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.