Sunday, October 11, 2009
It’s been a week of mourning: Gourmet magazine is dead.
I’ve spent these days browsing wistfully through my collection of issues, which goes back only as far as July of 1995, and I don’t have anywhere near a complete assemblage. But I started reading the magazine back in the early ‘70s – my single days – even before I could actually cook many of the recipes. For years, I bought it to fantasize about the spectacular table settings and to try desperately to absorb the mix of colors and flavors and textures that made up their meals. Then at some point, I gave up. I despaired of ever understanding the techniques and the eye-popping lists of ingredients. I couldn’t tell scallions from shallots, and rutabaga was just a word my dad’s best friend used as an expletive. And as I moved into The Years of Small Children, anything stranger than broccoli was a waste of time.
But as the children grew up, so did I as a cook. I’d hear the magazine’s luscious covers calling to me from the grocery store checkout line, and I’d think, “Maybe.” At the same time, periodically, I’d want to expand the family palates, offering up an unfamiliar dish at dinner with the words, “Just try a bite and then I’ll tell you what it is. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to have any more.” I threw a few finished dishes out, and took comfort in the notion that not all of their ideas worked, either.
Sometime after 1991, when Gail Zweigenthal became Editor-in-Chief, I realized that the tone of Gourmet’s pages suddenly seemed a bit less elitist, a bit more accessible than in the past. It might just have been my own exposure to the world, but I don’t think so. In any case, I started noticing low-fat recipes, recipes for the time-challenged, and those little sidebars on “How to Select and Store Pomegranates” (Dec ‘97) and “Citrus Know-How” (Jan ‘99). I stopped feeling inadequate, and started experimenting more.
Then in the summer of ‘99, Ruth Reichl took over and completely sucked me in. I loved the Kitchen Notebook, which expanded on those little sidebars in a way that got me comfortable with various exotic ingredients (high-end baking chocolate, miso), unfamiliar terms (ganache, confit), and simple stuff like different cuts of beef. I soaked up the dissertations on the best knife, and a history of the fork, and the occasional essay like John Thorne’s “One Knife, One Pot.” And if my Fourth of July celebration still didn’t feature Smoked Salmon Tartare on New Potato Slices, I forgave myself.
So now I feel abandoned by Conde Nast, cast adrift on a Wasa cracker with the barest bit of smoked trout to sustain me. Must be time to go back to the beginning and see what I’ve missed over the years.