Monday, October 5, 2009

Gourmet - R.I.P.

The news came out today that the powers-that-be at Conde Nast Publications have seen fit to cease production of Gourmet Magazine. I’ve been reading Gourmet since the late sixties, when I was still in high school. It was in fact one of the first magazines I subscribed to (along with Surfer and Road and Track, actually). Gourmet was a trendsetter, inasmuch as it paved new ground in the way that food, travel, and the “good life” was written about. Specifically, it brought the mysterious world of “gourmet” food preparation and travel to exotic locales, to the common person’s mailbox each month. And I was every bit the “common person” in the late sixties.

Prior to Gourmet, “food” magazines were generally written for the lady / cook of the house, and took the form of family meals buried in the bindings of Redbook or Ladies’ Home Journal. Cookbooks of the era were still of the Joy of Cooking and Better Homes and Gardens variety, and were similarly aimed at the family cook, who was predominantly the lady of the house.

But Gourmet opened up the world of food to people like me, and millions of others. In my case, a straight, single male, who simply enjoyed the kitchen, and had no use for anything resembling fast food or Swanson’s TV dinners. Throughout my college years in San Mateo and San Diego, and for a good number of years after, I lived alone and prepared all my meals. And it's no coincidence that I've been the cook of the house for my wife and myself (and some very appreciative guests) for the past 20 years. From a relatively young age, “fast food” meant a meal prepared in my wok. Not a run to McDonald’s (although until “Fast Food Nation,” I must confess two or three Big Macs per year … but no more than that).

Gourmet made exotic things like risotto and rack of lamb seem doable to the untrained home cook. Braising wasn’t much more complicated than boiling, so why not try it? Parchment paper actually had a use. Barbeque could actually include seasonings and something beyond a rib eye or New York strip. Foods had a correct point of “doneness,” which didn’t include cremation of innocent cuts of meat. Vegetables could be combined in a myriad of ways and spiced in a million different ways, to produce something tasty and even “exotic.”

Gourmet was also about travel and the rewarding experiences of foods that weren’t common to the American palate. A pictorial of Morocco would include not only shots of Casablanca, but also an explanation of what a tagine was (both a cooking vessel AND the meal that is contained in it). A tour of China would contain pictures of the Great Wall, and a true recipe for local Szechwan fare. A visit to Japan would feature Shinto temple pictures, and the way the Japanese prepare miso from scratch.

What you didn’t find in Gourmet was anything other than natural preparation methods. Very little in the way of canned, frozen, packaged … anything. These are the raw ingredients; this is how you put them together to create something special.

Gourmet was gorgeous. It was a visual masterpiece to behold. Month after month, it was an amazing production with few peers. Recent publications such as Saveur and Fine Cooking do a commendable job, and excel in some ways Gourmet didn’t, but for the sheer beauty of each issue, Gourmet had no competition. They were simply the best at what they did.

Inevitably, this conversation has to turn to the common verbiage of hard times, recession, and the like, but I for one don’t have to like it. My favorite surfing magazine, Longboard met a similar fate recently, and this is the capper. Gourmet will be missed. You have to wonder what the proverbial “powers-that-be” are thinking to let such a gem slip away. To give you an idea of the importance of this magazine to the cooks of the world, I just ran the spell checker on this document, and the words “tagine” “miso” and “rib eye” were flagged as not in the dictionary. I rest my case.

1 comment:

Lisa P said...

such a bummer!! I have always loved gourmet and subscribed to it on and off for years...