Q & A With Ruth Reichl: Gilt Taste, L.A. Food, The Role of The Restaurant Critic, Her Movie + The Corrective of Food TV
RR: I was here last winter for a month, shooting Top Chef Masters. But we didn't eat out a lot -- we were shooting all the time. Those were long days. You get done at 2 in the morning.
SI: And it's L.A., so of course nothing's open except taco trucks. Do you have a sense of how the L.A. food scene has changed?
RR: You know, I arrived in L.A. in '84, which was an amazing time to come here, because I felt like all the food energy in the country had been in northern California. And then it shifted down here, and there was so much that was interesting happening here. Wolfgang had just opened, Michael McCarty had just opened, you had this new young chef movement and you had these people doing the kind of food that wasn't being done anywhere else in the country. It was like anything was possible. Mauro Vincenti opened Rex, maybe the most beautiful restaurant ever created anywhere. People were growing things. There was so much great energy. Then in the early '90s, the recession hit and you just watched all the energy go out of food. And all anybody opened was copycat restaurants; it was like they were all clones of Italian pizza places, one after the other. And you sort of felt like, Oh, I thought L.A. was a food city but maybe it isn't.
Then the energy moved to New York. But I feel like there's so much energy about food here now, and there are so many interesting chefs doing things, and so many farmers markets. The Hollywood Farmers Market was just starting when I left in '93. And as ethnic food has come into the culture, L.A. is the place you want to be. We have a few Korean restaurants in New York, but there's nothing like here. And you have the food trucks. The Kogi truck had a national influence. And then you've got all these young chefs doing things: Salt's Cure, Lazy Ox. Just really interesting food. It's interesting: for that kind of food energy, you've got Brooklyn and you've got L.A., where you have a lot of young people who are knowledgeable about food, just going out and saying, Bring it, bring me anything. It's an amazing place to eat right now. In New York, you watch Manhattan losing that; it's become the place for old people.
SI: Fine dining here was never what it was in New York, and it seems like we've always been meant to be a casual food city. Like the recession almost knocked us back to where we should have been in the first place.
RR: I think that's right. You didn't need have happen here what happened in Paris, when all the young chefs just turned their backs on 3-stars and said: Take back your stars, I don't want them, I want to cook for my friends. And you didn't need that to happen here. It just kind of happened organically. As it's happening in Brooklyn organically. Let me open a place in a cheap space I can afford to and just serve killer food.
SI: Or in my kitchen.
RR: Or my kitchen or my truck, or in a little diner that's empty. The pop-up concept pretty much started here and has taken root other places. I'm also thinking about L.A. versus San Francisco, and San Francisco is so convinced of itself as a food city. Here you get this pugnacious quality of, Yeah, we are good; we are good. So in some ways it's even more interesting energy.
SI: I wanted to ask you about food television now: Do you think that can get over-saturated?
RR: I feel like it's kind of a correction that we're making in the culture. That we were so stupid about food as a culture for so long.
SI: How do you mean 'stupid'?
RR: We just didn't care. We weren't a food culture. We're one of the few cultures in the world that just threw food away, or didn't care. When you think about the Chinese greeting each other by asking if you've eaten, and most educated countries being countries where part of the education is about food. Europe, Asia, South America, where if you want to consider yourself an educated person in the culture you know about food. And I think because of our Puritan background, we just turned out backs on it, and said, We eat to live, that's the bottom line, and we're not going to learn about food.
Now we're having this correction, and we have a long way to go. We've been doing it for what, ten years, fifteen years? We have a lot to learn. So I feel like when people say that it's saturated, there's so much: No. It's just that there was so little.
So, The Chew? Well, why hasn't there been someone on national TV talking about food and food issues. I just hope they do it well. I don't like the fact that the chefs are men and then there are these pretty women. It doesn't bode well. I would like to see one really bright, articulate woman chef there.
SI: Right. Barbara Walters if she could cook.
RR: Yes. And those people certainly exist. But it worries me.
SI: Oh, one last thing: your movie! Garlic and Sapphires. You're both producer and writer and Anne Hathaway is playing you, right?
RR: No, she's not; she was attached and is no longer. We don't have a shooting script right now. There's a really great director who now wants to do it -- I can't say who -- a true food person who has a really great take on the story. We've had five scripts so far, the last of which was mine. But he wants to do something really different with it and much more substantial. I'm excited and I hope it happens. But, you know, it's Hollywood.