The XX Factor

Goodbye, Gourmet: In Praise of Food Snobbery

As part of my never-ending war on clutter, I was about to scrap the 20-odd-year collection of Gourmet magazines in my office closet, but then I heard the news today of its demise, and I’m glad I didn’t. I thumbed through an issue from 1996: It has a dozen-plus page article from Nancy Silverton with exhausting details on making sourdough breads from scratch. Gourmet always pitched its articles and its recipes for the ambitious-it was a point of pride both before and after Ruth Reichl took over the magazine in 1999 and modernized it. While the rest of the food industry seems to be headed toward quickfire, celebrity-driven easy-cooking shows, the soon-to-be-late Gourmet magazine was proud of its wordy approach to food and commitment to thinking about food’s place in politics and society, and yet it was always willing to tell you best way to make a blueberry streusel cake. ( Gourmet ’s test kitchen is fantastic, and I hope it will survive in some form.)

No matter how evolved I think I can be food-wise, Gourmet could always do me one better-reminding me that there was Basque grilling master whose food I had yet to taste or a brand of argan oil that pantry ached for. It schooled me on down-home American food (with Jane and Michael Sterns’ classic roadfood column) and the outer reaches of home entertaining with its lavish pictorial and recipe spreads. Read this essay on wartime Tibet from 1944 , or this one from Oaxaca in 1977, and you’ll get a sense of how far-ranging the magazine has always been. Over the years, Gourmet published essays by greats like Samuel Chamberlain, MFK Fisher, James Beard, Joseph Wechsberg (a personal fave), Clementine Paddleford, Elizabeth David, and Madhur Jaffrey. Gourmet was also a trendsetter in the visual representation of food, recently bringing back a sense of longing and narrative to its photo spreads with work by John Kernick and Roland Bello. I’ve never cooked a gourmet menu from start to finish, but a new issue was always a call to arms for me to get back in the kitchen and try something new.

More recently, of course, the magazine devoted more space to simpler recipes, something it did well, but it always seemed to be a little grudgingly … the photos in their Quick Kitchen sections always looked a little mournful, as if to say “We all have to be practical from time to time, but isn’t it dreary-wouldn’t you rather be eating soup dumplings and dacquoise?” Yes, Gourmet , I would.

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