In praise of the late Gourmet

How will we food lovers go on without our beloved magazine?

When the e-mail came, I opened it innocently enough – another missive from an old friend. But it was such sad news, for which I was totally unprepared. Gourmet magazine has been closed.

Forever? How can this be? Can we storm down the doors at Conde Nast? How will we food lovers go on? For almost 70 years this venerable publication has tested and retested thousands of recipes encouraging the masses to relish our food.

It introduced us to writers like the late Laurie Colwin (if you haven't read her book "Home Cooking," go out and get it now) and asked us to examine our relationship not just with food, but with the history of food, its politics and provenance.

Gourmet challenged American palates to explore everything from the most exotic to the most humble and down-home. I, for one, have learned about everything from Korean banchan to how to bake better bread, and my life and the lives of those I feed are better for it.

According to reports, in the end it came down to numbers: circulation and advertising revenue. There is an economic reality for the parent company that took our sentimental and intellectual attachment to Gourmet and cruelly cut the cord.

Some may level other arguments against it: too luxe, too perfectionistic, with recipes often too obscure or complicated.

But, as with Julia Child, another grande dame of cuisine, Gourmet gave something to its audience that is beyond price: inspiration. For beginners, for passionate home cooks, and for aspiring chefs like me, Gourmet gave us a standard.

Its sumptuous photography; intelligent writing; and unique, rigorously tested recipes gave us a reason to march to the market, get out our knives, and cook. We had something to work up to, a little beyond the everyday.

Have I yet made Maggie Ruggiero's recipe for homemade Lillet marshmallows? No, but that's only a matter of time and circumstance. 

I have made many dishes I never thought I could, and others, like blackberry brown sugar cake, were worth the time and effort. Sure, it took me three hours but it was the most special and delicious cake I've ever made.

Those recipe pages, torn from the September 2006 issue, are smudged with buttery fingerprints and blackberry juice.

Every month my issue arrived in the mail. I would grab the nearest comfortable perch and satisfying beverage and then dive in and dog-ear the pages.

Even though Gourmet will live on in some other media incarnations, I have to say, you just can't get the same experience from the Epicurious application for the iPhone.

So now, here I am, temporarily living in Italy, toting around an issue from earlier in the decade about northern Italian cuisine, swooning over fall harvests of borlotti beans, artichokes, and cavalo toscano kale from the nearby city farm. I regularly search my fat file of tear sheets from the magazine, and I paid a $50 airport excess baggage fee to bring that enormous, sunny yellow Gourmet cookbook overseas with me for my year abroad.

I was even thinking of submitting a story to the magazine I am now forced to mourn.

Instead, I have to wonder what I'll cook for its funeral. In honor of the people who made that magazine great, I'm going to be sure it is something a little obscure, a little complicated, and as perfect as I can make it.

Amy Griffith Redfern is a writer and food consultant currently working on her first book, an account of her travels as a chef on sailboats.

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