television producer, and prowl the Hudson Valley and Berkshires for edible delights.

“I haven’t been able to forage for food like this since my Berkeley days,” she recalled with a smile, referring to her tenure as chef and part owner of The Swallow Restaurant, an icon of northern California in the 1970s.

She’s a regular at the Hawthorne Valley Farm Store in Harlemville and at Rubiner’s Cheesemongers in Great Barrington, Mass. She makes the rounds at area farmers markets too.
But it was a rare event when Reichl stopped for lunch at a Warren Street restaurant on a recent afternoon while running errands in Hudson.

It’s not that she has anything against local restaurants.
“There are so many wonderful restaurants here,” Reichl said, noting that Zak Pelaccio of Hudson’s Fish & Game restaurant just won the James Beard Foundation Award for best chef in the Northeast. The Beard awards, issued in May, are considered the “Oscars” of the American food world.

“But this area has so many amazing farms, specialty stores, and locally produced food, I’d rather stay home and cook when I’m here,” Reichl explained.

Reichl wants others, even novices, to belly up to their cutting boards and have a go at home cooking.

“It’s the message of my book,” she said. “We in the media bear some serious responsibility in scaring people away from cooking. We’ve made it into a test. Cooking is about the journey, not the end result. Let’s be honest: It’s a meal. If you make a mistake, big deal, enjoy the process.”


Seeking the sustainable, sublime
Despite a career based on eating, Reichl remains mystifyingly slender, all without the help of jogging or yoga. She threw her head back, flashing her trademark face-to-the-sun smile and declared, “I’m a slug.”

But then came a clue, after a forkful of the spinach croissant she ordered for lunch.
“Oh my God, you would think they would know not to microwave a croissant,” she said, dropping her fork in disgust. It would remain on her plate, next to the uneaten croissant, for the remainder of the meal.

If there’s anything Reichl stands by in terms of eating philosophy, it is this: If it’s not sublime, why eat it?

“I think if you don’t eat for reasons other than hunger, balance comes naturally,” she said. “Most people eat for a million reasons other than hunger. And as a culture, we eat so much junk and industrialized food now.”

Reichl has always been an advocate of preparing and eating real food, and she’s extended that passion to raising awareness on the expanded meaning of sustainability.

“People talk about sustainability in selfish terms,” she explained. “Everything has to be included in the process. Until the pickers and packers are paid fair wages, we will not have sustainable food systems.”

Reichl has been active in supporting her favorite charity, the Rural and Migrant Ministry. The Poughkeepsie-based organization champions the rights of migrant farm workers in New York state.

“These workers have no right to organize, have a day or rest or get paid overtime,” she said. “They’re truly at the mercy of their employers, and the Rural and Migrant Ministry advocates for them.”


Reichl’s local food tour
When Reichl isn’t on tour or at the stove, she’s ensconced in the small cabin behind her home, where she remains, at heart, a writer. Her latest project: a memoir on her Conde Nast years, scheduled for release in the fall of 2017.

As she considered an upcoming visit to the Saturday farmers market in Hudson (one of her favorites), Reichl reflected on how, as it has for so many others, Columbia County has morphed from her weekend getaway to permanent residence.

“Being here is the new normal,” she said with a smile. “I still travel a ton and am in the city a lot. But upstate now feels like home.”

Reichl offered a quick rundown of some of her favorite area spots to forage for ingredients for her cooking – and for the occasional meal out – starting with the Hawthorne Valley Farm Store, which is known for its bakery, sauerkraut cellar and a variety of certified-organic dairy products.
“They have the best buttermilk,” Reichl said. “And I love their vegetables.”

Other local stops on Reichl’s food tour include:

Et Cetera Farm, a certified-organic small family farm run by Yong Yuk and Jeana Park at their home on county Route 21 in Ghent. Yuk and Park sell staples like carrots and mesclun greens through farmers markets and stores, but they’ve gained a following in part for the harder-to-find items they grow.
“I love their ginger, and they grow unusual things like rice and bok choy.” Reichl said.

Bonfiglio & Bread, a bakery and café on Warren Street in Hudson that specializes in hearth-baked breads.
“Their pizza bianca is topped with fresh local greens,” Reichl said. “On Saturdays, they do these things called lemon puffs, which are absolutely divine.”
Talbott & Arding, a gourmet shop on Warren Street in Hudson that specializes in cheeses, preserves and prepared foods.
“I love this little gourmet takeout shop,” Reichl said. “Mona Talbott was a chef at Chez Panisse, and responsible for setting up and running the organic kitchen and garden at the American Academy in Rome. Her partner, Kate Arding, comes from an English mustard-making family, worked at Neal’s Yard, and was one of the founders of Culture,” a magazine devoted to cheese.
“I don’t think either of them is capable of making bad food or selling a bad product,” Reichl said. “I always want to eat everything in the shop. They have great soups, sandwiches, crackers, pastries ... and absolutely irresistible chutneys and jams.”
Rubiner’s Cheesemongers, a cheese and gourmet food shop housed in a former bank building on Main Street in Great Barrington, Mass.
Reichl described owner Matthew Rubiner as “a very world-class cheesemonger with wonderful local and imported selections of cheese, plus other items like artisan soy sauces, salts and caramels.”
Hudson Wine Merchants, on Warren Street in Hudson.
“Michael Albin only sells wines that he loves,” Reichl said. “And I love everything he sells.”
Chatham Wine and Liquor, on Main Street in Chatham.
Reichl said the shop’s owner, Karen Kaczmar, “really knows her wine and has a lovely selection.”
The Meat Market, on Stockbridge Road in Great Barrington.
“This is a great nose-to-tail butcher that sources all its meat locally,” Reichl said. “There’s real passion here. They can tell you why one farmer’s pig or lamb will taste different than another and give you great advice for cooking cuts you may never have considered before. They make their own very fine charcuterie, serve wonderful burgers.”
And for those looking for a catered meal, she added that the shop’s owner, Jeremy Stanton, offers “extremely elegant pig roasts.”












































For more information on Ruth Reichl’s books and her upcoming appearances, visit www.RuthReichl.com.