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Gourmet Magazine Bites the Dust, Cooks Boot Up Laptops

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In this day of declining print advertising revenues, it comes as no surprise when another publication closes its doors. This week, Condé Nast announced that Gourmet, the grande dame of food magazines, will cease publication with its November issue. The 68-year-old glossy has long been in the vanguard of magazines devoted to the pleasures of the table, achieving its reputation long before there were celebrity chefs on The Food Network to tell us what to eat. Its current editor-in-chief is renowned food writer Ruth Reichl, who left her post as restaurant critic at the New York Times in 1999 to take the position.

When I was a young woman just venturing into the world of cooking, Gourmet and Bon Appétit were the two "serious" food magazines on the market, and for a while I had subscriptions to both. Sure, there were recipes galore to be found in women's magazines, the kind my mother would often pick up at the grocery store checkout, but that was everyday food aimed at the everyday cook who needed to get a reasonably tasty dinner on the table in a hurry. Gourmet and Bon Appétit were marketed toward upscale readers — women who entertained frequently and who had food budgets that allowed them to purchase only the finest of ingredients, and schedules that permitted them to hunt those same ingredients down. (As I look back at myself in my mid-20s, when I neither entertained nor had much of a food budget, it's clear that my reach exceeded my grasp in more ways than one.) Bon Appétit (which is also published by Condé Nast and seems to be surviving in this current economic climate), with its more down-to-earth recipes and slightly less elite tone, was always my favorite of the two.

Of course the world has changed a great deal since then, and a good many home cooks, serious and otherwise, have found their way online. In spite of a bookcase full of cookbooks (which I sometimes like to read the way other people like to curl up with a mystery novel), I find myself opening my laptop more often than not when I'm looking for meal ideas.

You can hardly swing a spatula without hitting a food-related site, regardless of whether you're looking to get restaurant recommendations from the hometown crowd, argue about what really goes into a proper minestrone, or settle on what kind of cookware to buy. As with everything else online, readers need to assess for themselves whether any given site is a good fit for their particular interests. Here are a few places I visit regularly:

Epicurious is Condé Nast's digital presence in the world of food. It collects, as their press page says, "more than 25,000 professionally tested recipes from the premier brands in food journalism, 50,000 member-submitted recipes, and web-exclusive original content from Epicurious.com editors and leading food authorities around the world." Free registration gives you the opportunity to save recipes in your own recipe box, annotate recipes (only you can see the notes), and participate in the online community. I probably grab a recipe or at least an idea from this site on an average of once a week.

Chow is a good place to catch up on news and trends and has a nice selection of recipes and entertaining ideas. Free registration allows you to contribute to their online community Chowhound, where you can swap ideas and recipes and get restaurant recommendations from locals no matter where you're traveling.

Cook's Illustrated is the Consumer Reports of the food world and is the only — yes, only — web content I pay for. And I pay for it gladly. The site is free of advertising (just like their print publication), which allows them to offer readers unbiased reviews of products ranging from canned tomatoes to cookware sets, from microwaves to olive oil, and everything in between. Run by Christopher Kimball, who is the anti-celebrity chef host of PBS's America's Test Kitchen, the site is heavily oriented toward testing and data analysis, which appeals to the empiricist in me. When the folks at Cooks want to make a beef stew, they make 50 beef stews and then tell you exactly what combination of ingredients and cooking techniques makes it perfect. Their recipes are clearly explained, unfailingly successful, and even an experienced cook like me can pick up tips here. Their search engine leaves a great deal to be desired, but that's one minor quibble in a sea of goodness. A yearly subscription currently costs $34.95, and I consider it to be money well spent.

Last but not least, Wednesday always brings a smile to my face in the form of the New York Times' Dining & Wine section. There's always at least one recipe worth trying, regular contributor Mark Bittman is always well worth reading, and the pictures are nice, too.

I don't think I'm going to be missing those magazines at all.

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About Lisa McKay

  • http://www.joannehuspek.wordpress.com Joanne Huspek

    I hate to admit this, but I was probably one of those who caused the downfall of the magazine by canceling my subscription in the advent of the internet. There are lots of online references. Still, I think I’ll keep the computer out of the kitchen. It’s tough getting food out of the keyboard.

  • http://willkillforfood.com Lisa McKay

    I canceled mine long ago, too, Joanne, but I still can’t stop buying cookbooks, even though I go online for recipes now more often than not.

    Totally hear on you the food/keyboard issue, but on the other hand you don’t have the same “lie flat” problem you do with most cookbooks ;-)

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/christine-lakatos/ Christine

    Lisa, thanks for the info on where to get great recipes. Food on keyboards and mouses is not good..lol

  • http://www.releaseyourwriting.com Helen Gallagher

    Hi Lisa,
    Nice essay but I will miss the magazines that pass away, and the variety of ideas they present. I still devour “Eating Well.” The web is great for recipe ideas and great databases of recipes, but nothing beats a lazy afternoon with a food magazine and then getting off the couch to make something fabulous.

    Helen Gallagher
    blogcritics.org/writers/helen-gallagher

  • Roger Choate

    Terrific article!

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/fran-parker/ Fran

    Great article Lisa! Thanks for the links! Sorry to hear when any company goes under, but there’s a lot of that going around unfortunately.

  • http://thesonginmyheadtoday.blogspot.com Holly A Hughes

    I just think this was a bonehead decision on the part of Conde Nast. It had always seemed odd to me that they had 2 food magazines, but personally I find Bon Appetit nearly unreadable for all the ad pages, while I will genuinely miss Gourmet. I don’t read these magazines for recipes only — I like food journalism and chef profiles and food memoirs, and Gourmet published some fine examples of all of those. IMO Conde Nast could have combined the two magazines and driven a new Gourmet more in the Bon Ap direction without sacrificing its literary quality. But I guess that’s what happens when you hire outside consultants to make these decisions.

  • http://blogcritics.org Lisa McKay

    That’s an interesting perspective, Holly. It’s been a long time since I’ve had a copy of Bon Appetit in hand, but too much advertising is a complaint I have about virtually every magazine I’ve read recently.

    One of the things I did read in regard to this decision was that Gourmet was hugely expensive to publish, so the idea of combining the two into something better seems like it might have at least been feasible (and I take your point about food journalism, too).

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer/heloise Heloise

    Really catchy category Lisa. I have started writing recipe articles here and there at the Trough that avoid eggs, meat and the like. Today I posted my vegetarian tips for Thanksgiviving.

    If you are vegetarian I just posted how I create vegetarian “turkey and dressing” at the Trough. “How to Finesse Vegetarian Thanksgiving”

    Heloise

  • Teresa

    It is sad to see Gourmet magazine leave. Printed material has slowly taken a backseat to the internet.

    I absolutely love the Cooks Illustrated and the America’s Test Kitchen recipes. I have a few of their cookbooks that I enjoy reading (curled up on the couch like you) but they are great to cook too! The majority of their recipes are excellent and can be well trusted.