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Alumna Spotlight: Cooking Up a Memoir

Alumna Spotlight: Cooking Up a Memoir

After 25 years as a food writer, cookbook author, blogger and TV host, Tori Ritchie '77'73 is working on a memoir about Type 1 diabetes. She points to her own diagnosis as inspiration for the book.

Long before Tori Ritchie '77'73 wrote her first cookbook or appeared on Food Network, she took her first cooking class. Tori was in eighth grade at Convent at the time, and the experience set the course for her life. Over the past 25 years, Tori has been on a mission to help and inspire home cooks, harnessing the power of media as a food writer, cookbook author, blogger and TV host to bring good food and recipes into people's lives. She also teaches cooking classes and food writing courses in the Bay Area, including an annual course at Stanford Continuing Studies.

This past year, Tori realized a long-standing personal goal when she graduated from the University of San Francisco with an MFA in nonfiction writing. She is currently working on a memoir to spread awareness about Type 1 diabetes, which both she and her partner have. You can learn more about Tori on her website.

What do you remember most about your time at Convent?
How much fun I had. Partly because I had a great group of friends, but also because I loved to be in those buildings and because most of the teachers were really fun. I'll admit school probably wasn't as academically rigorous as it is now, so the extracurricular stuff is what sticks with the cooking class [mentioned] below.

What sparked your interest in cooking?
I took a cooking class in 8th grade at Convent with recipes from the book "Diet for a Small Planet," and from that point forward, I loved to make my own food. After college, I tried to work in the business world but all I wanted to do was cook, so I went to culinary school and I've been teaching and writing about food ever since.  

Briefly describe a few milestone events in your career journey?
Holding my first cookbook was incredible — completing a project of that scope and seeing my name on the cover was such a thrill. I loved being the food editor at San Francisco Magazine because it combined two of my great loves: the city and food. Traveling the country and filming 91 episodes of Ultimate Kitchens for Food Network was amazing and a bit of a blur because I can't even remember all the cities we went to. Launching my website in 2007 has given me huge pleasure.

What inspired you to go back to school to complete an MFA in nonfiction writing?
I had started teaching food writing courses at Stanford Continuing Studies to share my expertise with people who were just starting to blog and self-publish. It made me realize that I wanted to teach more creative writing classes, so I knew an MFA was the degree I needed.

Explain your latest project to write a memoir about living with Type 1 diabetes.
Well, to earn an MFA you have to write a thesis, and it just so happens that I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes (aka juvenile — not Type 2) right before I started grad school. It's rare for someone my age to get it, but even rarer is that my partner in life, Sam, has it, too. In fact, my doctor told me the chances of this happening are nine in a million. So that gave me the topic for my thesis, which expanded into the history of insulin and the fact that before 1922, everyone who had this disease died. Now I'm turning the thesis into a full-fledged memoir.

What advice would you give younger students who love cooking and hope to pursue a culinary career?
Go to cooking school and do an externship in a restaurant. It's an investment of time and money, but learning the skills to work in both a professional kitchen and a home kitchen are fundamental to being able to write with authority about it and to make a lifelong career from it.   

How is Convent a part of your life today?  
My incredible friends from grammar school and high school. We get together all the time, and we still laugh about everything.

Photo: Tori Ritchie at her MFA graduation with Joan McGrath, her literature teacher from Convent.