Monday, October 5, 2009
I know most of my readers in the food blogosphere will have already heard this sad news, but this year marks a monumental loss for the foodie world. After 70 years of publication, Gourmet magazine is closing its glossy covers for good.
For as long as I can remember, I've been a fan of Gourmet's specific brand of food porn. I've spent a good deal of time during my visits to my grandparents' looking through the giant basket where my grandmother keeps her magazines and setting aside Sunset and every Lands' End catalogue every printed, searching for that familiar scrolled title and the delectable solitary shot on the cover. This was my first exposure to food writing, to food photography, to the whole cult of culinary indulgence that has gained near-religious status in my life. Before I knew how to pronounce the title, I was enamored by shiny page after shiny page of colorful, drool-worthy shots of the kind of food I could only dream of. Now, to be fair, I come from food the way some people come from money. I had no shortage of gourmet (with a little g) delights on my very real dining room table. But the magazine (with a big G) took me past my mom's crispy chicken thighs and perfect baked potatoes and my dad's juicy steaks and... baked potatoes... to something wholly other. My parents showed me how to hold a knife, and the education was continued by the fine people on public television and the Food Network, not to mention the food blogosphere, but it was in the magazines that really took me places first. I learned about the restaurant world, the sustainable food movement, the revival of traditional regional flavors, and the influx of exotic tastes that have hit the American palate like a hurricane. My parents will always be the best cooks I've ever met, but because of Gourmet, I can proudly say that I can out-eggplant even them.
It would not be much of an exaggeration to say that it is due to the writers that populate the food journalism universe that I am a cook, that I am a writer, and that I am the kind of eater I am. They have informed my sustainable food ethics, my chopping style, the encyclopedia of food terms and methods in my head, and, surely, my career path. I know, because of the passion I found in their writing, the wonder I found in following a recipe (or, you know, not following it at all), and the immense delight in serving Gourmet-inspired food to my family and friends, that I want to cook, and write about it, for the rest of my life. My first-edition Gourmet Cookbooks hold the most privileged position in my cookbook collection, representing much more than a collection of recipes from mid-century. The Thanksgiving issues have informed the past few years of my November pursuits, and I had the amazing opportunity to meet Ruth Reichl through the Portland Farmers' Market (and, as many of us did, got to know her even more through her phenomenal memoirs). I'll miss her smiling face greeting me as I flip open the magazine each month, though the insane career envy I feel re: her time with the NYT and Gourmet will not fade in the least.
When asked to compile a series of recipes using winter veggies for the PFM, I immediately turned to the folks at Gourmet for inspiration. They have always represented a certain amount of class, at times bordering on the bourgeois, but always, somehow, accessible, even for a college student on a budget. I suppose what was most accessible were the dreams, the fantasy meals spelled out so beautifully in recipes and menus, in the shots so skillfully arranged by the art directors... I've built and rebuilt my imaginary kitchen countless times over the years in accordance to their appliance recommendations, filling the dream-drawers with the latest gadgets and loading the fantasy pantry with the most exotic spices and sauces. Some people have a "happy place" where they go to escape the pressures and mundane reality of real life. Mine has a Viking gas grill with an infrared rotisserie. And a Salamander.
In the hardest of times, when I find myself eating beans and rice for what seemed like weeks on end, I look forward to flipping the pages of the magazine, visually eating my way through the seasons, sampling the best of American and International restaurants, and conjuring up conversations with top chefs, sharing tips and favorite flavors. And in the best of times, when I find myself with hours to spend in the kitchen and a full fridge, Gourmet has taken me around the world, helping me conjure up flavors from Mexico to Thailand, from Italy to Philadelphia, and has opened my eyes to culinary gems here in Portland.
Today, three magazines were waiting for me in my mailbox. Bon Appétit, Cooks Illustrated, and Gourmet. My friends and family can attest to the fact that days like today, when the food mags show up, are like every gift giving holiday wrapped up in one, made even better because they come once a month. I opened this month's Gourmet with gratitude, sadness, and anticipation for the future. Though one great edifice of the food world has fallen, there remains the example of the food writers of the past, and, thanks to their clearing of the path, there is amazing potential for the food writers of the future. Thank you, Gourmet, from all of us, for your role in the culinary revolution, and from me, for your special place in my own humble education.