Closing the Book on Gourmet

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SINCE 1941 Gourmet's November issue will be its last.

ONE of the first things Ruth Reichl did after telling
her staff on Monday that Condé Nast had closed
Gourmet was to lock up the library with
its landmark collection of 70 years
of cookbooks and typewritten recipes.

"That's not going to disappear," she said, adding

that she had strongly suggested to S. I. Newhouse Jr.,

the company's chairman, that he donate

the archives to the New York Public Library

or to a university.

Then she and her staff gathered bottles of wine

and liquor from the office and held

a wake at her apartment.

Readers are mourning in their own ways.

Killing Gourmet and keeping Bon Appétit,

which had more readers and stronger ad numbers,

may have made business sense for Condé Nast.

But to the food elite — especially

of an older generation — it felt like a gut punch.

How had the magazine that seemed more likely

to stay home, broil pork chops and take care

of the kids won out over its sexy, well-read,

globetrotting sister?

And what does a world without Gourmet portend

for an age when millions prefer to share

recipes online, restaurant criticism is becoming

crowd-sourced and newspaper food sections

are thinner and thinner?

"It has a certain doomsday quality because

it's not just a food magazine.

It represents so much more," said James Oseland,

editor in chief of Saveur, a smaller,

younger food magazine.

"It's an American cultural icon."

The magazine, founded in 1941, thrived on

a rush of postwar aspiration and became

a touchstone for readers who wanted

lives filled with dinner parties, reservations

at important restaurants

and exotic but comfortable travel.

Although it was easy to paint Gourmet

as the food magazine for the elite,

it was a chronicler of a nation's food history,

from its early fascination with the French culinary

canon to its discovery of Mediterranean

and Asian flavors to its recent focus

on the source of food and

the politics surrounding it.

In the decade since Ruth Reichl took over

as editor, she underlined everything from

the exploitation of tomato pickers in Florida

to dishes like chicken and dumplings

that could be on the stove,

simmering, in 15 minutes.

But whatever the fashion of the time,

Gourmet remained a place where people

learned how to eat and cook — particularly

for an older generation.

"Gourmet was the only resource you had

other than your cookbooks," said Judy Walker,

the food editor of The Times-Picayune

in New Orleans.

Over the course of nearly 70 years,

Gourmet has a recipe database enviable

in both size and quality.

The pool is so deep that Gourmet compiled

a cookbook of more than 1,000 recipes in 2006,

then turned around and published more

than 1,000 more in "Gourmet Today," which

arrived — in one of the industry's great

moments of bad timing — in September.

"It feels like the last act of this magazine

should be to support this book," said Ms. Reichl,

who is heading to the Midwest this week

to promote it.

After a short rest, she plans

to write a book about her years

at Condé Nast.

Chefs, too, lamented the magazine's passing.

For many, their dreams of a life

in the kitchen were born in its pages.

"Growing up, my parents' copies of Gourmet

were my only window into

the high-end restaurant world,"

said Andrew Carmellini of Locanda Verde.

Scott Peacock, the Atlanta chef who

has become known for Southern cooking,

made his first biscuits as boy using

a recipe from Gourmet.

Years later, biscuits from his own recipe

would be on the cover of the magazine.

"That magazine was a big deal to me

growing up in Hartford, Alabama," he said.

"It was a glimpse into another world,

one that I was interested in."

The magazine also provided a home for literate,

thoughtful food writing.

Its stable of contributors included

James Beard, Laurie Colwin and

M. F. K. Fisher.

In the 1940s and '50s, the restaurateur

Lucius Beebe wrote a meandering column

called Along the Boulevards.

"Gourmet was the New Yorker of food magazines

back in the 1970s and '80s,"

said Jim Lahey, a Manhattan baker.

Gourmet magazine was an early influence

on Alice Waters, who recalls building files

of recipes and photographs of dishes

that she and Lindsey Shere,

the first pastry chef of Chez Panisse,

wanted to make.

And, she said, for some restaurateurs,

a review in Gourmet used to mean everything.

"Yes, you could be in The New York Times,

but that was sort of fleeting.

Gourmet was just a bigger

cultural picture," she said.

The magazine had its detractors, too,

and they are doing plenty of Monday

morning quarterbacking: Gourmet was

out of step with the times,

both in content and design, they say.

"The magazine has been casting about

and remade itself too many times,"

said Nach Waxman, the owner of

the Kitchen Arts and Letters

bookstore in Manhattan.

"Gourmet got away from the things

that are going on in people's homes,

and seemed to be for an elite

that got smaller and smaller,"

said Judith Jones, the Knopf editor,

who believes food magazines in general

have become too focused

on fashion and style.

Still, there are believers. Kylie Sachs,

a venture capitalist and subscriber

for 15 years, took to Twitter on Monday

and started a campaign to save Gourmet.

In 24 hours, she had almost 200 followers.

Ms. Sachs, 37, thinks readers could rise up

to save what she says is a tested brand

whose reliability is even more important

in a digital age.

And if she fails, she will still head

into Thanksgiving — the first she is cooking

for her family in her Brooklyn home — with

Gourmet's November issue, its last, at her side.

"I'll have a good, trusted friend guiding me,"

she said.

Julia Moskin and Florence Fabricant contributed reporting.

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  1. Sad to see the magazine go away but when the market speaks with their dollars then you have to be ever cognizant of that yes? They will be missed by their fans for sure.

  2. I think that this magazine's fans have to act. The twitter's move is one of the ways.
    A website for people ready to give an hand so that magazine as the Phoenix comes again with more stamina. We have to be more actors than spectators..

    Lol, Gbu

    J-L K