The old adage the pen is mightier than the sword couldn’t be more true than in the world of restaurant reviewing, something BB&T Charleston Food + Wine Festival celebrity guest Ruth Reichl is more than familiar with. As the editor-in-chief of Gourmet and former New York Times restaurant critic, Reichl has had more fine dining experiences than most folks can ever dream of.

City Paper had the opportunity to talk with Reichl about her thoughts and feelings on Lowcountry cuisine. Here’s an excerpt of our conversation:

CP: Will this be your first time at the Charleston Food + Wine Festival?

RR: I haven’t been to Charleston in about five years. We used to go to Kiawah when my son was younger. It’s perfect when kids are little. He could get on a bike; you can’t really do that in the city. 

  CP: I once read an article by R.W. Apple about Charleston, and he claimed the city was verging on becoming New Orleans culinary-wise. Do you think this is true?

RR: I always used to think that Charleston was like New Orleans but with vegetables. In New Orleans everything was fried. You’d pounce on anything green. You know, I loved the food, but then you think, I want a vegetable. Charleston was like everything that’s great about New Orleans. It has the same kind of wonderful blend. You’ve got the influence of African, Creole, Indian — all of that stuff combined. You have the same growing season and fish from the coastline.

CP: Do you feel Lowcountry food (which is occasionally heavy in the deep-fried department, butters and creams) can adapt to people wanting healthier dishes? Is there room for Paula Deen? 

RR: That’s a totally bastardized idea. We just did an issue on new southern cuisine, it was sort of the anti-frying, mayonnaise-heavy food. There’s no reason why southern food should labor under that oath.


CP: What do you think is the cuisine trend of 2008?

RR: Well, I think it’s no question that people are thinking about local food and are doing it for a lot of reasons. It’s not just eating locally and seasonally, but wanting to support local farmers. There’s joy in it, and that’s not gonna go away.

CP: Do you feel like there are any culinary surprises? Can you still walk away from a meal and get excited about it?

RR: All the time. Every time you go to a restaurant or a farmers’ market, it’s like the first time. 

CP: Now that you’re the editor of Gourmet, do you still believe that “all it really takes to be a restaurant critic is a good appetite?” 

RR: Yes, you need to be able to translate that and you need stamina to eat a lot. Every day — 12, 14 meals a week.

CP: Did you ever think, “Oh, God, I have to go eat another meal?” RR: No, I think that would be very whiny. Every job has its downside, and eating isn’t too bad.

CP: We second that completely.

Reichl will be on hand for a special Picnic Lunch with the Stars on Fri., Feb. 29.

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