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Where has all the content gone? (Pt. 3)

March 28, 2010

(In the interests of full disclosure, my sister is a senior staffer at Taunton, which produces Fine Cooking magazine. But I swear, it has no effect on this post.)

Last fall was a tumultuous time for many of us who were thinking about tough choices forced on us and others in a rough economy, the equivalent of a Class 6 stretch of rapids. If looking at our wallets and checking account balances was bad, it was even worse over at Conde Nast, magazine publisher extraordinaire. On the one hand, Gourmet, part foodie’s travelogue, part Cook’s Illustrated-esque primer, and part warehouse of simplified haute cuisine recipes, and on the other hand, Bon Appetit, the uh, “regular” person’s guide to eating, I think. Say what?

Bon Appetit is the thing I get for free because I moved across the country, and checked that box on the postcard included in the USPS’s relocation envelope of stuff, right below the box for Real Simple. There sure wasn’t a box for Gourmet.

So I colored myself surprised when Conde Nast announced it was closing up shop on Gourmet and keeping Bon Appetit afloat. Gourmet has been around since 1941, and is headed by Ruth Reichl, who knows more about food than the next 100 people around her combined. Maybe BA would see an uptick in its content, I wondered, incorporating some of the types of stories from Gourmet onto its own pages. I postulated that they might bring over some of the editors or stylists, or at least ask the Gourmet staff what story ideas were still on their board, seeing if anything could be incorporated. I assumed Ruth would land on her feet, or write another book while she figured everything out.

And I waited to see how BA would change.

Looking back, it’s been like waiting for Godot.

January rolled around and BA offered 5 AMAZING RECIPES for meatballs. It told me I needed to have rooster sauce in my kitchen (I already had it, along with three other kinds of hot sauce). It suggested I have a table in my kitchen big enough for rolling out dough and prep, but nice enough to eat on. I can barely fit my own ass in my kitchen, so that wasn’t terrifically helpful. It also ran an advertisement about the book edition of Gourmet, and I wiped away a silent tear from my cheek before it contaminated my Bechamel sauce.

In February my mailbox was excited to cough up the latest issue. A grilled, panini-looking sandwich graced the cover. Seriously? A grilled sandwich? I could go to Cosi for this crap. Do not give me a magazine cover with a freaking sandwich on it, I yelled at the thin glossy rag. What’s coming for March, I wondered, a bowl of Fruit Loops with fried plantains in a bowl?

An interview with Steve Carrel on his favorite food moments. An “easy,” (read, completely unlike) paella recipe. A test kitchen article on infusing flavors into milk, otherwise known as putting it into a tea bag and simmering it. Are they for real? Did Conde Nast really have better advertising potential with BA?

I don’t know, and I’ll just presume they made the best decision, faced with a significant loss of revenue. But I miss Gourmet.

Maybe Ms. Reichl will start a magazine. Oh, wait.

Everett Maroon also longs for good food over on his blog, Trans/Plant/Portation.

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. March 28, 2010 9:42 pm

    As someone who makes their living (the bacon, that is) by selling food, specifically specialty items, Bon Appetite was often a welcome breath of fresh air to the Saveur’s and Food & Wine’s of the world. Personally, I like that they put a sandwich on their cover. A good, no… a GREAT sandwich truly can be a gourmet experience. The right combo and balance can be sublime. And though it wasn’t the best article ever, I thought the meatball article was nice and straightforward. Again, I deal with people shopping for food everyday. It is shocking how little people know about cooking anymore. Back to basics is a good thing I think, I guess it’s all how you present it. That said….

    I think you are right on with your critique. If you keep catering to the lowest common denominator, where will that ever get you? Gourmet gave us the writings of M.F.K Fisher (The Art of Eating is the closest I’ll ever have to a Bible) who in my opinion, has never been bested. No other food writer has ever been able to master that graceful blend of elegance, humor, wit, knowledge, and plain common sense. Too many food writers fall into one of three categories: The Traditionalist (Jeffrey Steingarten). The Punk (Anthony Bourdain). Or The Know-It-All (Mark Bittman), and never break out of roles they seem to play. Oh, I forgot, there is a fourth… The Fool. Those who talk about trends without context or at the worst, have no context at all. And unfortunately, this seems to be what pops up most at Bon Appetite. I agree with you wholeheartedly. Step it up y’all! Basics are fine, but challenge us! Teach us something that has a high level of difficulty! Expand our palates! I know it’s hard to write about how to make a perfect omelet, but TRY. Do it!

    I raise my glass to you, bring on the next Gourmet!

  2. evmaroon permalink
    March 28, 2010 9:52 pm

    I agree, I love a good grilled sandwich, and I also appreciate a recipe that doesn’t require I run out the door to Sur La Table and plunk down $80 on a panini griller or some other expensive appliance. But I’m also not going to buy a magazine to get a meatball recipe. I want something that will get me to stretch, try out a new flavor profile or technique, or explain something to me that I didn’t know before.

    Recently, upon the suggestion of my favorite French pastry maker, I purchased a copy of In the Sweet Kitchen, and I was delighted by her discussion of vanilla bean pods, and the subtle differences in flavor from different regions that grow them. I grant that I am a food nerd, but I think there are many more of me out there. I’d also never before read about why artificial vanilla is so awful to consume–it’s a by-product of paper mills. Perhaps it’s part context, but I find the content of BA nearly insulting. Why not quickly cover how to infuse and then have an article on all of the neat things one could infuse: ginger, black tea, our friend the vanilla bean, chai spices. . . ?

    That said, I don’t want everything in a food magazine to be like mastering the half pipe in snowboarding. But I don’t want to be bored, either, and I really don’t care what celebrities are eating. Unless it’s Beyonce.

  3. March 28, 2010 11:12 pm

    This post, which was fantastic, reminded me of my feelings when Domino went under. I couldn’t understand why it didn’t make it when it definitely served a market. But upon reading – well having my partner read an article to me – I realize the demise of Gourmet is part of a growing trend of squeezing out the middle markets.

    In leaner economic times there does seem to be a tendency for middle market well established brands to disappear while lower end upstarts and luxury end product fare much better (Think – H&M and Nordstrom). Moreover, the middle – let’s call Gourmet the JcPenney of food mags in terms of brand recognition and price point, not quality, mind you – tends to have a higher price point that is often not commiserate with the quality of its product when compared to a Target price point mag or a Tiffany price point mag. And as more and more foodies take to blogs rather than traditional routes of publication to write about their obsession, it’s not likely those JcPenney style will have much value in the market.

    And as much as it pains me to say this, I don’t think this is entirely a terrible thing.

  4. March 28, 2010 11:13 pm

    Amen, on the Celeb front. Or celeb wines. Or celeb salsas! Ugh!

    Ooooh, Vanilla. Cooks did a tasting on Vanilla and the artificial ones ALWAYS won! Even with the seasoned chefs. Scary.

    Hey, I’m all about regions, I’m a wine steward. I think we are on the same page, I’m just assy about sandwiches. Like I said, I think your critique is spot on!

  5. msjacks permalink
    March 29, 2010 11:46 am

    “And as much as it pains me to say this, I don’t think this is entirely a terrible thing.”

    Yeah. Comparing to H&M/Target is pretty spot-on. I want to have nice stuff, but I am pretty insanely perpetually broke at the same time so I have to find a balance.

    The whole “5 meatball recipes” thing is hilarious!

  6. msjacks permalink
    March 29, 2010 4:10 pm

    A few hours later, I keep seeing the title of this and singing it to the tune of that Paula Cole song, “Where Have All The Cowboys Gone”.

  7. evmaroon permalink
    March 29, 2010 4:14 pm

    That’s exactly what I was going for! How exciting.

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