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Design Changes at Gourmet


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#1 Chris Amirault

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Posted 30 November 2005 - 11:13 AM

One of the things that many of us here have noticed are the design changes that have followed your arrival at Gourmet. For example, there seem to be more short-information items, particularly in the back of the magazine. Can you tell us more about those? What design changes have you initiated? To what ends? Do you think that the changes have been successful?
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#2 Ruth Reichl

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Posted 30 November 2005 - 04:21 PM

One of the things that many of us here have noticed are the design changes that have followed your arrival at Gourmet. For example, there seem to be more short-information items, particularly in the back of the magazine. Can you tell us more about those? What design changes have you initiated? To what ends? Do you think that the changes have been successful?

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You're right, the design changes have been enormous. When I got here there was a 2 person art department, no photo editor and almost all of the photographs were taken by our own photographer, Romulo Yanes, here in our studio. Now we have 9 people in the art department and while Romulo still takes a lot of the pictures, we do most of our big entertaining shoots on location, using a wide variety of photographers.
But the magazine's changed a couple of times, even since I've been here. At first I brought in the wonderful Diana LaGuardia, who gave the magazine one look. She pioneered the look of Gourmet EveryDay, a technique that allowed the recipes to be printed right on the picture of the dish. (We were stunned to see Every Day Food when it first came out, which was a replica of that look.) When Diana left, Richard Ferretti came and basically redesigned Gourmet. I've loved what both of them has done.

The other big change is that, from the moment I got here, we began using the front and back of teh book very differently than the well. The well is now much more visual, belonging mostly to photographs. The front of the book is very type-driven. And I initiated Kitchen Notebook in the back of the book, to give the kitchen a voice. After all, with 8 test kitchens and 11 food editors, you want to feel their presence.

There's a lot of carping on EGullet about the look of Gourmet, but I think if we were still putting out the old Gourmet there would be even more. It would look incredibly old fashioned.

#3 Chris Amirault

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Posted 30 November 2005 - 05:30 PM

Thanks for the detailed reply. I really appreciate Kitchen Notebook, personally, and think that the vast majority of the changes have been for the (much) better.

To be frank, I'll fess up as a carp(er? not sure of the noun here) about one thing, though: the Cooks-As-Rock-Stars cover. That seems to me a rare, substantial misstep. Not sure what you were going for there -- I'd be interested to know!
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#4 Ruth Reichl

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Posted 30 November 2005 - 07:55 PM

Thanks for the detailed reply. I really appreciate Kitchen Notebook, personally, and  think that the vast majority of the changes have been for the (much) better.

To be frank, I'll fess up as a carp(er? not sure of the noun here) about one thing, though: the Cooks-As-Rock-Stars cover. That seems to me a rare, substantial misstep. Not sure what you were going for there -- I'd be interested to know!

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You were certainly not alone; that was a love or hate thing. More hate, I suspect. I knew we were taking a chance there, but I thought it would be fun.

I was getting so tired of hearing about the chef as rock star thing, that I thought we'd make our own comment on it. And then I met Matthew Rolston at a friend's wedding in LA, and I asked if he'd ever consider shooting for us, and he turned out to be a Gourmet fan, and it seemed like serendipity.
Maybe it was a mistake - it certainly was not a newsstand success - but one of the things I love about my job is that I have the leeway to make mistakes. I'd much rather take chances and not have them all work out than just continue to do the same, safe things.
The thing is, we all had a great time doing that cover: The chefs, the staff, the art people, and it gave the magazine a kind of energy. Cover aside, I think that issue is one of the ones I'm most proud of. I'd do it again in a second.

#5 Chris Amirault

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Posted 30 November 2005 - 08:14 PM

Maybe it was a mistake - it certainly was not a newsstand success - but one of the things I love about my job is that I have the leeway to make mistakes.  I'd much rather take chances and not have them all work out than just continue to do the same, safe things. 

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More power to you! Thanks for a great answer.
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#6 Vinfidel

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Posted 01 December 2005 - 04:25 AM

having been a art director for many years i have to say that you and your teams did an amazing facelift for gourmet

you made it relevan to a new generation through style and substance and for sure did not scare away the old generation with your honest yet beautiful photography

bravo!

#7 LindaK

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Posted 01 December 2005 - 08:03 PM

Thanks so much or joining us, we’re an opinionated bunch no doubt. It sounds like you’ve done your homework on us as well.

I’m still on the fence about the design and content changes that you’ve implemented. I totally agree with your comment that the “old” Gourmet would seem terribly old-fashioned today—in fact, I think it seemed old-fashioned long before you took the helm. I love the Kitchen Notebook, the focus on farming and sustainability, and other innovations. But I’ll admit, I’m put off by what seems to have become ubiquitous product placement and hotel/travel recommendations. I don’t read Gourmet for wedding gift ideas, “must have” items for the traveler, or trendy hotel recommendations, etc.

I’m sure you’ve heard this before. Is this just publishing economics, or is there a vision here?

On another design topic, any hindsight thoughts on doing away with—then bringing back—“the Last Touch”? That certainly seemed to divide the readership.


 


#8 jgm

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Posted 01 December 2005 - 08:24 PM

I'd like to ask particularly about the issue with the birthday cake/cupcakes on the cover. People really reacted to that! When I saw it, I perceived it as something a little different for Gourmet, but I didn't have a negative reaction. I know you must have read much more mail than you had room to print. Those who had such strong negative reactions -- why do you think they hated it so much? Would you do it again?

#9 Ruth Reichl

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Posted 01 December 2005 - 09:54 PM

I'd like to ask particularly about the issue with the birthday cake/cupcakes on the cover.  People really reacted to that!  When I saw it, I perceived it as something a little different for Gourmet, but I didn't have a negative reaction.  I know you must have read much more mail than you had room to print.  Those who had such strong negative reactions -- why do you think they hated it so much?  Would you do it again?

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The cupcake thing really floored me. I still don't get it. Don't even get why that cover was "soemthing a little different for Gourmet." How? I just thought Gina's idea was great - bake a cake for the grown ups and decorate it with cupcakes for the kids. It was so pretty, it just made a great cover.

But I LOVED that it got that strong a reaction. And yes, I'd definitely do it again. (And unlike some of the covers that I've known were a stretch, that one sold very well.)

As for the previous post - about the content of the magazine - travel, products, hotel recommendations - those have always been part of hte DNA of the magazine. We're not doing anything different there than the magazine has always done. Maybe a little less, actually, because things, as such,, don't interest me all that much. But the readers have always wanted to know where to buy things, where to stay when they travel, etc.

Incidentally, we don't do product placement. Ever. Much to some of our advertisers' chagrin. But we do try to use new plates, glasses and so forth in our pictures. What makes this difficult is that usually we shoot a year ahead.

AS for bringing back The Last Touch - I'm thrilled that people care so much. I feel that this magazine belongs not to me, but to its readers, who feel a really visceral connection to it. And when they make it clear that they really want something, we'd be crazy not to give it to them.

#10 bloviatrix

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Posted 01 December 2005 - 10:40 PM

Obviously, a magazine like Gourmet has to appeal to wide constituency - from those who read it for the vicarious thrill but never cook to those who are hard-core and passionate about food (like the group you have here). How do you and your staff go about creating content that will please such a diverse group?

Edited by bloviatrix, 01 December 2005 - 10:40 PM.

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#11 Ruth Reichl

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Posted 02 December 2005 - 06:09 AM

Obviously, a magazine like Gourmet has to appeal to wide constituency - from those who read it for the vicarious thrill but never cook to those who are hard-core and passionate about food (like the group you have here).  How do you and your staff go about creating content that will please such a diverse group?

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Frankly, we don't. I think if you start trying to second guess your audience, you're doomed. WE're a diverse group too, we edit very much as a group, and we simply try to put out the best, most interesting magazine we can. We're passionate about the subject, and we figure if we please ourselves, we'll please our audience.
(And believe me, we have long and passionate fights about the content of the magazine.)

#12 oakapple

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Posted 02 December 2005 - 06:46 AM

Funnily enough, I was in the Pearl Oyster Bar last night (18 Cornelia St., btwn Bleecker & W 4th). There on the wall was an enlarged copy of the cover from Gourmet's July 1945 issue, which sold for 25 cents. The cover showed a lobster and a pot of boiling water on a stove.

#13 Ruth Reichl

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Posted 02 December 2005 - 12:13 PM

Funnily enough, I was in the Pearl Oyster Bar last night (18 Cornelia St., btwn Bleecker & W 4th). There on the wall was an enlarged copy of the cover from Gourmet's July 1945 issue, which sold for 25 cents. The cover showed a lobster and a pot of boiling water on a stove.

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I was really happy when Rebecca put that cover up. That's one of my favorite restaurants; my idea of pure heaven is to go to Pearl and have a bucket of steamers, a salad, a lobster (boiled not broiled), and then one of those amazing sundaes.