This week the food world had its own Black Monday. To reduce costs, Condé Nast has decided to shut down Gourmet. I mourned on Twitter, along with a thousand other food writers and bloggers. It felt cathartic to be reassured that there were many others who will miss seeing the magazines in their mailboxes every month.
But then the insults started flying. Among the many criticisms the magazine received was that it was "elitist", "irrelevant", and that its "recipes took too long." In the most scathing piece published this morning, The Boston Globe called it a "symbol of bygone vision of gourmet life in America - and as sign that even upmarket niches can be too confining."(Disclosure: I used to write for the Globe, and still read it, and contributed a piece in August to Gourmet.)
It seems that most of these critics stopped reading Gourmet in the 1980s. Or they ignored the 90% of magazine that doesn't have to do France or fine dinnerware. What's so "elitist" about street food in Thailand or a mom-and-pop Chinese barbecue stand? Or a first-person account, not just some fluffy service piece, about living frugally? Or for that matter, in-depth coverage of sustainable food issues? If elitism is defined by reaching beyond the scope of soccer moms and trend-seekers or calling olive oil by its rightful name, then I must be elitist too.
Gourmet was one of two food magazines (the other being Saveur) that wasn't afraid to cover food from developing countries, at least not in a very watered-down way. Its Vietnamese recipes actually resemble Vietnamese recipes. So what if Gourmet asked readers to go to Chinatown or the Mexican grocery to track down certain ingredients, instead of limiting themselves to stuff at Whole Foods? Yes, for week night dinners, convenience is king. But true food lovers will want to roll up their sleeves and make kimchi or paella or something else challenging, at least once.
A few readers on the Atlantic and NY Times sites seemed confused that Gourmet would stop publishing as the US is experiencing a food renaissance. The truth is, even with more people buying cookbooks and watching the Food Network, few seem interested in serious journalism or a cultural critique of food. Everyone wants recipes, and only recipes, those quick formulas to get food on the table. I adore Epicurious and similar sites for their recipe databases. But when every publication takes cuisines with long, rich histories and boils them down to "5 Quick-and-Budget-Friendly Recipes", it's a slap in the face.
So thank you, Gourmet, for challenging my tastebuds, cooking, and sense of curiosity. I'll continue to read your back issues, even if every other publication reduces food to a list of ingredients.
Closing the Book on Gourmet Magazine - NY Times