Monday, May 02, 2011

Requiescat in pace, Mrs. Ricketts

Kim Ricketts died last week. A lot of people have already discussed her untimely demise, but I wanted to talk about it too: she was one of the most awesomely outrageous women I have ever known, and I respected her a lot. She was the only mom on earth exempt from my jokes about your mom.

I’ll never forget the day we met. It was day two of Foodista’s very first International Food Blogger’s Conference. It was just after lunch. I had eaten enough food to make a hippo become bulimic, all of it masterfully prepared by expert delishtards like Mark Fuller and Brian Cartenuto and Keith Luce. Elise Bauer or Molly Wizenberg or somebody was instructing everyone in the audience on how to become beloved by billions of housewives. The mid afternoon sun was slanting in through the windows, hammering me in the face, and suddenly all the tequila shots I had drunk caught up to me, and I nodded off. When I opened my eyes, this lady at the next table was staring directly at me, laughing. Weird laugh, crooked smile: Kim Ricketts.

During the break I introduced myself to Mrs. Ricketts. We talked about reading and writing and Sour Patch Kids and Conan the Barbarian. She had a distinctive voice. It was weathered and lilting, cracking on the high notes: this was the sound of a $1000 a day Ricola habit. And that motherfucking laugh: wheezing, squealing, like a cigar-smoking chihuahua. It was like her vocal cords were made out of an old baseball glove.

She was charming, savvy, literate, and fucking generous. The same night I met her, she introduced me to Ruth Reichl and, I proudly recall, referred to me as “one of the best food writers in Seattle.” I instantly knew that Mrs. Ricketts was my kind of people, and not just because of her effusive praise (although that really helped). Someone more concerned about politics would never have risked her own reputation by exposing the Archduchess of culinary journalism to an unknown douche with a penchant for jokes about your mom.

That was one of the great things about Mrs. Ricketts: sometimes she really just didn’t give a fuck. She was fearless. A couple years ago she invited me to dine with her at the Ruins. The dinner conversation, of course, was stellar, but the food was less than awesome: there was turtle soup, and roasted duck breast, and a bigass steak, but nothing to write home about. After dinner she asked me what I thought about the menu. I lied politely about how good it was, but Mrs. Ricketts was having none of it. “I’m glad you enjoyed it,” she hissed, “because I thought it sucked.” And one time she told me the lurid story about how, when she was pregnant, her water broke in the bathroom at Vito’s. It was probably the third time I met her when she revealed this.

She could also be a total harpy if you crossed her. Last October she hosted a reception for Renee Redzepi at Mistral Kitchen. Redzepi, chef at NOMA restaurant in Copenhagen, was in town promoting his new cookbook, but Mrs. Ricketts was SUPER PISSED for some reason. Later on I found out what was going on: to make a long story short, Mistral Kitchen proprietor William Belickis had somehow tried to double cross her. After Redzepi left, Mrs. Ricketts and I retired to the Palace Kitchen for a drink. She was adamant that I write about Belickis’s attempt to steal her thunder. “PLEASE,” she told me, “make sure to tell everyone that I will never work with William Belickis again!” Now you know.

Anyway, I was as shocked as everyone to hear that this woman, once so full of piss vinaigrette, had been stricken with cancer. She was stuck in the hospital for what seemed like a long time. I got a few emails from her, and followed her Twitter stream, and she seemed upbeat. I thought for sure she was going to defy the odds and survive. After all, this woman was fearless. If she could handle Marco Pierre White (“That man is a vampire!”) then cancer would be a fucking cakewalk.

But she didn’t survive. She was gone, so suddenly. Which really fucking sucks. Here in Seattle we’ve managed to build a food writing community that’s probably the most interesting, engaged, and cohesive scene in the entire country, and yes, I’m including New York City when I say that, and Kim Ricketts was instrumental in bringing us all together. Now the keystone has fallen out of our arch. Fuck.

Still, the show must go on, and for me at least, Mrs. Ricketts’ death has served as a wakeup call. Besides, she’s in a better place now anyway. After all, being dead means you no longer have to hear anything about Branjelina, and she’s probably already organizing book tours for John Milton and David Foster Wallace by now. It’s bittersweet, in a way, like being kicked in the nuts by a leprechaun: yes, it hurts a lot, but YOU GOT TO SEE A LEPRECHAUN. So thank you, Mrs. Ricketts, wherever you are, for being such an awesome leprechaun.

Rating: 12 personal inspirations out of 10

I would like to extend my deepest sympathy to the Ricketts family.

I would also like to respectfully dedicate my entire oeuvre on this blog, from 2005 up to today, to the memory of Kim Ricketts.