Who: Formerly the chief food critic for the Times, Reichl was the editor-in-chief of Gourmet until the magazine's closure in 2009. She's now an editor-at-large at Random House.
Backstory: Reichl's mother didn't know how to cook, which probably explains why Ruth recalls frequent bouts with food poisoning as a child. She managed to lift herself above her culinary misfortune, though, and learned her first lessons about fine dining as a waitress at a French restaurant in Ann Arbor during college. After graduation she moved to Berkeley, where she briefly lived on a commune and worked as a chef at a local restaurant, the Swallow. She decamped to LA in the 1980s and started writing about food, eventually landing the job of food editor at the LA Times. In 1993, she moved to New York to be food critic at the New York Times, a job that anointed her the most powerful food critic in America. She spent six years at the paper before leaving her many disguises behind to take the top job at Gourmet in 1999.
Of note: The old guard wasn't terribly thrilled when Reichl arrived at the Times: She shocked traditionalists by awarding three stars to Honmura An, a noodle shop in SoHo. (Bryan Miller, her hidebound predecessor, was so outraged he wrote a letter to Reichl's editors accusing her of "destroying the system.") Readers, however, appreciated her democratic approach to dining, and she was praised for moving beyond the French-Italian axis that had hitherto characterized the column. In 1999, she left to edit Gourmet, where she spent 10 years reenergizing the staid monthly and refocusing on the entire dining experience, until the magazine's sudden closure in October 2009. In September 2010, she was named editor-at-large at Random House, which will also be publishing her next three books.
True story: In one of her most memorable write-ups at the Times, Reichl took on Sirio Maccioni of Le Cirque for subjecting his less-than-famous customers to lousy service after he snubbed Reichl who'd arrived at his restaurant in one of her customary disguises, that of a Midwestern housewife. Later, when she returned undisguised, Maccioni kept King Carlos of Spain waiting at the bar while he personally seated her.
In print: Reichl has published four books, including Comfort Me With Apples, Tender at the Bone, Garlic and Sapphires (which detailed her adventures with her alter egos while working as the Times's food critic), and 2009's Not Becoming My Mother. She's contracted to write three more books, including a cookbook called The Tao of Ruth, a title given to her by chef/TV host Anthony Bourdain and the name of a segment on his Sirius satellite radio show during which he reads aloud Reichl's Twitter messages.
Personal: Reichl was once married to a sculptor named Douglas Hollis. After having an affair with journalist/TV news producer Michael Singer, she ultimately divorced Hollis and married Singer. Reichl and Singer have a teenage son, Nick, and live on the Upper West Side.