Goodbye Gourmet Magazine

In the magazine business, we are used to hearing about magazines launching and shutting down all the time. Still, when you hear of a magazine’s demise, it deserves a moment of silence with the secret thought: “There but for the grace of God, go I.” But when you hear about Conde Nast closing Gourmet magazine…well, when an icon like Gourmet gets shuttered, the feeling of shock and sadness lingers longer than usual.

Having said that, I wasn’t a subscriber to Gourmet magazine. I would occasionally buy it on the newsstand to see what Ruth Reichl was up to and talking about, or to find a new restaurant to try. Honestly, my feelings about the magazine were mixed. As you all know from reading my blog, I LOVE food. But I also loathe pretension. Gourmet didn’t invent pretension, but it sure fed it. I had, ironically, just picked up, and started reading, the most recent issue when I heard the news about Conde Nast closing it—and finished reading it after. I got a good tip on a restaurant to try (Tilth) when I head out to Seattle later this month. But the issue’s running commentary on famous people’s favorite hotdogs didn’t mention Applegate Farms Organic Hot Dogs, which is, frankly, criminal. When I was done reading the issue, I felt this wasn’t a relevant magazine anymore for today’s world of food.

With Gourmet closed, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the food magazine that’s growing and succeeding in these times is Saveur, which, despite its stupid name, has a great editor who is grounded in real food from around the world. In the issue I read most recently, there was a detailed, in-depth deconstruction of the three types of chicken-fried steak with gravy. THAT is an upcoming experimental weekend project at my house, let me tell you!

I have met, and know slightly, the editors of both magazines. I’ve met Ruth Reichl a few times—although she is one of those people who never remembers me when she sees me next (admittedly, I sometimes have that same problem with people I’ve met). Maya and I interviewed her for our book It’s My Pleasure—we deemed her a pleasure revolutionary and got to meet with her in her NYC office at 4 Times Square. She was very nice, and highly suspicious of us (which was totally appropriate). She admitted to devouring Georgette Heyer novels as a teen (that’s a good thing). But what I remember most was her confessing that if she is alone, she would rather eat a bowl of cereal. That food, to her, was about community. I thought that was kind of sad, and still do. To me, good food is good food, whether I’m alone or with others. In fact, sometimes it’s even better alone because then I can really concentrate on it and study the flavors.

Jim Oseland, on the other hand, used to work for me at Organic Style magazine (a moment of silence, please). He would come to Emmaus and stay in the Days Inn right next to the Playtime Boutique (a toy store, but not for kids) and go to the local Chinese takeout place (where I once got food poisoning), and insist that they make him real food from China, which they did. I think Jim might try to be pretentious, but I also think he loves food too much to maintain the pretense. (Jim, if you are reading this, call me!)

If you asked me five years ago which food magazine would still be here today, I would definitely have said Gourmet magazine. But it’s a testament to just how much the world has changed (and also, the impact of an editor’s voice and choices relevant to the times) that the magazine still standing is Saveur.

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10 Responses to Goodbye Gourmet Magazine

  1. Laura October 7, 2009 at 9:52 am #

    Giggling with you, Maria, because Saveur really is a dumb name and I remember getting schooled on how to pronounce it which to me is never a good sign for a magazine title but somehow they survived.

    I love Ruth Reichl and her books and that’s very cool that you’ve worked with her.

  2. Erin October 7, 2009 at 10:48 am #

    I don’t care if Gourmet magazine was pretentious. I’ve subscribed to it since 1984, and although I occasionally had to skim over an article or two that was geared toward some haute target audience of which I am not a part, I feel like a dearly beloved elderly relative just died. I am terribly sad. That magazine helped to form the roots for the love of food that I have today.

  3. Lani October 7, 2009 at 12:29 pm #

    When I was a young bride, Gourmet magazine and cookbooks, Julia Child, and James Beard were my tutors in the kitchen and formed a beautiful world view of food. I cried when she died and, now, almost cried when Gourmet was closed. However, I no longer have their cookbooks nor have I bought an issue in years. So I realized that their time has simply ended….”no longer relevant” is it in a nutshell.

    I think my sadness is tied up in watching an era pass, the things of youth which are being replaced. Saying goodbye to a good thing.

    But once the goodbyes are done, I look at the legacy of those and other pioneers in bookstores, crammed with every kind of cookbook imaginable and I’m happy again.

  4. Donna in DE October 7, 2009 at 3:54 pm #

    I’m shocked! I did not know that the magazine was closed down. I agree with ERIN. I didn’t care if it was considered pretensious or not by some, I learned much from that magazine, and have even saved a few copies from the past. I learned a lot about beers, wines, liquers and the like and again like Erin, skipped over those recipes that did not suit my food sensibilities and went right for those recipes that I considered homey and comforting.

    Like LANI though, I have not purchased that magazine in a few years because my thing now is local harvest and organic cookbooks. A good one is called LOCAL FLAVORS, by Deborah Madison, an excellent read and lovely, delicious recipes. You may need to play around with some to get them to your liking, but really good, plus I have an old Mennonite Cookbook that I use for good simplistic cooking.

    I was just telling my huband this afternoon, when we were having lunch at an Amish Restaurant in Lancaster, Pa., who needs gourmet when you have this wonderful, simple and delicious homemade food that tastes like grandma made. Ah, to be a child again and eat grandma’s cooking. That was real comfort food.

  5. Maya October 7, 2009 at 5:39 pm #

    I have a scrapbook full of recipes ripped out from the pages of both Gourmet and Saveur from about 10 years ago that I have never tried, mostly because they call for weird ingredients I’m happy to eat but don’t keep in stock or because they’re too complicated. I LOVE the pictures though, and getting ideas of things to cook.

    Like everyone else, I’ve also stopped buying the mags in the past few years. I would rather spend the money on good organic ingredients and invent my own recipes.

    Please let me know when you are trying the chicken-fried steak recipes so I can be sure to come home! My momma’s cooking is THE BEST.

  6. Amanda October 7, 2009 at 8:37 pm #

    Funny…I’m on the same page re: Gourmet versus Saveur. And, hell, the only reason I eat cereal is because I have to! Otherwise, give me good food–community or all by my lonesome. Some of the best meals I’ve eaten have been when I’ve been alone.

  7. Penny October 8, 2009 at 5:05 am #

    My history with Gourmet goes back to the 1960’s. I have never thought of it as pretentious. It has stretched my imagination and taught me things about food and travel that I wouldn’t have known otherwise. With contributors over the years like Laurie Colwin, James Beard, M.F.K. Fisher and Barbara Kafka, we were treated to the best talents in the food world. A publication that makes you think about your choices and gives you good prose as a bonus, should not be taken lightly. Unfortunately Conde Nast disagrees. It is a sad day indeed.

  8. linda richards October 8, 2009 at 7:52 pm #

    Gourmet had nearly 1 million subscribers each month. I was one of them. I had some issues from which I made a half a dozen fantastic compliment-gathering meals. From most other food magazines I am lucky if there is one original, doable recipe I even save.

    I love Rachel Ray on TV but her magazine, which is getting a lot of today’s food advertisers, is so frenetic in its layout, advertising and recipes, I want a Valium after I read it.

    I have to admit I now use the Internet more than any printed material of any kind. But I still loved Gourmet Magazine. As a former journalist I am sorry to see more legitimate journalism bite the dust. As an aspiring gourmand and excellent cook I am devasted that Gourmet could not make it through this devastating recession.

  9. Mary Ann October 9, 2009 at 11:14 am #

    I was also saddened by the close of Gourmet. I work as a print media buyer, so seeing Gourmet go down, along with many other print magazines in the past year of two leaves me a little unnerved. I loved Gourmet magazine not only for it’s beautiful layouts of food, but it’s reviews of restaurants, travel, etc. The times they are a changing.

  10. Donna in DE October 10, 2009 at 8:53 am #

    I forgot to mention that, as MARY ANN said, the magazine had beautiful layouts that always made you want to purchase it. Because I travel so much, I learned where to go to eat when I was in a different city or country for that matter, through Gourmet. Don’t get me wrong from my previous comments, I also loved gourmet food. Gourmet Magazine and the chefs of the Food Network really got me into cooking, which I hated. My thing was baking up until then. I used to get the magazine for the desserts, then broadened my horizons to other areas in the issues. It was my favorite food magazine and their holiday issues, barbecue and comfort food issues were a “must keep” for me. I will truly miss it. So now I have Gordon Ramsay to help me wow my friends and family, especially my European friends.

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