Saturday, October 10, 2009

On the passing of a Magazine

I never read Gourmet. Never. Not really sure why; I didn't have any particular reason for not reading it other than my interests in food don't go to, well, the "gourmet". I love food and I love to cook, but I'm not exactly a "foodie", to be honest. Put it this way: as much as I love watching Hell's Kitchen, I'm not in any great hurry to eat the food they make there, and I felt a certain amount of sympathy for the guy who, in the first episode of this season, made biscuits-and-gravy for his "signature dish" and got berated by Chef Ramsey for it. (This guy, who owns a diner somewhere, was so out of his depth in the "gourmet" kitchen of the show that he was eliminated from the competition before the first dinner service was even completed.)

As far as food magazines go, the one we really like to read at Casa Jaquandor is Cooking Light. We've subscribed for years (and come to that, we should come up with a way to store our back issues more usefully one of these days). We've found lots of recipes we love from its pages, lots of good articles, and all that jazz. Other than that, we don't really read much by way of culinary magazines.

However, I've always -- at least as long as I've been, shall we say, culinarily aware -- known of Gourmet's presence. I remember hearing it mentioned on a lot of the cooking shows we used to watch in the days when we had cable teevee and the Food Network. I've known people who read Gourmet religiously, and it's been a mainstay on the magazine racks at The Store.

Here's Buffalo News food writer Janice Okun on the demise of Gourmet:

Although certainly elitism was very much present in Gourmet’s early days—when cans of food were referred to as “tins” and French cuisine was seen as the ultimate—it had greatly lessened in recent years. The recipe format became much easier to read. The wonders of American food were extolled along with the cuisines of Asia and South America.

There was social commentary, too. I remember well (and clipped) a cogent article about how Wal-Mart had changed the grocery industry. I read about the mistreatment of agricultural workers. But truthfully, though I read the magazine from cover to cover, I never cooked from it much at all. Maybe all the revision went too far—some of the magic got lost along the way.

I first became acquainted with Gourmet in high school. A friend’s mother, known for her magnificent shortbread cookies, I must add, had stockpiled all the old issues and I was fascinated. This chubby kid from North Buffalo whose idea of good eating was overdone pot roast was suddenly exposed to the fact that there was a world out there where food could be exquisite and glamorous restaurants provided amazing culinary experience. It had no relation to my life or the life of anybody I knew, but I was hooked.

And that air of excitement continued even as Gourmet democratized. The recipes never drove me to the kitchen, but I looked forward to that magazine every month.

I was not alone, I guess. When the time came for my husband and me to downsize, we cleaned out our attic to find that we had hoarded 20 years of Gourmet magazines up there. (Big attics have their uses after all.)

We put them in our garage sale. I tell you, those gorgeous old Gourmets practically walked off the driveway. (Ah, if we only knew then what we know now.)

My old school chum Kerry also has a personal remembrance of the magazine, important in her life for several reasons:

Today it was announced that Gourmet magazine would end its publication, after 70 years. It made me sad – not because I’m a subscriber (I’m not, although we were at one time), but because my mom was a loyal reader. Following in a close second to The New Yorker, Gourmet was her reading material of choice. And when Jon and I first got together and it was his birthday, she got him, as aspiring chef, a subscription to Gourmet as well. He was touched. Years later, in his stint as Executive Chef of Saucebox here in Portland, Jon was written up in an article in Gourmet, complete with a dashing photo. Too bad my mom never got to see it.

I find it sad to see such long-lived mainstays of many worlds going away in this current economy. But who knows, maybe Gourmet will live again someday. After all, Realms of Fantasy was put to pasture and then relaunched by another publisher, and that mag's circulation is, I'm sure, significantly smaller than Gourmet's. And really, the economy can't stay in the toilet forever. Right?


Thee Earl of Obvious said...

Sire, having completely missed the point of lady Kerry's gourmet lament, (and having been properly exiled from her palace of blahblah for it) I will attempt to look closer here and suppose you are talking about things lost before their time and perhaps unjustly.

We can whistle past the magazine stand and look at this as temporary economic blip but what really is going on is a socioeconomic paradigm shift. The middle class estate sale is underway.

The trappings of a mcwealthy lifestyle complete with designer kitchens, handbags and expensive cars courtesy of wealth perversely defined as debt are eroding before out eyes. Credit given to 18 year old prima donnas so that they can keep up with their joneses on MTV's house of assholes. Easy credit for houses and stocks. Ph.Ds's in business trumpeting the new economy, an economy where debt does not matter.

The certificate of death on the middle class lists its cause as twofold: an artificial phenomena created as the result of post world war II global domination, and two, excessive weight toward entitlement. Not necessarily the government sanctioned kind but and much worse, the kind that comes from skewed expectations. Expectations ingrained in children who are brought up in a culture of plenty. Yet who are never given the tools to grow the garden more.

What is next on the block of the middle class estate sale? Perhaps something relatively small like a magazine or maybe it will be something larger like school buses. Eventually though suburbia itself is due to be up on the block.

Roger Owen Green said...

Magazines come and go. I was reading AdAge and a couple bridal magazines, Modern Bride and Elegant Bride. There ain't no Saturday Evening Post. If it is the death knell of the (print) magazine, it's 1) probably better for the environment 2) due in no small part on the inability to monetize content on the Internet.

Thee Earl of Obvious said...

Modern Bride and Elegant Bride?

Kerry said...

Thank you, Kelly.

Roger Owen Green said...

The 2 bride mags, like Gourmet and something called Cookie, were all Conde Nast publications that bit the dust.