Ruth Reichl thought "gourmet was dead" when her beloved magazine folded in 2009.

"I did what I always do when I am confused, lonely or frightened," said the former editor-in-chief of Gourmet Magazine.

Reichl baked and sautéed her woes away.

Her first creation was a rich chocolate cake that could serve dozens, and "cure anything," she told CBC.

She kept at it, cooking to find solace, and ended up with a creation that might help heal others, after her guests urged her to share the recipes that helped save her in turbulent times.

"I did what I always do when I am confused, lonely or frightened." - Ruth Reichl

Reichl's new cookbook, My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved My Life, grew from her own kitchen therapy and offers up a sweet and savoury array.

Easy Vietnamese Caramelized Pork is one of her favourites, perhaps because it was endorsed by a bear, as described in this excerpt from her book:

"We'd always known the bears were there, even though we'd never actually seen them. They tended to save their visits until after dark, overturning garbage cans while we were sleeping, liberally strewing the contents across the road.

But now that I was cooking all day long their visits had become more frequent, and today one of the bears ventured brazenly onto the lawn.

I think he was lured by the tantalizing scent of caramelizing sugar. He ambled around, eyeing the sweet, crisp, salty pork I'd set on the table, surrounded by heaps of fresh mint and basil, wedges of lime, and bowls of crushed peanuts.

I hurriedly went inside, closed the windows, locked the doors, and left him to devour our lunch."

Ruth Reichl my kitchen year

Ruth Reichl turned a lemon of a year and her passion for cooking into new creations after Gourmet magazine folded in 2009. (Ruth Reichl Books)

Easy Vietnamese Caramelized Pork


Serves two people (or one bear)

  • 2 Armenian cucumbers. 
  • ¾ pound pork tenderloin.
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • Mint.
  • Basil.
  • Peanuts.
  • Sriracha.
  • 2 tbsps rice vinegar.
  • Salt. 
  • Ginger. 
  • Vegetable or peanut oil. 
  • 1 small onion (sliced thin).
  • 1 clove garlic (smashed). 
  • 4 tsps sugar. 
  • Pepper.
  • Rice.


  1. Pour the rice vinegar into a small bowl and add a pinch of salt and 1 teaspoon of sugar.
  2. Slice the Armenian cucumbers into thin rounds, along with a small knob of ginger.
  3. Put them into the vinegar and allow the flavours to mingle while you make the pork.
  4. Slice the pork tenderloin very thin. (This is easiest if you put the meat in the freezer for half an hour to get it very cold before slicing.
  5. Get a wok so hot that a drop of water dances on the surface and then disappears. Add a couple of tablespoons of peanut or neutral oil and immediately toss in the onion and the smashed garlic.
  6. As soon as it's fragrant, add the pork and 1 tablespoon of sugar and stir-fry, tossing every few minutes, for 10 to 15 minutes, until the pork has crisped into delicious little bits.
  7. Take the wok off the heat and stir in the fish sauce; it should become completely absorbed. Grind in a lot of black pepper.
  8. Remove the ginger from the cucumbers and mix the cucumbers into the pork. (Whether you want to add the marinade is up to you; I like the taste of vinegar, but you might prefer your meat completely dry.)
  9. Serve with rice. Put fresh mint and basil on the table, along with crushed peanuts, lime wedges, and Sriracha, and allow each diner to make a mixture that appeals to them.

Notes: It can be difficult to find small tenderloins; when I end up with more meat than I need, I chop the remainder and save it for another dish.

This will feed two people very generously. Unless you have a very large wok and a ferocious source of heat, the recipe does not double well; you want the pork to get really crisp.