I learned about the demise of Gourmet as I was lingering around a Costco book aisle, waiting for Ruth Reichl to sign copies of her new book, Gourmet Today. I was hoping to slip her my card and suggest she take a look at Food News Journal.
I had a grand plan for schmoozing while she signed. If it meant buying 20 books just so I’d have enough time to make my pitch, so be it. There are worse holiday gifts to give (or get) than the latest Gourmet cookbook. And a signed copy would let the recipients know I’d gone that extra mile for them – a win-win.
But it came as little surprise – after a phone call from my editor alerting me to Gourmet’s fate – when the Costco employees took down the poster and folded up the table, quietly announcing that Reichl had cancelled due to illness.
I was disappointed not only because my crack marketing plan had run aground. I felt a personal sense of betrayal as well. After years of flying my anti-Gourmet flag, I had only recently begun to warm up to the mag. I actually wanted that cookbook. I was going to buy it even before I learned of the golden, Reichl-meeting opportunity.
It has taken me years to get to be able to say that.
When I was first starting to experiment in the kitchen, looking beyond The Joy of Cooking my mom gave me when I finished college, I studied food magazines and decided Gourmet was just a little too highbrow for me. The layout seemed stodgy; the writing a little too prosaic. And the recipes? Who cooked like that?
Even before I had kids demanding so many of my waking moments, I couldn’t see myself devoting that much time to a plate of fish.
I subscribed to Bon Appetit instead and spent years enjoying it while also defending the choice to my Gourmet-loving friends. I told them how much more fun it was to read, how much more accessible the recipes were. They were resolute, but so was I.
People still ask for the recipe for the gumbo I served at a New Year’s Eve party more than a decade ago, the apple pie with cheddar-cheese crust from Thanksgiving 1991. I tell them the same thing: Bon Appetit. Then I send them the recipe.
But out of nowhere, Gourmet changed the playing field. Suddenly, the (white) gloves were off – they hired Ruth Reichl as editor. How could I maintain my distance in the face of such a move?
I’d been reading Reichl’s New York Times restaurant reviews for years, even when I wasn’t living in New York. Tender at the Bone and Garlic and Sapphires were among my favorite reads, headlining a chef-themed birthday gift from my husband one year.
So when Reichl took the helm at Gourmet, I couldn’t help a few surreptitious glances her way. Against my better judgment, I had to admit the redesign was alluring, the recipes tempting (and maybe not quite as over the top as I’d been claiming for so many years). And man, those photographs. Gourmet always looked a little out of place among the denizens of the supermarket checkout aisle.
But it was my friends who finally made me rethink my disdain for Gourmet. One of my closest pals cooks from the magazine regularly (and I really can’t argue with the stuff coming out of her kitchen, especially since I’m often the beneficiary). She has the first cookbook, and she was quick to buy the newest.
I saw the earlier cookbook at the library once and checked it out. I wasn’t about to plunk down $40 for a book that would do nothing more than look good on my bookshelves. It didn’t take me long to recognize that Gourmet had come a long way. (Or maybe I had?)
Last summer, I found a cache of Gourmets on the bookshelf at the local pool. While my kids swam, I read. A friend saw the magazines in my pool bag and started picking out recipes for that very weekend.
My conversion was complete when I tasted a friend’s birthday cake recently. Lemon-blueberry with white-chocolate frosting. I unabashedly went back for seconds, and only the fact that my ride was leaving kept me from asking for thirds. I did, however, ask for the recipe.
It was in my e-mail in-box by 9 a.m. the next day. Provenance? Gourmet.