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RIP Gourmet Magazine: 1941-2009


adegiulio
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The announcement of closure of the mag came on the same day I received notice that my subscription had "officially expired," along with an offer to re-up. It must have indeed been a sudden death indeed, which seems to be the way business is done these days. Apparently, from their website, those of you who still have an active subscription will find Bon Appetit in your mailbox instead

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40 years ago Gourmet was the only 'Game in Town' and continued that way for many years but it also was well written and a useful magazine. Sometime in the past Gourmet changed to a helter skelter sort of melange of not too interesting articles and reviews. Saveur came on the scene and shortly showed what a class publication was like.

I will not miss Gourmet nor its sister publication 'Bon Appetit'. Someone gives us a sub to 'Bon Appetit' and i don't even open it. Saveur has also severly declined and will not be far behind Gourmet.-Dick

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I don't think that being "a class publication" has anything to do with it. All of these types of food magazines (Food & Wine, BA, Gourmet, Saveur) are swimming in the same shark-infested waters: low ad revenues, rapidly changing cultural and economic forces, the challenges of new media.

This discussion makes me wonder how more mainstream publications are doing. Take Taste of Home, a magazine usually left out of these discussions but one that is, in fact, the 500-lb gorilla in the world of food publishing, or Good Housekeeping or Better Homes and Gardens.

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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As far as I know, Taste of Home accepts no advertising, so is not vulnerable to plummeting ad revenue. It's also aimed at a different demographic than many of the food titles, and strongly encourages reader participation (which could strengthen reader loyalty, as well as keep editorial costs down).

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Nothing yet over at Bon Appetit, where they must be...feeling a strange combination of elation and dread.

And irony, if they've been around a while! By the middle or late 1970s, with the US food-magazine population in a growth spurt, everyone I knew who actually cooked preferred Bon Appetit. In a word, it was hipper. In tune with cooking amid busy working schedules ("T minus four weeks: Order the lamb ...") and food trends. Gourmet was dignified but staid, albeit always with the best photography. (I never took Gourmet, but bought random issues as much for the photos as anything else.) I don't know if BA and G had the same ownership then.

I wonder if anyone with older, pre-Reichl copies, could tell us the type of ads the magazine used to run in comparison to recent issues.

My experience was mostly with pre-Reichl Gourmet. I don't recall that she particularly started the trend -- already underway -- to advertising all those "professional" looking (yet UL, not NSF, certified) brushed-stainless yuppie show-kitchen appliances that Marcella Hazan, who knew something about cooking, already deplored in the 1970s.* I know little of Reichl's work (except one of her earlier food books), but not everyone applauded her move to Gourmet. From the 1999 introduction to the reissue of the Hesses' famous critique The Taste of America (a must-read for its other content, uniquely strong on food history):

Ruch Reichl [was] recently lured by Gourmet from the New York Times by a reported bonus of a million dollars ... Our final "De Gustibus" column in the Times concluded, "As long as fashion editors tell us what to eat, we shall eat badly." The line disappeared on the copy desk. Thereafter, fashion triumphed, totally ... In a Reichl review, the first question posed is what sort of people dine there. At one place, Ruth ... swooned upon spying the Queen of Mean, the ex-convict Leona Helmsley, in romantic congress with an attractive younger male; unfortunately, they were out of earshot. We're talking glamor.

--------

* Marcela Hazan: "I am very skeptical of the dream kitchen -- not necessarily because of its elaborate equipment, but because of the spirit in which it has been assembled. It sometimes seems to reflect more of an interest in theater than in the taste of cooking ... Some of the best food I have ever had has come from kitchens so bare that to use the word 'equipment' to describe their facilities would be an overstatement." -- More Classic Italian Cooking," 1978. Knopf, ISBN 0394498550.

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I dropped Gourmet years ago. I think it was when the article about how Argentinian cowboys cook their steaks struck me as totally irrelevant to my life.

I also dropped Bon Appetit. I couldn't stand to see one more group of happy good looking people, smiling around the table.

Now I get "Fine Cooking" which at least focuses on food, not lifestyle or travel.

"Cook's Illustrated"? ... I caught them on TV recently, making the "best diner pie". I think their niche is the church supper crowd.

*****

"Did you see what Julia Child did to that chicken?" ... Howard Borden on "Bob Newhart"

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As far as I know, Taste of Home accepts no advertising, so is not vulnerable to plummeting ad revenue. It's also aimed at a different demographic than many of the food titles, and strongly encourages reader participation (which could strengthen reader loyalty, as well as keep editorial costs down).

Alas, this is no longer correct. A short while ago there was an overhaul of the Taste of Home magazine and they began running ads. The magazine content was also tweaked and I think in the process it's lost some of the "charm" that made it such a unique magazine. The recipes they run now are a little more...uhm...adventurous now (Smoked Salmon-Dijon Créme Fraiche Canapés, anyone? :blink: ).

 

“Peter: Oh my god, Brian, there's a message in my Alphabits. It says, 'Oooooo.'

Brian: Peter, those are Cheerios.”

– From Fox TV’s “Family Guy”

 

Tim Oliver

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I started taking Gourmet in the '60's and compared with what was avaliable in the UK at the time it was a brilliant magazine. In recent years its main draw to me was that the recipes were in imperial not metric as we are in the UK now! Eventualy after about two years with Reichl at the helm I cancelled my sub. I got fed up with the high proportion of advertisements and lack of articles of any substance on food and wine.

As the editor of a food and wine magazine albeit a very small publication I know how difficualt it is to remain focused particulary as we rely on part of our content being contributions from our members. We rarely carry advertisements as our members subs pay for the publication which means every page of content is relevent. Maybe this is the way magazines will go in future specialist publications for enthusiast.

Pam Brunning Editor Food & Wine, the Journal of the European & African Region of the International Wine & Food Society

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We rarely carry advertisements as our members subs pay for the publication which means every page of content is relevent. Maybe this is the way magazines will go in future specialist publications for enthusiast.

Unfortunately (and ironically) Pam, precisely the opposite was the history with US pub'ns, when that was tried with the related topic of wine.

Among US wine publications for consumers (a genre that grew rapidly in the 1970s) one of the largest was a general magazine with feature articles and extensive tasting notes from respected wine writers tasting blind in panels. It pointedly carried no advertising and survived on subscription sales, claiming that advertising threatened the objectivity of its criticism. It was widely read among wine enthusiasts. It failed in the 1980s. A later publication, carrying some of the same wine writers but strongly focused on advertising, prospered: the Wine Spectator.. Some of its practices have even raised eyebrows, as in a 2008 LA times artice that includes:

"Milan’s Osteria L’Intrepido restaurant won Wine Spectator magazine’s award of excellence this year despite a wine list that features a 1993 Amarone Classico Gioe S. Sofia, which the magazine once likened to 'paint thinner and nail varnish.' Even worse: Osteria L’Intrepido doesn’t exist. To the magazine’s chagrin, the restaurant is a Web-based fiction devised by wine critic and author Robin Goldstein, who said he wanted to expose the lack of any foundation for many food and wine awards. ... This year, nearly 4,500 restaurants spent $250 each to apply or reapply for the Wine Spectator award, and all but 319 won the award of excellence or some greater kudos ... That translates to more than $1 million in revenue."

Goldstein's online material about the case has more details: "one of [WS's] main claims (aside from calling me names) was that its staff had 'called the restaurant multiple times.' However, the only message that was ever left on the restaurant’s voice mailbox (before this story broke) was on May 22, 2008, after Osteria L’Intrepido had already won the Award of Excellence. The message was from the magazine’s ad sales department, asking me if I’d like to buy an advertisement for Osteria L’Intrepido to appear in the August issue along with my listing. You can listen to the voicemail here..."

There's more, but the point is, practical experience hasn't favored the noble but unprofitable concept of advertising-free enthusiast media.

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I cancelled all my magazine subscriptions because I was not able to purchase the content digitally, on a CD or DVD for instance, so that I could organize and manage my recipes online, something that I STILL wish I could do, and with my cookbooks as well. If I could access *my* online database to flag recipes I want to try, create menues, find recipes using unique combinations of ingredients, or look up book/equipment reviews, I would have kept them all. But in the absence of any sort of multi-issue index (not even a yearly one, much less a multi-year one, was ever available) I was spending too much time looking through hundreds of issues and found my cookbooks to be a more accessible source for recipes.

Last year, a friend gave me a free subscription to the new Bon Appetit and I can honestly say that I couldn't wait for it to expire. I hate the format so much -- the ads look like copy, the copy looks like ads, and there aren't enough photos -- that after thumbing through the first few issues I stopped reading them. I cracked open the last issue before replying to this thread and was dismayed to find several recipes that I might actually use this fall. "Dismayed" because I dislike the format so much I didn't want to find anything positive in the content!

That same friend introduced me to Epicurious.com and to Gourmet's online presence (when DH was pressuring me to throw out my old copies that were gathering dust in his garage) so I researched the extent of their online database and discovered that it only goes back to 1985 or so, not all the photos were uploaded, and, since they refused to sell me a downloadable version, I decided to keep the old mags.

What I liked BEST about the old Gourmet was their photos. They had the most amazing food stylist. I have always had trouble with presentation and their photos gave me ideas that I still use today. While I used the recipes in all the magazines I subscribed to, Gourmet's inspiration was what set my table apart. Eating, after all, is not only about food -- it's about service and ambiance and context. Even though I may never cook a steak the way an Argentinean gaucho would I still want to know how he did it and when I'm serving an Argentinean dinner I will tell that story to my tablemates while they're eating "my version".

Although I was not a current subscriber, I was saddened by the news. I do use Epicuriuos.com both for recipes and for the feedback comments (I like the fact that you can print the recipes with selected comments only) and hope that doesn't bite the dust as well.

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What's unclear to me, in all of these discussions of how the Web is killing print when it comes to professional publications, is where the content is going to come from. I hear so many people who say they don't subscribe but they access the publication's info online. Yet all that info comes from journalists paid to write for said publication. No writers equals no content equals no real advertisers equals no print OR online publication. Every time a print publication goes, so does the stable of experienced writers. I am waiting to see if Conde Nast is going to re-hire some of the fired Gourmet writers to write for epicurious.com.

Sigh, it will be interesting to see how online sites make itself profitable in the next decade. Or not.

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Let me begin my own late entry into this discussion by noting that today's Boston Globe article on Gourmet's demise quoted our own Chris Amirault from this thread. Read it here. Way to go, Chris.

Like others, I have mixed feelings about Gourmet's finale. When I stumbled onto Gourmet in the late 1980s while I was in grad school, it seemed like a huge discovery. My own serious interest in the culinary world was just taking off, and there were few other venues (that I knew about, anyway) that let me eavesdrop onto the debates and discussions that were out there. Almost everything--the restaurant reviews, the travel pieces, the great articles, photos, etc.--were new to me and I couldn't get enough. I owe a lot to Gourmet. One of the dumbest things I've ever done was to sell a complete 12-year set of issues before I moved from St. Louis to Boston for $20 (before eBay, there were only yard sales).

Fast forward. Issues and recipes became repetitive and boring. Good writing became scarce. With entire issues turned over to "the Hotel issue" and the like, it seemed as if Conde Naste was trying to force their travel mags down my throat when I wouldn't subscribe to them. I had high hopes for Gourmet when Ruth Reichel became editor but although there was the ocassional good article, one had to wade through all the product placement to find them. Not just food products but all the luxury items one must have to suffer though the flight to Paris en route to that perfect meal. Enough. I haven't picked up an issue in years and haven't missed it.

But I will think of Gourmet every holiday season, when I make pounds of the almond butter cookie recipe I found there years ago and has since become my signature Christmas cookie.


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I received the November (and last) issue in the mailbox yesterday, which turned out to be a total snore. While I was saddened at the news, I have to say that I probably won't miss it all that much.

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In a moment of weird prognostication, the letter from editor Reichl is titled "Reality Show":

And, inevitably, when the evening ends, and all the pies have been eaten, I'll be facing a mountain of dishes. Anyone who cares to pitch in is welcome to do so; I can always use a little help from my friends.

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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I received the November (and last) issue in the mailbox yesterday, which turned out to be a total snore. While I was saddened at the news, I have to say that I probably won't miss it all that much.

On NPR, Reichl said she would have created a very different issue had she known it would be the magazine's last. I guess that goes without saying, but she certainly left the impression that the November issue is not how she wants Gourmet to be remembered. Those Thanksgiving issues can often be a snore.

There is a lot of talk tying Gourmet's demise to its failure to serve its readers (not saying I personally agree with that), but that wasn't really the problem . The problem was the steep drop in ads. So what makes companies look at a magazine and decide to stop buying ads in it? Or did Gourmet just bet on the wrong advertisers: makers of luxury goods that got hit harder than other section in the recession.

Todd A. Price aka "TAPrice"

Homepage and writings; A Frolic of My Own (personal blog)

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The death of Gourmet makes me really really sad. I'm not exagerating when I say that one of the summer issues a few years ago focusing on local eating literally changed my life. Or at least, the parts of it that relate to food. I'm not so much sad for myself, because I, too, had let my subscription lapse. I'm more sad for the unknown number of young women out there like me, who won't have Gourmet in their mailbox every month, bridging the gap from mom's old recipes and the Food Network to something better in the kitchen, to beauty, and romance, and slightly breathless recipes accompanying travelogues. I'm sad because I know that this magazine was exactly what I needed to evolve from just someone who cooks, to someone who thinks about where my food comes from, how is the best way to prepare it, what do I take into account when feeding myself. I always sort of looked at Gourmet as my more stylish, more sophisticated friend who came over and cooked with me, and I'm sad that it's gone.

"Nothing you could cook will ever be as good as the $2.99 all-you-can-eat pizza buffet." - my EX (wonder why he's an ex?)

My eGfoodblog: My corner of the Midwest

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I received the November (and last) issue in the mailbox yesterday, which turned out to be a total snore. While I was saddened at the news, I have to say that I probably won't miss it all that much.

On NPR, Reichl said she would have created a very different issue had she known it would be the magazine's last. I guess that goes without saying, but she certainly left the impression that the November issue is not how she wants Gourmet to be remembered. Those Thanksgiving issues can often be a snore.

I'm generally not a big fan of Thanksgiving issues, but I was sooo sad last night as I was reading this issue knowing it would be the last. It's disappointing that they couldn't do a 'goodbye' issue.

The death of Gourmet makes me really really sad. I'm not exagerating when I say that one of the summer issues a few years ago focusing on local eating literally changed my life. Or at least, the parts of it that relate to food. I'm not so much sad for myself, because I, too, had let my subscription lapse. I'm more sad for the unknown number of young women out there like me, who won't have Gourmet in their mailbox every month, bridging the gap from mom's old recipes and the Food Network to something better in the kitchen, to beauty, and romance, and slightly breathless recipes accompanying travelogues. I'm sad because I know that this magazine was exactly what I needed to evolve from just someone who cooks, to someone who thinks about where my food comes from, how is the best way to prepare it, what do I take into account when feeding myself. I always sort of looked at Gourmet as my more stylish, more sophisticated friend who came over and cooked with me, and I'm sad that it's gone.

I agree with this sentiment. Gourmet made me a better cook and more informed. I still have the issue on the impact of Walmart on food prices and product variety. I've gotten a lot of the other magazines over the years and I let them all lapse. I don't think I will be subscribing to any others for awhile. I'm assuming my cookbook collection will increase or I will start reading more blogs than I currently am to help fill this void.

I like cows, too. I hold buns against them. -- Bucky Cat.

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  • 2 weeks later...

At first, I wasn't really saddened or shocked at the news of the sudden closure of Gourmet. I had become increasingly frustrated with the Conde Nast corporate layout of the magazine in recent years—you know, the ubiquitous formula where the first 100 pages of a magazine are chock full of ads with barely a whimper of editorial content. One must slog through all the commerce to even get to the start of a piece about artisan cheesemakers, only to find the article opens with one photo and two paragraphs of type, then is shamelessly broken-up by more ads and a frustrating “continued on page 278” notice on page one of the piece.

But as the days after the news of Gourmet’s demise passed, I reflected on what that magazine has meant to so many generations of cooks and the influence the magazine and its writer’s had on the way we dined and thought about food.

Every year during the holidays, I bring out old copies of Gourmet and Bon Appetit to remind myself of how we’ve celebrated the holidays with food and drink through the years. When I heard the news of the passing of Gourmet, it hastened my annual search through the boxes for the oldest holiday issue of Gourmet in my collection—December, 1974.

The editor at the time was Mr. Earle R. MacAusland. The slate of writers whose works were included in the December 1974 issue included such standard bearers in the food world at the time as Jay Jacobs, whose “Specialities de la Maison-New York,” was one of the most popular monthly features of the magazine. His reviews in this issue included Le Cirque, One if By Land…Two if By Sea and Ristorante Il Rigoletto. Go back in time 35 years ago in the history of Le Cirque and Sirio's kitchen was run by Chef Jean Vergnes. Mr. Jacobs review described dishes of “Consomme Celestine,” “festive” seasonal dishes like “Roast Baby Pheasant a la Souvarov,” served with wines like a 1967 Saint-Julien for the princely sum of $15 per bottle. (Entrée’s averaged $9.00 in 1974).

Along with Mr. Jacobs, the issue included, among other pieces, Caroline Bates monthly feature, “Specialities de la Maison-California,” “London Journal” by John Bainbridge and additional pieces on “Skiing in Val Gardena,” “Madrid’s Café Gijon,” “Ductch Cookery,” and of course, a Gourmet Christmas Dinner feast with recipes.

Losing Gourmet to me isn’t so much about the loss of learning new recipes, I can find other resources for recipes. And it isn’t so much about not having access to reading restaurant reviews. But there was something different, something old-fashioned and wise, something sage about the writing and the restaurant reviews printed on the pages of Gourmet. I’ll miss that voice of food writing from the past.

This December, I won’t have a new issue of Gourmet to add to my collection. I won’t be adding new Gourmet memories to the memories of Christmas’s past. I think that’s the thing I’ll miss the most about losing Gourmet.

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... December, 1974. / The editor at the time was Mr. Earle R. MacAusland.

Yes, MacAusland's name will be familiar to many people in the US who've used the classic 1950 Gourmet Cookbook (a million copies in print? including later supplements and sequels), where he appears as "Publisher" and wrote the foreword. I don't know his exact tenure, but MacAusland seems to've been a seminal force in guiding the magazine and establishing its original reputation (and active there for much longer than Reichl, for example).

For literally decades, despite other important cookbooks before and after, the "Gourmet" had a unique stature as the mainstream high-end general US cookbook. Several positive eccentricities rewarded the reader: Witty chapter introductions of a kind rare today (musing on the French vs. the English on both sauces and religions, and the close connection therebetween; the poet who composed a salad and ate it; the remarkable Brillat quotation below, whose source I hadn't remembered in an earlier posting). And many gems of amazingly successful recipes that I've used (the kind so good and useful that one or two such can justify buying a book.)

When I last checked, it was readily and cheaply available used (like many excellent books of earlier years). If you seek it out, take care to get the original 1950 Cookbook rather than the supplements that served the evident interest it created. Those include the 1963 Gourmet Menu Cookbook and the "Revised" two-volume Gourmet (1965) -- all worthwhile, yet none as unique as the original. (The 1965 two-volume version includes more recipes, but also "revised" away a few memorable bits of the original). MacAusland edited all of them.

--

"Adam and Eve sold themselves for an apple. What would they have done for a truffled fowl?" -- J.-A. de Brillat-Savarin

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Russ Parsons at the L.A. Times takes another stab at the "why Gourmet is gone" genre. At this rate, we will soon has enough material for a thick anthology.

I'll have to admit that I can't really follow his argument. He says that Gourmet was not failing, because it had plenty of readers and in a company other than Conde Nast it would have been seen as strong and kept alive. And then he says that the reason it failed was that its reach was too broad and its demise signals the era of narrowly focused food magazines. Those seem like contradictory positions to me.

Parsons, like most writers on this subject, dances around the question of why advertisers were fleeing from Gourmet. Failure might be too strong a word, but clearly Gourmet was attracting a lot less advertising than Conde Nast's other food title. What I've never seen explained is why this is the case.

A) Either Gourmet made a bad bet on luxury advertisers and in the down economy they trimmed advertising so sharply that the magazine couldn't stay alive.

or

B) Something about Gourmet made the advertisers (not the readers) turn away from the food market (my understanding is that most of Conde Nast's other titles also rely on advertisers selling primarily to the luxury market).

If the answer is (a), then it was just an unfortunate business decision. If the answer is (b), then maybe Gourmet's end says something larger about trends in the food world.

Todd A. Price aka "TAPrice"

Homepage and writings; A Frolic of My Own (personal blog)

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