I remember those thick issues crammed into my mailbox, Gourmet Magazine and Bon Appetit, both ready to be read attentively on my bed before sleep. The articles were mostly long form, so it would take me weeks to get through both issues. Then Bon Appetit got redesigned into a more home-cook friendly publication, featuring more recipes, less writing, brighter photos, a cleaner layout. Gourmet eventually got its redesign too, with a modern typeset and a no-frills layout that just made me smile. They both got thinner over the years, as if their diet of fat advertisements got cut down like Japanese meal portions. Yesterday I got the bombshell that Gourmet Magazine would be folding.
Though I stopped my subscription a few years ago, I relished every copy I bought off the newsstand. Sadly, I’ll have to avert my eyes to Saveur for high-quality food photos and long form articles. Bon Appetit will continue its days though who knows how long that will last consider Conde Nast’s willingness to part with Gourmet. The recipe-centric Bon Appetit will have to compete against the burgeoning number of high-quality recipe blogs. Food & Wine presents wine-centric coverage, but I detested their move to recycled, matted paper. The photos just didn’t work on that paper. Saveur is certainly a fine publication, taking some market share from Gourmet as a culinary authority. But something about Saveur was missing. It didn’t have the finesse of Gourmet. The stories weren’t as compelling, the photos weren’t as sharp (many were made on digital, and the limitations of digital photography were apparent at that quality of printing).
I can’t wax about reading Gourmet for decades because I haven’t been living for much more than two of them. Because this historic publication won’t reach 70 years, I won’t have the pleasure of showing my grandchildren about the joys of good travel writing and top-quality photography. Rather than discuss the death of the magazine, I’m just going to talk about what I loved about Gourmet, which I considered not only the arbiter of food in America, but also the publication with the highest production values.
Gourmet got thinner, but it made it easier to read. Fewer ad pages meant more space dedicated to those beautiful spreads (and the eventual downfall of the magazine…) I loved how the photo and copy layouts weren’t formulaic – they would mold with the story. Gourmet presented more than just food, it showed photos of people, of facial expressions, of families, of celebration. Long articles and dozens of photos showed entire ways of life, far-flung regions and small niche communities from all around the world. The magazine captured my imagination and gave me a window, a food-centric window, into people’s lives. I wasn’t keen on making every recipe, but I did like reading them. Some were helpful, most of them were a little too difficult to make on a regular basis. Still, I think Ruth Reichl, streamlined the presentation of each issue, separating short, quick recipes from more complicated ones as the pages progressed. It made each issue like a whole story, instead of a random collection of bits.
Thumbing through some of the comments left of The New York Times’ blog, it’s odd to her criticism that Gourmet was trying to be all things to all people, or that its focus on hardcore cook’s recipes went askew when Reichl took over. I didn’t use Gourmet as a monthly guide on what to cook, mainly because I don’t have more than one mouth to feed on any given evening. If I were a stay at home dad and had the time to dedicate to cooking, I would love having Gourmet direct me to excellent recipes. To me, Gourmet became the all-encompassing guide to the good life, to showing me the wide world of food with all its beauty, quirks, and intricacies. I think what we’ll miss most about Gourmet Magazine is that it gave us something to aspire to, that one day some of us writers could be published in it, or perhaps that we could travel and dine at distant lands or little-known communities. The magazine gave us windows to escape, displaying picture-perfect tables or stunning photos of dishes that cooks might aspire to make in their kitchens. Those lengthy articles filled quiet weekend afternoons or dreary commutes on the metro.
Maybe one day another publisher will invest in bringing Gourmet back. I doubt anyone could do a better job than editing the publication than Ruth Reichl, so let’s hope she’s still able and willing to be editor. Other than the actual paper, Reichl made Gourmet’s website into one of the best on the web, and created the award-winning Gourmet’s Diary of a Foodie show, without a doubt the best-produced food program on television. I’m quite certain the recipes will continue to show on epicurious, the compilation of Gourmet and Bon Appetit recipes. I hope Gourmet lives to print another day, because in my mind, it was the best.