Having read former New York Times restaurant critic, Ruth Reichl's, non-fiction works (Tender At the Bone, Comfort Me With Apples, Garlic and Sapphires, etc.) previously, I thought I had a pretty good idea of what I was getting into when I picked up Delicious!, her first foray into fiction. Initially, the novel is part love letter to the New York food scene, part coming of age story for young Billie Breslin as she moves from California to NYC and snags a coveted position as editor's assistant for a long-standing food magazine, Delicious!. But then I kept reading, and it became so much more.
When the owner of the parent company of Delicious! decides that, in the economic downturn, the magazine must be closed and the regal old mansion that houses it sold off for profit, the staff are heartbroken. Billie, who has only been with the company for a year, is kept on in the interim to continue fulfilling the Delicious! guarantee--your money back for any recipe that doesn't come out as intended. When she unexpectedly finds the key into the long-locked library on the building's fourth floor, Billie never intends to do more than satisfy her curiosity about what lies beyond the locked doors. What she finds is a small hidden chamber behind a bookcase, once part of the Underground Railroad, and what the chamber houses are decades of filed reader letters. Including those from one young girl, Lulu Swan, to famous chef James Beard during World War II. The letters give Billie a whole new insight on her own loves and losses, as well as into history and food.
This is the kind of multi-layered (but never confusing), satisfying novel that deserves to be savored. Relished. Reichl is an extremely talented writer, and where she shines most is in sharing her love for food and her adopted city of New York. She also provides a fascinating insider's view into both New York's food scene and the inner workings of a food magazine (after leaving the NYTimes, Reichl was Editor in Chief at Gourmet Magazine, which closed in 2009). Billie, Lulu, and the rest of these characters will linger with me for a long time to come. Very highly recommended.