Gourmet: A Letter to Si Newhouse


Dear Si,

By now, you may have heard from others like me–the heartsick and the grieving, all mourning the demise of Gourmet magazine, a formidable kitchen companion to many for almost 70 years.

By now, you may have seen the words “iconic” and “institution” bandied about. You may have heard the sepia-toned reminiscing of armchair travelers and culinary voyeurs whose lives have been the better, even for just moments, because of Gourmet.

And you’ve probably heard the words: Save Gourmet.

Gourmet has been a victim of the economic downturn, to be sure. The financial reasons for the close are clear — its advertising revenue had plummeted 43% in the first half of 2009, a bigger drop than the industry average, and newsstand sales have suffered as well.

In an interview with Bloomberg News, Condé Nast chief executive Chuck Townsend said of Gourmet: “It is the epitome of Condé Nast photography and journalism, but it’s a poor business.” On the flip side, Bon Appetit, with its more accessible, recipe-heavy emphasis that hews more toward Rachael Ray than Anna Wintour, has fared better in this economy.

I get that. I do.

But I also mourn the broader cultural shift that this shuttering reflects — the move toward the practical instead of the aspirational. The embracing of the everyday and the 30-minute meals that populate it at the expense of the fantastical and the imaginative — the meals, the experiences, that many only dream of one day having.

Through Gourmet, I’ve been able to get an intimate glimpse of Paris through the young and newly infatuated Aleksandra Crapanzano’s eyes in the award-winning piece ”Benedictions.” I’ve also been transported to little Ragusa in Sicily, where I got to know the Modicana cow, which produces some of the richest milk in the world.

Many magazines tell stories such as this — Gourmet always did so memorably. 

Yes, the practical is essential — and right now, that’s what sells. But it must exist alongside the other side of food journalism — the one that enriches lives beyond just one meal.

Without the lush pictures and the glorious tales of meals made and eaten in far-flung locales, cooking and eating becomes reduced to just pots, pans, recipes and the mere act of putting food on the table.

And with the closing of Gourmet, we’re a big step closer to that.


A Fan


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15 thoughts on “Gourmet: A Letter to Si Newhouse

  1. Extraordinarily eloquent. And it’s true of all forms of writing, communication, etc, not just food journalism. What we forget in our rush for convenience, speed, etc. is the joy that can only come with being reflective and deliberative. A James Patterson thriller is great once in a while, but who’d want a steady diet devoid of books by A.S. Byatt or Jonathan Lethem?

    • I like Gourmet too, and it is too bad. I just goes to show how far print media has fallen that such vernaeble publications are falling to the knife. I agree about online not being the same besides, it’s pretty hard to set up your computer on your kitchen counter to cook by. (Even a laptop or iPhone doesn’t really suffice I don’t care if I smudge my magazine, but I sure don’t want foodstuffs invading my electronics.)

      • True — I cook using my iPhone and believe me, it’s suffered. I’ve gotten butter and flour on it so many times that little button works about half the time now! Years ago I saw a prototype of a fridge LG was developing — this was way before the iPad debuted but this fridge essentially had a removable iPad like device attached to its front so cooks could look up recipes easily as they cooked. I thought it was brilliant!

  2. A someone who has subscribed to both magazines for decades (since I was 11 years old!), I have to say – I have *always* preferred BA over Gourmet.
    I appreciate Gourmet more now than I did when I was younger – I’m nearly 30 now – but for the most part, I subscribe to the magazines for the recipes. I am not a ‘reader’ of cooking magazines in general; I am a ‘browser’ or a ‘skimmer’. I look at them primarily for the pictures, to get ideas, and because I love getting mail in my postbox.
    And BA has always had, IMO, far, far, far better recipes. I almost never follow a recipe precisely, but I would say my changes to recipes from both magazine are of the same general type and degree, and BA recipes are much more delicious. I continue to subscribe to Gourmet out of loyalty, but I prefer BA immensely because fundamentally I’m about WHAT TASTES GOOD and BA wins in that category by leaps and bounds, at least from my perspective.
    And this is not to say that I don’t care about the broader aspects of food, eating, and cooking, that I don’t care about the inspirational, the aspirational, or the generally poetic. Far from it. But in a cooking magazine, I don’t want or need those aspects. So I wouldn’t assume that there is *necessarily* a cultural shift as you suggested; perhaps Americans are simply getting their intellectual/pensive fix in this matter elsewhere, making Gourmet more obsolete, but not the ideas that it represents.

  3. I think very eloquently put, Cheryl. I know it’s essentially a “ditto” comment but my heart is right there with ya’!
    If others feel the Gourmet format obsolete I am not one of them and would GLADLY pay more $$$ for my subscription rate if necessary. I just wish it somehow could have been an option.
    Anyway, I feel ya’. Thanks. :)

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