The last issue of the 68-year-old culinary magazine has been released, and it features a turkey on the cover. Unfortunately, in its attempts to be rustic, the big bird is photographed up against an unappetizing blue-gray barn background that takes up too much room, negating any warmth one might have had about the thoughts of a comforting Thanksgiving dinner.
In fact, the image is so blue and cold, it reminds me of a fleeting shot from some Robert Altman movie, whose work critics also dismissed as cold. Could this have been one of the ghastly dishes Shelley Duvall’s character cooked up in his “3 Women”? (If you don’t know the film, think of the gawky yet brilliant actress, then add Cheez Whiz and tuna casseroles to the unholy mess of a mix.)
The fact that hot dips inspired by the ’70s closes out the issue seems to reinforce the comparison.
But you know what? It doesn’t matter. I plan on making the White Clam Sauce Dip soon. And just as I have loved Robert Altman movies – even “Popeye” – I have loved Gourmet, even when one issue wasn’t as good as the one that preceded it.
Yet why did it die?
Gourmet was killed by parent company Condé Nast largely because of changing economic times and trends. According to one report, its readership just wasn’t as great as sister magazine, Bon Appétit, and the average household income of its subscribers was not as attractive. In a world where advertising dollars is all, the last statistic, more than anything, spelled its doom.
But if the last issue of Gourmet is any indication, editor Ruth Reichl contributed in a more subtle way. As those who have read Reichl’s volumes of memoirs knows, her definition of “gourmet” is not always in alignment with others. She takes a broader, more global approach to the great foods of the world, opening her arms and her kitchen to all manner of cuisines, great and small.
When she was at the New York Times, Reichl faced criticism from readers and newspaper colleagues alike because she would pay attention to restaurants that went beyond the established Western European scope. She dared to place Japanese and Thai food on a pedestal once reserved for French fare.
She continued to do that at Gourmet, where such cuisines had once been reserved largely for the travel pieces. Not under her editorship. In the last issue, there’s a recipe for Portuguese Kale and Potato Soup that is as peasant in origin as anything you could name. It’s on a page with Smothered Pork Chops with Mushrooms, a dressed-up soul food staple, and Apple Noodle Kugel. Granted, all are part of a feature dubbed Gourmet Every Day Quick Kitchen, but the message was clear: Anything that tastes great can – and should – be considered gourmet. And that rankled those who wanted Gourmet to be as elite as the name.
The growth and proliferation of culinary websites was also a contributing factor. Many are more willing to print a free recipe from an Epicurious.com, a Pioneer Woman (thepioneerwoman.com) or even a SavorSA.com than pay a subscription price for a magazine.
Fingers could be pointed all day, contributing factors could be dissected more thoroughly than that Thanksgiving turkey. In the end, we have to face the fact there will be no new issues of Gourmet. But “Gourmet” the TV show with Reichl has just begun its life, and the massive “Gourmet Today” cookbook is also for sale.
Gourmet also lives on in its back issues, with its wealth of recipes and stories of what and how we eat. That will never die.
White Clam Sauce Dip
3/4 cup chopped flat-leat parsley
1 tablespoon fine dry bread crumbs
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided use
1/3 cup finely chopped onion
5 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup bottled clam juice
3 (6 1/2-ounce) cans chopped clams, drained
1 to 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
Salt, to taste
Purée parsley with bread crumbs and 1/4 cup oil in a food processor.
Cook onion, garlic and red pepper flakes in remaining oil in a medium skillet over medium heat, stirring, until pale golden, about 5 minutes. Add wine and clam juice and boil, stirring, until slightly reduced, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in clams and cook until heated through, then stir in parsley purée. Remove from heat and season with lemon juice and salt. Serve with crackers.
Makes about 1 1/2 cups.
From Gourmet magazine