Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Last Last Touch

The October 2009 issue of Gourmet magazine sits on my coffee table, opened to page 126. I started reading last week and stopped when I realized it was a bad idea to read a food magazine on Yom Kippur. The article on the page in question is a preview of some recipes from the newly released Gourmet cookbook, and it reflects heavily on the profound changes in food culture and habits that have taken place in America during the past 10 years.

Of course, any good foodie will knows that this cookbook now serves as a bit of a swan song as publisher Conde Nast announced on Monday that Gourmet will cook up its last issue in November, despite having already begun photography production and recipe development into January, February and March 2010. Citing declined ad revenue and newsstand sales, CN is closing Modern Bride, Elegant Bride (someone please explain the difference) and Cookie along with Gourmet.

As the American culinary epicenter and home base for CN, the New York Times has extensively covered the story and tomorrow's weekly food section is sure to be full of eulogies, reminiscing and interviews with the fallen.

Though I've never met Ruth, Ian, Maggie or any other Gourmet contributors, I've gotten to know them, their families' food traditions, their own flavor preferences, their cooking snafus and triumphs in the pages of the magazine and I suppose I will miss them. It's like hearing your favorite NPR contributor was cut because not enough people pledged during the Fall Fundraiser (Save Bob Hennelly and Contribute to WNYC Today!).

Hearing about their summary expulsion that takes effect at the end of this week, I empathize with the 180 folks at Gourmet whose paltry circulation of 978,000 couldn't compete in the board room with the more recipe-driven, less expository Bon Appetit which moves 1.35 million a month. Again - here's the NYT link.

Melodramatic as it sounds, my heart aches a bit to know my favorite magazine will soon cease to exist. Guys, if you doubt my emotions, try thinking about them pulling Maxim from your mailbox when you were age 19. Countless meals in my kitchen truly began at my coffee table as I poured through the latest issue and the genesis for even more grew from perusals on my grandmother's couch where I first encountered Gourmet.

The macaroni and cheese, the spicy tzimmes, the pomegranate chicken, the chocolate tart and an ungodly number of fantasy dishes sprung forth from the pages of Gourmet and inspired me to take a chance on a new ingredient or to attempt a challenging technique. The food porn of these recipes and of pretty, young things chowing down on them are par excellence, so buy a newsstand copy quickly before they disappear.

But none of these things really capture what set Gourmet apart from any good cookbook or the myriad other cooking magazines out there. What made Gourmet iconoclastic (love when I can use that word) was where it took us as readers, as cooks and as eaters beyond our own kitchens and our comfort zones.

Pushing the envelope with daring exposes on the human cost of the food industry (The Price of Tomatoes, March 2009), Gourmet made the edible political and raised important, if cringe-worthy questions about the implications of what we eat. With poignant pieces on oft-forgotten tasks (Framing a Life, August 2008), Gourmet taught a little beekeeping biology and brought a tear to many an eye. Food-based escapades from as near as the Bronx and as far as Basque Country and Burma fueled wanderlust and helped to inspire my own culinary staycations.

More than its basic components, Gourmet represented something in food preparation and enjoyment as it evolved from its founding in 1914, and yet remained completely fresh and modern. Few other institutions have weathered profound cultural shifts, inundation of foreign influence, changing tastes and political correctness with such grace, wit and stamina.

It's difficult to close this post and I certainly do not envy Editor-in-Chief Ruth Reichl's task in bidding adieu to her bastions of loyal readers. But if I've learned anything from Gourmet's own back page, titled The Last Touch, it helps to have a food-based theme. A review of Gourmets stacked in my living room revealed a range of topics for this feature: zucchini, pudding, ham, ice pops, lime, dumplings, etc.

For my own Last Touch, I'd like to offer a few favorite recipes and stories from my own reading of Gourmet.
There you have it. My best ode to the best food magazine ever. Do yourself a favor, crack open an old issue, buy the new one or go online to Epicurious and whip up your own culinary tribute. Happy eating!

2 comments:

london said...

NO way i don't have any doubt on your emotions ..its truly emotions..

deborah said...

Though I've always personally preferred Bon Appetit's recipes (I find Gourmet a bit inaccessible for the average cook) it's sad to see one of my first introductions into the culinary world disappearing.
I know I will be going through all my old issues of Gourmet reminiscing past foodie glory.

~Magyar McGuyver