Ruth Reichl addressing the IACP conference in Portland Thursday

 

Nine hours door to door from Cleveland to my hotel room and I was hungry.  The fine folks in Portland organizing the International Association of Culinary professionals, had filled the room with Portland products, wine beer coffee candy and, lo, some serious local beef jerky.  Dense sweet salty savory concentrated protein, like candy.  I knew I’d arrived in a good place. 

Ruth Reichl opened the conference the following morning with remarks on the subject that continues to dog her, Gourmet’s end, and her desire to put it in a broader context. 

“What happened at Gourmet says a lot about where we are on the food landscape” she said, adding, “I should have seen it coming but I didn’t.” 

Why didn’t she see the death of this eminent, arguably best, food magazine in America?  Because circulation was strong, she said, they had two really good critically lauded television shows, and a passionate readership vocally encouraging them to keep doing what they were doing.  It was all going as planned.  Ruth had been offered this job a decade ago and had agreed to take it provided the publisher agreed to allow her to change the magazine radically.  He did, and she did. 

But when the economy tanked the most prominent advertisers in the magazine—among them the automotive, jewelry, travel industries—stopped investing in advertising.  This was the advertising that funded the magazine. Without it, the magazine could not publish. 

It was a financial model that would not work because the people who cared about the magazine were not the people paying for its production.  The automotive industry, they didn’t care about Gourmet, they cared about the magazine’s readers. 

And in a way that paralleled this situation, the financial model for producing food in this country no longer works either.  It is, she said,  “a sick, old-fashioned system.”  It’s a system designed to create massive amounts of cheap food, and it’s made this country sick in many and various ways.  It’s been good in the short run—generating a lot of inexpensive calories—but disastrous in the long run. 

This method of food production will change as certainly as Gourmet did.  It is all but inevitable.  Why?  Because all this cheap food we generate, she said, is predicated on three situations:  Cheap unlimited fossil fuels; cheap water, and consistent weather.  All of which are in a state of havoc right now.  Our models of food production must change. 

The horrible irony, of course, is that Gourmet failed at perhaps the most exciting and dynamic moment in America in terms of food.  Never before has there been so much exciting work to write about, never have there been so many amazing farmers, chefs, cheese makers, wine producers.  And never has it been more urgent to write about the ways this system in broken. 

Reichl concluded her opening remarks on an equally bittersweet note.  While there has never been a more exciting time to be working in the world of food, she finds it ominous and grave that so many of her colleagues at the magazine cannot find work or adequate compensation for their work, and she worried aloud that these professionals’ “hard won knowledge is going to waste, drowned out by the stupid and the sensational.” 

It was the smart and passionate beginning to an inspiring conference that may find new relevance in the dynamic world of food in America and beyond, where dangers and opportunities abound in equal measure.  Which will win out in the end?  If that beef jerky, made by Country Cat chef owner Adam Sappington, is an indication, as I believe it is, I’m hopeful for the future.

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96 Wonderful responses to “Ruth Reichl’s Remarks on Gourmet’s Demise”

  • Arthur Greenwald

    I heard Reichl deliver the identical spiel in Los Angeles. While her comments have some merit, she seems unable to take responsibility for narrowing Gourmet’s focus and tone to appeal to the smug sensibilities of the world of Foodies. Hell, she BOASTS about this in the open to the TV show. She also insisted on staff size and resources that could not scale down during a recession. Note that sister magazine Bon Appetit continues to publish and Epicurious.Com shows signs of rebirth. I suspect Conde Nast will wait a decent interval then revive Gourmet under an editor who appreciates a broader range of readers. Meanwhile, let’s hope a new showcase arises soon for Ms. Reichl’s considerable talents.

    • Jocelyn

      I totally agree with these comments, but I find her naivete almost mind blowing. The week before CN announced that they were shutting down the magazine, the blogs were abuzz about a possible merger with Bon Appetit. Also, is their separation of advertising and editorial so complete that her sales counterpart didn’t bother to tell her that advertising revenue was tanking? Even so, you can see it in every magazine and in many, many articles. Gourmet was (and may be again) a national treasure, but it was out of touch with what Americans are focused on. That article an issue or two before the end about how chefs would spend $1000 in their hometowns was the perfect example. How about how a famous chef would make a week’s worth of dinners for $100? More relevant, IMHO.

      • The FoodNinja

        Out of touch? If “Bon Appetit” is what’s “in touch,” then count me out, because “Bon Appetit” is a truly terrible magazine.

      • Dot

        Jocelyn,
        I totally agree with you about that article about spending $1,000 ….what a slap in the face to the readers! Horrible judgement! Let’s ask Ruth to ask her ex -employees now if they’d blow $1,000 on a dinner at Per Se….

    • Marianne

      Arthur, you mention that BA and Epicurous.com continue to thrive (for now.) For all you passionate posters out there, a big question:

      With the demise of Gourmet, what do you read now?

      • Heather Johnston

        I get Bon Appetit, but will not renew my subscription. Saveur has it’s charms, but cannot begin to touch the standards of Gourmet’s recipes. Gastronomica is as good as it gets, but not exactly something you cook from. Good question, Marianne.

      • epic

        cooksillustrated while populist i like its simplified approach and getting to the point of making food that tastes good it also a great resource to filter the really good products against the hype

  • Steve

    “she worried aloud that these professionals’ ‘hard won knowledge is going to waste, drowned out by the stupid and the sensational.’”

    This is true across the board. Pick almost any subject. Just watch what passes for news. Watch how advertising to the lowest common denominator works. Watch how critical choice dissolves under the purchasing power of Wal-Mart, Home Depot, et. al. Watch how the politics of bumper stickers and tee shirts outweighs thoughtful debate. Selfish, ignorant, unconcerned… We are suffering the revence of the “C” students. There is money in marketing to the masses. And the masses are clueless. I know this sounds elitist. But unfortunately, it is the hand we’re dealt.

    • Angie Larson

      I would have to agree with Steve, above. Our society has de-volved into a very low “common denominator” and as long as we continue to spoon feed society with intellectual pablum, fast food, and prizes for everyone so no one has their feelings hurt, we will continue to lose the ability to appreciate fine things, beauty in the simple, and most importantly the flavor of a well-prepared, made-with-love meal. I’m sure there were many factors that went into the demise of Gourmet Mag, but part of it is that the masses simply can’t slow-down enough to appreciate what goes into the art of food preparation. Immediate gratification is what so many want…not the labour of love that food demands.

      • Wayne W

        You said what I was going to and well. I would add that “the most exciting and dynamic moment in America in terms of food. ” (artisan/ organic et all) but it’s largely cost prohibitive to buy regularly and in the minority overall for the American lifestyle.

    • Nancy B

      True, true, Steve, but in IMHO the schools have been dumbing down a whole society while the unions that represent them, rather than concentrate on teaching excellence, line their own wallets & help break state budgets by demanding outrageous pensions that the rest of us–poor sods that we are without jobs OR pensions–pay their bill. Ignorance begins in the home & continues in our schools!

  • thm

    What surprised me most about Gourmet’s demise was how utterly unceremoniously it was terminated. Nobody working on what turned out to be the last issue was aware that it would be the last. No farewell message from the editor, nothing to mark the end of an era, just a postcard some weeks later letting us know that we’d get Bon Appetit instead.

    • Tags

      I, too, received a postcard from Craig Sanders “For Gourmet” with the following reassurance…

      “If for any reason you choose not to receive Bon Appetit, please contact us at 1-800-234-2046 for a full refund of the remaining issues still due on your subscription.”

      I called them on February 4th and have since received 3 more Bon Appetits.

      I can’t wait until they stop publishing the New Yorker so they can start sending me the Reader’s Digest.

      • Kate Good-Smith

        Oh how I agree with your last sentence! Bon Appetite is just fine but the focus is fast and easy. I loved Gourmet because I always learned something. It could be elitist but it was never snobby. I miss it so much.

  • Bunnee

    Reichl ruined Gourmet for me. Stories about food in far away countries, using ingredients and cooking methods which are obscure or impossible to replicate may be interesting on an intellectual level but have little relevance for the person who just wants to cook tasty, nourishing and creative food. Reichl always strikes me as being incredibly impressed with herself. Frankly, I think Saveur, Fine Cooking, and others achieve much of what Gourmet might have been attempting, but do it in a way that is attainable.

    • Foop

      Good for you then, soccer mom! You can use all the store bought cans of sauce your heart desires. Embrace all those time saving pre-chopped vegetables at safeway/walmart.
      Learn little or nothing…

      I miss a magazine that taught me something and that pushed me to learn new techniques and methods. I miss a magazine that educates me, rather than publishing an article entitled “The Best Grape You’ve Never Heard Of” and then goes on about Grenache. Yes, seriously, one of the major Southern Rhone grapes. Apparently no one has heard of it.

      The rags that masquerade as food journalism depress me. My soul dies a little each time i see Bon Apetit tell you to buy breadcrumbs from the store rather than using a bit of old bread to make it yourself.

      I’ll shut up now. My indignation is growing to the point that I’m going to get insulting soon.

      • Bunnee

        First, I was a soccer mom but am well past that and don’t know what it has to do with cooking in any event. I do not used canned sauces; I make my meals from scratch, use exotic ingredients and try to recreate ethnic dishes that I may never have an opportunity to eat otherwise. I make my own breadcrumbs, my own bread, my own pita, my own hummus, my own desserts. No boxed mixes, no “add one egg and stir.” I roast chiles for Mexican sauces, I roast and grind my own coffee. You are presuming way too much about why I found Gourmet less useful than other magazines. I subscribe to a wide range of food magazines, from The Art of Eating and the Diner Journal to the “rags” you disdain. I learn what I can from all of them.

        And I’ll shut up now for the same reason you did. Nothing to be accomplished by labeling you, I guess.

  • Louise

    Thank you for giving this insight. As a mother I feel so driven to create an awareness in my children to do their part in this world. It is an exciting time in the culinary world, people are open. Maybe just maybe now is the time to go back to the basics and change direction as we move ahead.

  • Mark Boxshus

    Well Ruth…….I’m sorry to say that the wake-up call came and you slept in. It’s unfortunate that while you and the others at Gourmet were busy impressing yourselves with your importance, the rest of the world grew tired of your over the top ignorance and decided to move ahead. This really pains me, because I’ve always loved your magazine and somewhat elitist attitude, but now realize that your approach to all things over the top………are just that…….”Over the Top”, and do not in any way, shape, manner of form communicate with those who pretend to be amongst elite, but don’t know it yet!

  • Natalie Sztern

    I don’t know much about Publishing and the Magazine industry but I suspect Gourmet failed for many more reasons than she has suggested. Food and Wine still exists and so do many other food magazines with such distinction as Gourmet.

    The internet, for one, and on-line food magazines and on-line food videos have taken some prominence and precedence in these times and perhaps some blame should have gone there.

    People are interested in high quality food, how it is produced and how it fits into the equation of our lives much more prominently than ever before.

    I doubt those variables were the cause of the demise of Gourmet. Unfortunately I sorely miss that magazine.

  • Rhonda

    Love this post, Ruhlman.

    I have reverance and respect for Ruth Reichl during her helm @ Gourmet. I have clipped out articles from Gourmet Magazine since I was 13 years old. I am now 44.

    I do not think blame should come into this matter. In my humble opinion, Ruth did an outstanding job.

    HOWEVER, I do now receive “bon appetit” which, in my mind, is a thinly veiled Rachel Ray medium.

    This publication seems devoid of technique, love of food, and well, entertainment value to those who are working in the food industry and not passing time until Oprah comes on.

    The advertising dollars pay the bills and He who pays the Piper picks the song.

    Unfortunately, they think we are retarded. Not mentally-capable but retarded. This is a shame.

    I think when people turn off the techno clutter that is bombarding us and start thinking for ourselves, we will discover that we are all quite clever and capable of cooking for ourselves and deciphering what food is good and nourishing.

    I miss “Gourmet”.

    • Kath in VT

      Bon Appetit a substitute for Gourmet? Never. I spent the past 25 years hungrily reading every word of every single Gourmet that arrived in my mailbox (300 issues!). Yes the magazine changed over the years, but everything changes. What did not change was the quality of the recipes. I never hesitated to make a new recipe — they always worked. I learned to cook along the way, as did my two now-grown sons, for whom cooking and healthy food has become a passion. I would have paid twice the price for that subscription if they’d only asked me. I will never pay a dime for Bon Appetit.

  • MetaMommy

    She failed to mention that the centralization of food production is another factor allowing for cheap food. I find this to be one of the more dangerous components, given the lack of federal oversight of said companies. These giant processing plants have been implicated in food recalls time and time again. That is surely unsustainable.

  • luis

    I don’t know much about Gourmet mag… but I am having a ball thumbing through “Cook this NOT that!”. Not trying to ever be funny here folks. But this little paper back is a modern intelligently thought out and written high tech marvel of communication of smart healthy cooking and eating for the average Joe. My bro glanced through it and said… “This is food we can eat!”. Then I said, yes, yes..” this is healthy food we can all cook and enjoy”. Basically somet things make sense and some don’t. When I hear folks needing to take a class to become wine snobs…and when I hear a wine connoseur pump up a wine… I am dumbfounded..specially when I read most folks can not distiguish wines once the label is covered from other cheaper wines.
    Really folks who are we kidding but ourselves. This is why I like Ruhlman’s recipes for the most part. A little rich but enjoyable and edible right down to his signature sandwich which I won’t comment on here. Something to do with P.B…..Michael. I am hooked bro.

  • luis

    OBTW Michael I have now added finelly sliced fennel and other veggies to your sandwich… it’s fantastic.

    • luis

      Michael, I didn’t tell you but my new Mandoline openned your sandwich up to innovation and experimentation… I can’t thank you enough bro!

  • Big Red

    It is an exciting time to be in food. The decline in her magazine, which I will have to admit, I lost track of since she took it over, was due to the economy. However, the high end market is saturated and the economy only hastened an inevitable end, I think.

    Personally, I also stay away from the high end stuff, that is only done for high end’s sake. I’m a little partial to street and diner food, having once been part of that group, slinging hash for a living in a silver bullet…*sigh*

    I like to try new things but I hesitate to do something that is only presented to me because it is a trend, and not because it is actually good.

  • Lisa

    I loved Gourmet and now that it has been replaced with Bon Appetit I’ve decided not to renew my subscription. Too depressing. Although I live in the Deep South, totally remote from most of Gourmet’s recipe ingredients (which was, I admit, annoying) it was a monthly celebration of good food. Maybe the next time around they will address the problems discussed here, and maybe it will become a priority regardless of the fluctuating economy. I had nothing but Wal-mart here, but my neighbors have started a local farmers market and I’m growing my own food. This is the hand we’re dealt. We’d like our magazines to be able to address these issues.

    • Dervin

      That’s impressive, you love a magazine that was nothing more than food porn for you. Reading the magazine, stroking your spatula, fantasizing about ingredients only available in the Union Square Farmers’ market from 9:30am to 9:45am.

      • claire

        There’s nothing wrong with a little food porn now and again. And who cares if people want the unattainable? I’m sure you want unobtainable things from time to time, we all do.

  • craigkite

    I am not emotionally touched by Ruth’s comments that her team mates’ “hard won knowledge is going to waste, drowned out by the stupid and the sensational.” They were lucky to have lived through a short era of Food-Camelot, but they need to see if they have other marketable skills besides observation and commentary. These are tough times, and the demand for HIGHLY valued and HIGHLY paid observers is shrinking. My local newspaper is down to three days a week, and the Op-Ed people have less column inches per week to fill and still seem to say little of importance. Blogs, like the one I am currently typing this response to, are filling the information pipeline. Only a few have figured out how to earn a living commenting on their passions.
    Perhaps the others could “sharpen up their knife skills” for a 60 hour week on the line…or were they only critics/observers/fans to begin with?

  • Dot

    To me Reichl is just as annoying as Alice Waters, and Diary of a foodie show with her as the host is almost unbearable to watch. Why have did they choose to have a celebrity in every show travel with her? I think the producers thought if they don’t have something else in the show besides Reichl the show would tank…..why fix something that wasn’t broken!

  • shogunmoon

    I loved Gourmet the way it was. People that want “accessible” food could always read the incredibly mediocre Bon Apetit.

    • luis

      OOOOOOHHHHHH! please. shog….is that really necessary?
      Times have changed..and will contnue to change.Why the bs and the acrymony???

      • luis

        Just my own opinion and there is nothing negative or acrymonious intended and you should not read it in that spirit. One door closes and another one opens. She writes about what ends and I write about what begins if anyone is really reading and thinking. As a matter of fact I am really happy to see that Kessler’s work is taking root in the way of goverment beginning to regulate the food industry on sugar fat and salt. As far as wine, olive oil and other pumped up edibles is concerned… I just don’t see the hype? My bro asked me yesterday to taste his virgin olive oil.. He bought a pricey one..and was thinking it tasted funny. I tasted the oil a good one and told him… Bro, this is what genuine real extra virgin olive oil tastes like. I can taste the olives.. delicious. But he has not yet developed that particular taste. And he is very succesful and has been to more high end restaurants than most people I know. Go figure.

  • Cindy

    In the 90’s I had a running subscription to Gourmet and Bon Apetit. My husband is a chef and I do consider myself what is now called a “foodie” although back then I just said that I was a food aficionado. I have to say that Bon Apetit was always a more accessible publication and found Gourmet to be pretentious and unrealistic. I do have the Gourmet Cookbook, which I find invaluable but eventually cancelled the magazine subscription. I think Gourmet just didn’t change with the times. They were living in the past and appealing to the high income bracket reader who no longer was cooking at home. Yes, there is the “stupid and sensational” but most everyone who still is surviving today got on the internet and Gourmet did not.

  • Dave

    We are living in the golden age of food in America.

    Availability of quality ingredients continues to increase.

    Farmer’s markets continue to increase.

    More and more people are growing their own vegetables and herbs, or buying them at markets.

    Astoundingly, the “local butcher” (with quality meats, and house made sausages/bacon/etc) is starting to return.

    And the availability of instructional materials is unparalleled.

    • JW

      Much is wrong with food in America, but much is right as well! We have to find a way to celebrate the good and find reasonable solutions to the bad. We need to stop bitching and start doing. I recently joined a food co-op and have found a farmer selling organic grass-fed beef about 20 miles from nowhere (Augusta, GA). It does take work. Why isn’t there a site that gives people the tools they need to eat healthier and more responsibly (i.e. locations of farmers markets, food co-ops, local farmers etc) instead of 30 minute meals or simple “food porn”?

  • Abigail @ Sugar Apple

    I don’t really know enough about the publishing industry to get why Gourmet went under, though I do miss it. But after seeing this post last night I went back and re-read Comfort Me With Apples. I loved it just as much the second time around and I for one hope that Ms. Reichl takes the unexpected opportunity of a bit more free time to write. There must be a page turner in the story of her tenure at Gourmet and I can’t wait to read it.

  • Susan

    I’m sad that Gourmet went by the wayside, as I aspire to be an “A” student and am now left with one less resource, though it’s one that just didn’t speak directly enough to my ambition to be a better cook.

    It’s advertising and many of it’s articles seemed to speak more to travelers who wanted a luxury journey and fine food away from home. To me, it was more like a travel magazine for well heeled, gourmet eaters.

    There was, IMO, too little for the gourmet cook. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough big wallet ‘real’ food producers that advertise to allow the focus be more on food and it’s preparation. The recipes that were presented were excellent; I’ve made many of them and learned a lot from the experience. However, because it wasn’t the focus, there weren’t enough of them and those that were presented, didn’t always seem to relate to the articles in the issue either..(not that I did more than skim the articles to determine if they were for the traveler or the cook!)

    • Jennifer S

      Thanks for this observation. I never subscribed to Gourmet, but I bought it a few times. As an experienced cook and reader of plenty about food, I didn’t get as much out of it as I had hoped. I thought it odd that there were more ads for $20,000 watches than for food or cooking items, too.

      I found the TV show Diary of a Foodie to be a bit patronizing and precious in tone. Perhaps that’s because I’m not familiar with New York City and its natives, and I live in a non-urban area.

  • Joe

    I don’t know where we are. Know we are lucky to be in Northeast Ohio because much food that is good is available to us. Yet, when I go into Heinen’s I still see that despite the decent produce and presence of semi decent chicken there is so much that is so processed, so refined, so full of high fructose corn sugar and so on. When I go into Marc’s I am cheered that the organic food section is expanding, yet saddened that I have to walk by so much junk and I am not comfortable buying meat at Marc’s. Yet, the farmer’s market is now open, a local nursery is offering fresh salad greens and there is activity as some nearby farmers’ stands show signs of thinking about opening.

    Information about cooking has never been as widely and readily available as it is now thanks to the gift of the internet. Yet as a socierty we have never been so unhealthy and so overweigh.

    Retired from the US Air Force in 1994 after 27 years. I have young friends in the military. Am appalled by what is going on in the areas of health and fitness. The situation (if they report to me reliably) is worse than claimed in the recent reports by retired flag officers who say we are no longer fit to fight. On the other hand, the military itself has given into contracting and fast food which is now too often prepared by contractors rather than by military cooks. It is more ‘factory food.’ Even at our military academies, Annapolis for example, the factory food served at King Hall has been written up as almost inedible. This especially saddens me because I entered a military in 1967 in which the US Navy was legendary for superb food.

    Big Ag has so much money invested in too many politicans. I don’t know how we can expect meaningful change to come fast enough, but I am glad you ar one of those fighting the good fight for us. Sorry for the rant.

  • EdTheRed

    I suppose this is one reason why Cooks’ Illustrated doesn’t accept advertisements – publication is funded completely by readers.

    It gets a bit repetitive if you’re a long-time subscriber, but the equipment reviews and tastings alone are worth it to me.

  • Dianne Jacob

    Hi Michael,

    Lovely to peck you on the cheek at IACP. Congratulations on your win for Ad Hoc.

    Ruth Reichl was a brave editor who took risks, and a brilliant writer. Okay, she didn’t get everything right, but who does?

    Under Reichl, Gourmet helped foster the idea that luxury dining is now about sustainable, organic farming. Gourmet was the only national food magazine to bright light the plight of enslaved tomato pickers in Florida, and to consider whether lobsters suffer when we cook them (both stories are on Gourmet’s website).

    We’ll probably never see pieces like those again in national food magazines, so let’s give them (and her) the respect they deserve.

    Food writing is not recipes with gorgeous photos. It can also be a political act, just like eating. Under Reichl, Gourmet was ahead of its time.

  • Marmee05

    More than one year ago, I wrote to Gourmet with a sincere observation and critique. The magazine had taken an editorial turn that was ridiculous,i.e. using fashion models, phony sets, placement and credits for clothing, jewelry (fashion watches on the male models!!), etc. What was Reichl & Co thinking? The message I received was probably the opposite of the one intended. Gourmet lost its vision and we will all miss it.

  • BobY

    Reichl has the talent and ability to be one of the great food writers of this century. I fear however, that she is squandering her talent with her unfortunate and inconsistent editing of Gourmet (I could never figure out what it wanted to be under her), and why waste that writing talent as an editor to begin with? I also wish she would get over her mother problem (which has become boring through 3 books now) and do what she does best – write about food.

  • Michelle

    Thanks for sharing this with us, Michael. I like Ruth. After reading “Tender At The Bone,” I thought Ruth seemed like a down to earth, normal gal from a somewhat nutty family like myself. And I agree with her assertion that prominent investors pulled back on advertising and this would be detrimental to the magazine. However, did she ever stop to consider that Gourmet’s competition has increased? And there are hungry people out there needing practical solutions for everyday meals, and not info about the best prosciutto in Italy. Martha seems to be doing pretty well with Everyday Food. (And I don’t even want to mention those other deplorable food magazines out there.) But a few of these magazines do do a good job of marketing to the average eater. Ruth (and Alice), I hate to say, are out of touch with the average eater. They don’t realize how difficult it is to eat healthy, organic, local, and on a budget in most parts of this country. I am on their side. And agree with most everything they say. But I often wonder what the these elitist foodies would eat if they came to my part of the world. From my perspective, Pollan is the one who’s got it right. Real change needs to come from the top. We can all do our part, one person at a time, by avoiding the bad stuff and buying the good, and eventually, someday after I’m dead, the retailers and corporations will catch on. But real change is going to have to happen with the government and a new farm bill. I’ve gotten a little off subject here, I apologize. Ruth is a good gal, but I think she and others like her are thinking too much from an elitist, citified perspective. When I think of Gourmet magazine, I think of fancy restaurants that I could never afford to travel to – beautiful cover photos of extravagant dishes – and ingredients I could never find. If they decide to bring the magazine back, perhaps they should just put a picture of a young person planting a tomato plant in their back yard in the midwest. Now that’s Gourmet food.

  • Karen Downie Makley

    I agree with Rhonda’s comment that Bon Appetit can sometimes feel like a “thinly-veiled medium for Rachel Ray”. Before sounding like just another tedious food snob, let me underscore that whomever writes Ray’s recipes has come up with some perfectly tasty dishes. BUT, Gourmet let us dream a little…about aspiring towards a Hemingway-esque lifestyle, traveling to far-flung locales and re-creating exciting recipes sampled during all this globe-trotting. I was sad to see it go…It was a nice bit of fantasy for all of us regular meatloaf-making schmoes.

    • imoverhere

      all this fuss bout fancy food’ as a reader of ernest hemingway during his time in the war they thought it was gourmet to eat canned sardines and french bread and some wine,

  • Another Foodie

    My friends and I would flip through a stack of Gourmet magazines every time we had a potluck. I was sad to see it go. Great to read more about it from Ruth Reichl as well as all the other comments. Thanks Michael!

  • Edward in Alabama

    When I decided to subscribe to a food magazine, I shopped around for a while. I am interested in food writing and chose Gourmet simply because it had the best writing. I can get recipes anywhere, but Gourmet opened my perspectives on food and food-related issues with intelligence and insight.

    Admittedly, there were times when Reichl was an irritant — I bristled whenever she would again remind us of what a horrible cook her mother was — but she was not ever talking down to the readers.

    I, like some previous respondents, have had difficulty being taken off the Bon Appetit mailing list. I had tried out Bon Appetit in the past and found its lowest common denominator approach to food repulsive and its writing level asinine. It says something about Conde Nast and our society that Gourmet was axed and Bon Appetit lives on.

  • Kelly

    Sadly, I believe when a corporation owns two magazine that have a similar focus and can afford only one, it will be forced to keep the one that has gone through a complete visual overhaul geared to attract a much younger crowd, instead of the one that, although more sophisticated and diverse, has an aging readership. I was never a Gourmet subscriber until Reichl became the editor and appreciate the frankness with which she and the magazine had begun to take on more serious issues related to food. Things change. We need to change along with them.

  • Sommelier

    Alas, Gourmet. I subscribed for over 20 years. I remember when it was one of America’s finest magazines, and actually was written for gourmets, not arriviste snobs who can’t tell money from class. You remember, before Ruth Reichle decided to use her power as editor to show all those people who actually got invited to the Prom who was the big, important girl now! I remember reading Gerald Asher’s (the finest wine writer writing in the English language) article every month, and wanting to go out, immediately, and buy bottles of the wine he was covering that month; she turned that into “six New Zealand whites to serve with Guacamole!”. I cooked countless dishes from their pages, celebrating fresh fruits and vegetables of the season; recipes that called for asparagus in February and apples in March began to appear, along with overpriced hard-to-find (even in New York City!) ingredients. Sadly, Gourmet became just another lifestyle rag, with wet-dream articles about restaurants you’ll probably never eat in, and hotels you can’t afford to stay in. Dangling all those expensive things in front of her readers and thinking it’s “class” is really the same as leaving the label on the sleeve of a new jacket to show everyone that it really IS camelhair. Really! 100% See?

  • Barbara

    Thanks Michael for the accurate review of Reichl’s presentation at IACP. I thought the conference was very good – especially enjoyed the teambuilding class at Le Cordon Bleu and your presentation on the death of recipes. Looking forward to more of your blogs about the conference.

  • Michael K

    Reichl says “…she finds it ominous and grave that so many of her colleagues at the magazine cannot find work or adequate compensation…”. Their success was apparently dependent upon auto and jewelry companies spending advertising dollars like drunken sailors, but it seems doubtful that’s a sustainable situation in any publishing venture. Certainly some culinary journalists – Michael Ruhlman to pick a totally random example – are successful which causes me to suspect that Riechl’s former colleagues were perhaps not quite as skillful as she believes.

  • John

    It’s disheartening to read in these comments so much contempt for Reichl and, much worse, the hope to elevate and educate. When did learning new things become so bad? When did mediocrity become the new black? Do the haters really think installing Sanda Lee as Editor of Gourmet was the magic solution?

  • Robyn

    From what I’ve read – I think Ms. Reichl has the business acumen of a labrador retriever. I’m not even in the publishing industry – but even I was aware of the steep declines in ad revenues in magazines before Gourmet folded. The statistics are readily available on line:

    http://www.magazine.org/advertising/revenue/by_mag_title_ytd/pib-4q-2009.aspx

    The one thing I have never heard Ms. Reichl say is that she knew what was going on in the economy – knew about the decline in ad revenues – and tried to make adjustments to get the magazine through a very difficult time. Had she made an effort and failed – I would have at least given her a “A” for trying.

  • kitty

    Reichl says “…she finds it ominous and grave that so many of her colleagues at the magazine cannot find work or adequate compensation…”

    How about the majority of americans cannot find work or adequate compensation. I imagine what she would consider adequate I would consider abundant!

  • catherine

    The responder who had “never been a subscriber until Ruth Reichl” was a head-turner. That was the exact point at which I became a non -subscriber. After some 25+ years of great food and great travel suggested by the old, really fine Gourmet, I broke lose. It was hard because I loved the Gourmet of old and thought it the absolutely best guidebook as well as cookbook. Gourmet was as important to my culinary education as Julia herself. I don’t know what happened, but Ruth took her readers to a place I couldn’t go–and didn’t much want to–whereas the old Gourmet held my hand all the way. What I most disliked about Ruth’s Gourmet was that I couldn’t distinguish an ad from an article…

    • Rhonda

      Catherine;

      I really liked your comment. I loved the old “Gourmet” too. The 80’s were fantastic!

      Gourmet was very important to my culinary education as well.

      I may contradict myself but the comments to this post are amazing and I am learning a lot.

      I have to reiterate that I have great reverence and respect for Ruth and Alice (Waters) — as writers…

      They live in a fantasy world and their words take us with them — wherever they may go on that particular day.

      Alice is F&*%ing fantastic because she can appear on “60 minutes” and poach an egg in a wood burning fireplace on a 17th century long handled copper spoon. Who does that? Really? Gotta love the CA pot!

      No one can be expected to live this way.

      I am taking this all with a grain of salt. Like Tags, I am trying to unsubscribe

      – R

      • Robyn

        I found this blog today (looking for something else) – read a lot of it – and I have to tell you that good cooking – no matter where you live – assuming you have a bit of time – is not a fantasy world. I have only eaten at Chez Panisse once – and the food prep wasn’t that complicated. The ingredients were the stars. Now you may not be able to source a lot of the things that are local in north California where you live – but that doesn’t mean you have to eat mac ‘n cheese out of a box. Try putting some basil in the ground or a planter now. And a couple of months from now – you’ll be able to make terrific fresh pesto (which you can use in about 100 ways).

        • Rhonda

          Robyn:

          I know you mean well and I don’t know how to break this to you, Robyn, but I am a Chef.

          My Ass is out of bed at 5 am every morning to pick up fresh fruits and Veg from local Farmers. I live in a Delta and it is a Chef’s paradise. I want for nothing.

          I then spend the next few hours talking to food producers, farmers and purveryors.

          After that, I spend the next 7 – 8 hours cooking. After that is clean down, scheduling and preparing for the next day. After that is mediating disputes between FOH and BOH. Then, hopfully, I will get four hours of uninterupted sleep.

          You may have misunderstood my post.

          Alice Waters is a genius. She is out of her fucking mind, but a genius nevertheless.

    • Robert Oppedisano

      We’ll never really know the economics behind CN’s bottomline decision, since sometimes, like in book publishing, it’s not that the enterprise “failed” but that margins became impossible high. In any case, as a reader of Gourmet since at least 1975, I, too, stopped not only subscribing when all I seemed to find were slick fashion stylings coupled with stale and humdrum food writing (the last “Italian-American comfort food” issue was an emblematic dumb joke). The old Gourmet delivered dreams for some, revelatory technique and ideas for others, and authority for all. If Reichl had figured out that we dreamers dream not of models posed against yet another rustic Hamptons table, but of amazing stuff we want to have–well.. And what many now dream of is not a villa on Lake Como, but about food magic and wisdom beyond the domesticated and predictable. Finally pit not G. as a special case: experts in all corners and media are out of business.

    • Robyn

      I pretty much think all food/travel/lifestyle magazines are “behind the times” these days. I found Gourmet writing about “new restaurants” that I’d heard about/went to 3 years ago. Hotels that I’d been to 15-25 years ago. Etc. As for recipes – I can’t remember the last time I bought a cookbook. It is so much easier to look up recipes for things on line (one of my local nurseries just started to stock sorrel – and it was certainly easier to find the Trois Gros recipe for salmon with sorrel sauce on line that it would be to find it in a cookbook in a book store).

      Note that Gourmet Magazine wasn’t unique. I ran into the EIC of Saveur at the FS Beverly Hills in August last year. She knew where all the good shoe sales were – but had never heard of Jose Andres’ new restaurant in Los Angeles (Bazaar). Might be a result of “NYC is the center of the world parochialism” – but I honestly can’t imagine anyone who is seriously interested in food not knowing about and dining at that restaurant last year if he/she was in Los Angeles.

      Note that I live in a relatively provincial area of Florida – and if I know about something that’s new – interesting – and good – the food MSM should know about it too IMO.

      • Dan

        Robyn,

        The editor of Saveur is a gentleman: James Oseland. He’s been there at least several years now. Not certain with whom you were talking.

    • Sommelier

      “What I most disliked about Ruth’s Gourmet was that I couldn’t distinguish an ad from an article…”

      Very well said!

  • Brooke

    With the rise of the ipad and other computer tablets, maybe Gourmet can be revived? I know Wired will soon have an iPod template for monthly subscribers. Would love to see something similar happen in the world of food.

  • Liz C.

    I am in my late 20’s and only got into Gourmet in the past 5 years. I really liked the magazine, and it was the one food magazine I bought the most. I didn’t mind that it had stories about places I will probably never visit. It also had some damn good recipes. Every recipe that I have made from a Gourmet magazine has turned out either great, or very good. Even if I only cooked one recipe from an issue, I knew it would turn out well. I think the point of a cooking magazine isn’t to cook every single thing from it, but to find a few recipes that you feel like you could make. And being that people come from all different places with different availability of ingredients, I wouldn’t expect to be able to make everything.

    Also, their PBS show, “Diary of a Foodie” is my favorite food television show of all time. I absolutely adore it. I wish they would make more episodes.

    If you want a magazine that is all about feeding your family affordable dinners, there are plenty of them out there. If you want a magazine to spark your imagination and show you the possibilities, Gourmet was that magazine.

  • Warren Bobrow

    Gourmet, like it or not, was a travelogue. There are many of those on the market. Stick to the basics, write well, photograph well and eat well.
    Travel and Leisure does it better. I don’t know if they spend fewer dollars, but they still exist.

    This is why I stay hungry and write like my life depends on it. (it does)

  • ruhlman

    Finally caught up from the days away and have had a chance to read. I’m delighted, as usual, to read all these comments: smart and passionate. Thank you.

  • Glenn

    A little off-topic, but I find it interesting how many people posting here comment on the difficulty of finding ingredients. Perhaps it’s a warning signal letting us know just how much of a “food desert” our nation is becoming? Or maybe some of these folks weren’t diligent enough in making their local producers/retailers aware of their culinary desires? Either way, I think the concept of seeking new or novel ingredients is something to be encouraged…especially if it is something that can be obtained in one’s own region.

    I must admit, however, like many of you, I was often put off by the full page advertisements for $80k automobiles, chichi kitchen gadgets and haute couture that occupied a lion’s share of each issue and ironically precluded great sustainability related food writing. I find it hard to believe that the bulk of the participants in our nation’s new food renaissance participate in such extravagant consumerism. Gourmet needed to start evolving their advertising strategy a decade ago. How unfortunate that such captivating journalism fell victim to the fickle whims of Madison Avenue and the greed of Wall Street.

  • bobdelgrosso

    So Ruth Reichl could not predict the demise of Gourmet but she feels comfortable making predictions about the fate of agriculture? I don’t know man.

    • Rhonda

      Well, Chef, this is where you come into play.

      You are the hands on Guy.

      Teach us. Save us.

      Save us from the bad advise, speculation on commodities and teachings from Foodies who have never served a minute on the line and don’t know what the fuck they are talking about.

  • Charlotte

    My first job out of college was working on The Best of Gourmet (Vol.s 1-3) and Gourmet’s Best Desserts. For GBD, I went through the entire set of bound magazines in order to xerox every single dessert (and lots of fabulous vintage ads). I didn’t work for the magazine directly, but for the book packager who worked with the CN direct marketing folks, and a couple of editors at Gourmet — There’s a lot of nostalgia for the “old” Gourmet on this blog, but it was *so* rulebound, so rigid, so mired in a specific stodgy Connecticut/Oyster Bay sort of vision (especially when it came to photos) that I was delighted to see Reichl shake things up some, open the magazine up to different kinds of photography and rethink the definition of “Gourmet” in some really forward-thinking ways. And politics! The “old” Gourmet would *never* have run Barry Easterbrook’s pieces. My personal theory about why the magazine got whacked probably stems from those years running mechanicals up to the direct marketing department, which was the source of power and funding — I think it was a corporate decision, and was made as much to bring editors of the other magazines into line as it was about Gourmet itself. If you’re running a multi-magazine empire, and you have some famous big spenders, they’re not going to pay any attention if the only magazines killed off are the smaller ones. Kill off Gourmet, in the brutal manner they did, and you send a message — next time it could be Vanity Fair, or Vogue. No one is safe (the ur-message of corporate America). But I’ll always be grateful for my experiences as a wide-eyed, badly-dressed 20-something learning how to cook in absolute poverty while I worked as an editorial assistant on those books (and I got to meet Marion Cunningham once too, she was intimidating in all the ways that are inspirational when you’re 22).

  • Marco Giacomo

    I’ve sure enjoyed reading these many thoughtful comments here.

    Until a few years ago I used to purchase Gourmet from my local bookstore, knowing that a magazine publisher (generally) makes more money from a newsstand sale than from a paid subscription. I stopped purchasing the magazine when I became irritated at all the lifestyle codswallop that made its way into each issue. Of course Gourmet was not alone in the baubles and Euro-Luxe hotel pieces in food magazines (e.g., Bon Appetit; my wife bought me a subscription to BA which I gave up reading after the debut of the food columnist whose lone quality seemed to be that he had long hair). And yes, the search for the elusive striped organic quail eggs—or some such ingredient—mentioned in Gourmet recipes, was also a turn-off for me, Internet availability or no. (My crotchetiness is showing.) Gourmet, in the last few years that I faithfully read it, played the coquette: it promised a lot but rarely delivered. I’m glad, though, that many commenters here found the late magazine a delight—opinions are what makes horse-racing.

    As for Ms. Reichl’s remarks re her former colleagues at the magazine, I’m reminded of what a former employer of mine, a magazine editor in a non-food mag, once told me: “The purpose of magazine articles is to space out the ads.”

  • Aaron

    I’ll not miss Gourmet. This was a magazine that was really more about puffery of the food scene than real food. Food porn is exactly right. Completely unobtainable or realistic to partake in on a daily basis.

    Okay so Gourmet shows you how to make an elaborate 5 course dinner for 10, but what do you eat the other 6 days of the week? Magazines like Bon Appetit and Cooks Illustrated may not be as glamorous, but they are much more accessible.

  • Kanani

    Well, she shouldn’t have been surprised since all of print publications are having a difficult time. She should never have assumed that Gourmet wouldn’t go through the same hard times.
    As for the writers not being able to find equitable jobs, this is true across the board. Award winning journalists across the board in every field can’t find jobs equal to the ones they left.

    Yet, I don’t think we should be too pessimistic about the future. I would gamble to say that people do care more about their food than they did while I was growing up. But the source of our knowledge just didn’t come from books. It came from TV and the internet, two very persuasive tools when it comes to teaching and reaching the masses.

    And that’s what Gourmet couldn’t do. Reach a really broad audience.

    It’s going to be different. Things are still shaking around. Like you, I’m hopeful. But it doesn’t preclude being critical. I do think we also need to take to task the networks (Bravo, especially) for churning out junk that teaches us very little about food. Only when we can assess and evaluate can we adjust for the future to begin to address the issues of financial models you’ve written about.

  • Mimi

    Michael,
    Thank you for this post.

    Gourmet was by far my favorite food magazine and I have been puzzled about it’s demise. After reading Ms. Reichl’s comments and the comments of your readers, I now understand.

    Under Ruth Reichl, Gourmet changed from an epicurean’s magazine (travel, luxury and food) to a magazine that produced food essays with recipes. The advertising never changed to reflect the new world order. It sounds to me like their advertising wing failed. Instead of continuing to court companies that produce luxury watches/jewelry, high end cars, etc., they should have found advertisers who were speaking to the masses. It would have compromised the atmosphere of the magazine, but the articles were no longer in step with these luxury items anyway. We were reading about farmer’s markets and sustainable farming at the end. None of us were going to buy a $10,000 necklace or take a luxury vacation. The advertising was definately out of synch and then it abandoned ship.

  • LizBChicago

    I loved Gourmet and still miss it. Perhaps one thing it did better than any other magazine was gorgeous, art-quality food photography. What’s UP with the photography at BA and others? Really third-rate. You could get away with third rate pix in a mag about cars or computers or something, but food? It’s the pure visual appeal that stimulates all your senses and gets you excited about reading about it, inspires you to make it and share it with friends. I bet Gourmet will be reincarnated in the future — it’s too good a brand to let die. Great post.

  • h lee

    I agree with Liz. I looked at the cover of the current BA when it came to my mailbox and I could have cried.

    For me, Gourmet was never about “Just putting food on the table”. It was always about making the connection between the history, the process and the food. I loved getting lost in the recipes’ process over an afternoon. The process of tracking down ingredients has made many a friend for me over the years.

    Yes, there are times when my only focus is putting dinner on the table in 30 minutes. But that is not what motivates me to cook. Gourmet understood that. I miss it.

    • Kath in VT

      Well said. I don’t want another recipe for steamed broccoli or roasted root vegetables. Gourmet inspired me to stretch my comfort zone and take on recipes I’d never even tasted: pavlova, Armenian flat bread, authentic pad thai, trifle, bolognaise sauce. Those hours in the kitchen — and the delicious food I served to my friends and family — are treasured memories.

  • Vivian

    I loved Gourmet Magazine. It was the very first magazine that I subscribed to and while I let other subscriptions come and go, this is the one that I always made sure to renew. I was really sad to see it go. It would like to have seen a more appropriate farewell given to this worthy publication. More than anything I worried about my various friends who contributed to this and where they would go from here. When I got the card in the mail that offered Bon Appetit as a replacement I wished immediately that they would offer me one for Saveur instead 😉 but sadly even that pales in comparison.

  • SherryB

    I was a loyal reader of Gourmet for many years. When I lived in the Canadian Arctic, I had the Hudson’s Bay Company bring it in for me. (To Frobisher Bay!) It was a big deal….I never missed an issue. Kind of the way I am now about The New Yorker, in fact.

    When Ms. Reichl took the helm I had high hopes, but soon I was dismayed, and disappointed at the direction the magazine took; it seemed flashy and ‘pretty’, but without the content and quality of writing that I had come to depend on.

    I’ve noticed in Ms Reichl’s books that she seems very introspective, almost to the point of becoming annoying. (Or narcissistic. Sorry.) She’s a vibrant writer, but the overt personalization of EVERY story….every incident, becomes tiresome.

    I miss Gourmet, but I’ve got several hundred of the ‘good old’ back issues which I read from time to time…..many from the 50s and 60s. Now that’s something to get your teeth into.

  • Sophea Lazane

    A failure is not to make you forever down, it is another open gate for success. Maybe there is something wrong in the current writing issues and it is time to change to a new look or new approach.

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