Book Mini-Review: Delicious! by Ruth Reichl
“I got back into the car thinking how lucky I was to be aware of happiness. Most people don’t recognize their own good fortune until it has departed. And then it is too late.”
If you have been a long-time reader, you know how big of a fan I am of food memoirs and food fiction books. I have read two of Ruth Reichl’s food memoirs and enjoyed those, but I wanted to give her first foray into fiction, Delicious!, a try. Billie Breslin has the “taste”; she can pinpoint just about any ingredient in a recipe or tell what something needs more of. When she drops out of college to move to New York and work for the famous Delicious! magazine, her life changes for the better. Her coworkers are all interesting people and through them, she makes new friends who become more like family, specifically Sal and his wife Rosalie, who run Fontanari’s, a gourmet Italian food shop. But when Delicious! is shut down after she’s only been there a year, Billie is kept on to run the Delicious! Guarantee, a program the magazine and its parent company offered to people who did not get a satisfying result to a recipe. While she is the only one working in the mansion, she discovers letters from a young girl, Lulu Swan, to the famous James Beard. What unfolds sets the rest of the story in motion.
I enjoyed reading about the different recipes Delicious! had created over the years and learning how the test kitchen operated. I am a sucker for Bon Appétit’s test kitchen Youtube videos, so I do have some knowledge of how a magazine’s test kitchen works. I would have loved to see that explored more, but with the magazine quickly shut down in the book, there was not an opportunity to see more of that storyline. One of the things that I found really interesting was Billie’s incredible ability for taste, but she refuses to cook or bake. There’s an underlying issue there which comes out later in the book, but I felt like the reasoning was underwhelming. I wish Billie’s talents had been flushed out more; it was really only in flashbacks and at the very end did we see how incredibly talented Billie is. I also loved all the food descriptions. Maybe because Reichl has plenty of experience as a food writer and a restaurant critic, but her descriptions of food, especially the cheese at Fontanari’s, made my mouth water. I also enjoyed the letters between Lulu and James Beard. Those were fun to read, but I felt like how Reichl wrapped up that story line was a let-down. I felt like the ending of the letters was a bit rushed and drawn out at the same time.
Like I said before, I really enjoy Reichl’s food memoirs, so I was excited to see read Delicious!. It started out strong and had the potential to be great; however, I just feel like the book was too long, and the story seemed to switch focus several times throughout the middle and final thirds of the book. If you’re looking for a good food fiction novel, I still recommend Louise Miller’s books, The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living and The Late Bloomers’ Club, and J. Ryan Stradal’s Kitchens of the Great Midwest. Delicious! had the potential, but it just didn’t live up to my expectations. However, I am still looking forward to reading Reichl’s other memoirs and her cookbook, My Kitchen Year. I give this 3.5 stars.
What other books about food do you recommend? I am always looking for more food memoirs and food fiction novels.