South Beach Wine & Food Festival

Legendary Food Critic Ruth Reichl Hosts This Year's SOBEWFF Tribute Dinner

Ruth Reichl
Ruth Reichl Photo by Noah Fecks
click to enlarge Ruth Reichl - PHOTO BY NOAH FECKS
Ruth Reichl
Photo by Noah Fecks

Long before Yelp and Instagram made critiquing food into a global obsession, a handful of dedicated food writers chronicled restaurants and food trends.

Ruth Reichl began writing about food in 1972 and amassed quite the resumé in her career. Restaurant critic for New West and California magazines, restaurant critic and food editor of the Los Angeles Times, restaurant critic for the New York Times, and editor in chief of Gourmet magazine are just some of the literary hats she's worn. She's also authored four memoirs, a novel, a cookbook, and was a judge on Top Chef Masters.

Reichl, a contributing editor at Town & Country magazine and working on a novel, somehow found time to host the South Beach Wine & Food Festival's Tribute Dinner. This year, the annual gala honors acclaimed chef and restaurateur Nancy Silverton and the CEO of Ferrari-Carano Vineyards and Winery, Rhonda Carano — two leading women in their fields.

Though it seems as if the culinary industry is male dominated, Reichl feels that's more a matter of perception. "Culinary is not male driven," she says. "It's just that the men get all the press." The answer to that conundrum, she thinks, is in the way food is covered in the media. "Amanda Cohen, a very smart chef, wrote a great piece in Esquire last year that was an angry rant on the subject. And, as a journalist, it made me ashamed."

Reichl adds that the perception lies well beyond the restaurant industry. "The problem is not confined to kitchens. Look at all of corporate America. Look at our government." The solution, she says, lies in making it easier to juggle work and family life on the most basic level. "We need to have social policies that make it more possible for women to work and have families — and that means, ultimately, that the government and business understand that parenting is shared between men and women."

Reichl says that in nearly five decades of writing, she's seen many changes, notably in how the industry is covered. She notes the big impact the advent of food television has had on our relationship with food. And she approves of how social media gives everyone a voice. "Ultimately, that's a good thing." Reichl says that also makes her and other writers raise their standards: "It also means that traditional critics — the ones who get paid for their opinions — have to be more knowledgeable, more thoughtful, and better writers than ever before."

The journalist herself is famously keen on Twitter as a means of sharing her thoughts. With over a million followers, her tweets are a mesh of curated articles her followers should read and lyrical musings of the day. She loves using the social media platform as a channel for creative communication. "When Twitter was only 140 characters, it gave me a new voice. And I loved that. I still do. Figuring out how to paint a picture in very few words is a challenge that I find extremely compelling. "

She notes that Twitter can be used the right way and the wrong way. "It depends on who's doing the writing. On the one hand, we have the president. On the other, there's Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who is brilliantly using social media to demystify government. It really can be an amazing tool."

The culinary maven is quick to add that leadership isn't exclusively held by people in government. She cites Alice Waters and Jose Andres as examples of how chefs can be leaders, too.

With all the progress she's witnessed, Reichl still sees the work chefs — and the world in general — need to do. She says if she were to write a book about the future, she would call it Waste Not Want Not. The reasoning? "Waste and want are the two major issues we're facing in food all over the world."

For Reich, there's always work to be done and stories to write, but first a trip to South Beach. "A group of friends are coming to meet me in Miami, and we are going to eat in as many of the exciting new restaurants as we can. I'm very much looking forward to that."'

Tribute Dinner Honoring Nancy Silverton & Rhonda Carano, Hosted by Master of Ceremonies Ruth Reichl. 7 to 11 p.m. Saturday, February 23, at Loews Miami Beach Hotel, 1601 Collins Ave., Miami Beach. Tickets cost $500 via sobewff.org/tribute.

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Laine Doss is the food and spirits editor for Miami New Times. She has been featured on Cooking Channel's Eat Street and Food Network's Great Food Truck Race. She won an Alternative Weekly award for her feature about what it's like to wait tables.
Contact: Laine Doss