Monday, March 16, 2009

Revisiting Gourmet Magazine



The first time that I looked at a food magazine was in 1977. I was 22 and had spent the better part of my time, up until then, learning how to cook traditional American home cooking. My repertoire of ethnic fare included Swedish Meatballs, Turkey Tetrazzini, Beef Stroganoff and Chicken Florentine. The actual ethnicity of these dishes was dubious, at best. I had just gotten hired as an apprentice Garde Manger at the now defunct Petroleum Club, in Evansville Indiana. The kitchen, and the club, in regards to the style of food and service, was completely old school Continental. The waiters wore tuxedos with white gloves, there were at least 10 items on the menu that were flambĂ©ed tableside and much of what we prepared was straight out of Escoffier’s “le Guide Culinaire”. My introduction to Gourmet magazine coincided with my induction into the kitchens of Haute Cuisine and helped to place me decidedly in the camp of those who live to eat.

I can’t say when the last time was that I read a current issue of Gourmet. I have been on their website on occasion, and have watched the show “Diary of a Foodie”, but I haven’t really read the print copy in years. I browsed through one at a bookstore recently and decided to pass on it based on the fact that the sheer volume of advertisements was staggering. It had the same feel as GQ, or Cosmo, where one has to plow through page after page of ads in order to stumble upon a couple of narrow columns of text. I am sure this is due to an ever-increasing reliance on that ad revenue. The Gourmet of old, at $8.00 per year subscription rate, had that as a major source of income. Considering today’s printing costs, the present rate of $12.00 per year could hardly cover production expenses.

My thoughts for this post were formed the other day when I received 6 issues of Gourmet, from 1975, that I had purchased on ebay for $10.00 including shipping. I had been rereading Patrick Kuh’s “The last Days of Haute Cuisine” and David Kamp’s “The United States of Arugula” and noticed how they both gave special emphasis to the October 1975 review of Chez Panisse by Caroline Bates. The fact that this review put Chez Panisse on the map is beside my point. It was reporting like this, that young cooks, such as myself, needed to move beyond the restraints of the classical kitchen and keep abreast of the contemporary restaurant scene in America.

The travel writing of gourmet was also an important aspect of the publication. We all take the Internet for granted when seeking new information. Need a recipe for Chicken Tika Masala? No problem, Want to watch a video demonstrating hydrocolloid sphere making procedure? You can pretty much find cooking information from the exotic to the pedestrian. My first forays into Portuguese, Brazilian and Spanish cuisines, in the seventies, were due to reading Gourmet. Access to decent ethnic cookbooks at that time was near nonexistent.

Today, most chefs look upon Gourmet and other cooking publications as being geared more towards the home cook and view them as more than just a little condescending. However, I do owe Gourmet a debt of gratitude for planting a seed, fanning a flame and ultimately assisting me in my choice of careers. Maybe I will buy another issue.

1 comment:

redfrog9 said...

I bought one back in 2002, I think, because it centered on Mexico - still have it and use today as the articles and recipes rank up there as good or better than the best Diana Kennedy stuff. You're right about the ads - fucking staggering. That's how it goes with all the old standards of a passed avante garde. 20 pages of Johnnie Walker Blue getting sipped by wraiths draped in Armani, Prada AND Vans just to get to the Table of Contents in Rolling Stone.