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.