Eat This

Farewell, Gourmet

Gourmet 
This  is not the same as 

Mag1
this

Mag2
or this. 

If every garden magazine shut down its presses today, I
would not miss one of them as much as I will miss Gourmet. Yesterday, Conde Nast announced it was closing the 68-year-old publication, along with some
other, utterly forgettable titles (though those employees are also losing their
livelihoods). But they weren’t Gourmet. Not many are.

Gourmet was not just a monthly compendium of recipes; it
regularly featured excellent writers, unexpected travel pieces, and once in a
while some controversy. Even their recipes were much more than that. They all
came with a narrative—a trip, a memory, an impossibly glamorous dinner with
impossibly beautiful people sitting around a rustic picnic table eating
perfectly cooked chicken with their fingers. So what if it was always impeccably
staged, and (it turns out) financially unfeasible? Not only was every fantasy
meal a miracle of art direction and photography, you knew the recipes would
work.

Recently, the magazine seemed much more effectively seasonal—or
perhaps it was the first time I’d really noticed. I’ll never forget a July
cover with a big sticky, messy jar of homemade blueberry jam. Food marks the cycles of
the year as much as gardening. Gourmet gave not just recipes for cold soup, but
let you taste summer in its pages, even if you were sitting in an
air-conditioned dentist’s office.

And then there was the yearly cookie cover. I always loved being a subscriber because, unlike the newsstand editions, my cover was pure image, with no blurbs obscuring the photography. I think I’ve
saved all the Thanksgiving issues; it was always fascinating to see how they would rework it this time. And I still have the issue with all the vintage recipes. And I have many of their yearly books. 

Enough. It’s sickening. If Gourmet can
close, no magazine is safe. 

Posted by on October 6, 2009 at 5:00 am, in the category Eat This.
Comments are off for this post

19 responses to “Farewell, Gourmet”

  1. ken druse says:

    I hear people say, “There are too many magazines, already.” For some reason, people don’t seem to realize (or stop and think) that thousands of jobs will disappear — from editorial to printers. Is it like the movie industry — “They deserve what they get?” Maybe it is.
    Condé Nast is owned by Advance, and billionaires, but so are some of the automobile companies. No bail out for magazines. In the case of Gourmet, it was advertising sales that killed it, not necessarily subscription numbers (less than one million). What’s next?
    I think newspapers should use cable TV as the model — band together and create pay-for-view-only subscriptions on line.

  2. I am kind of devastated by this. It feels like a foundational shift–more so to me than a big automaker shutting down, though I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because I felt like the big automakers have not been especially sensible for a long time, and so it was not unexpected. But Gourmet? Changed with the times and delivered quality all the way.

  3. You know, I am going to really miss this magazine… you can’t curl up with a lap-top by the fire. I have my mom’s old copies of Gourmet, and I frequently re-read the stories and use the recipes. My nephew, (first member of our clan’s next generation), was born this August, and this makes me stop to wonder – will magazines be gone by the time he is our age… what will be left by the time he reaches his 30’s?
    Thank you for the eulogy… I share your grief.
    -Michaela

  4. Gail says:

    This makes me quite sad~~

  5. Oh the days when on a rainy afternoon, you could curl up on your worn oversized chair with a little blanket and flip through the newly printed pages of your favorite magazine. The colors, the photos, the stories. Doing this with a laptop just doesn’t seem as inviting. If all magazines go away, it will be a sad day indeed.

  6. John says:

    I predict that after we recover from the shock, after the dust settles, from the ashes a new vehicle will emerge and well written, well photographed articles about food, entertaining or even gardening will once again find a place in our laps. The machine that got us here is a big, not-so-practical “thing”. Times have changed, doing business the old way costs too much. A new platform will develop and take the place of magazines but we will have to do without for a while. The only way to succeed is to give people something they can’t get for free off the internet, something they miss terribly, something they’ve waited a long time to see. I might sound extreme but I think the slate has to be wiped clean and allowed to sit still for a while before “whatever the future brings” develops.

  7. Pam J. says:

    I too can’t bear the thought of a world without magazines. Maybe someone here can answer a question I’ve had for some time about the magazine business. At a time when an outfit like Conde Nast can’t make money on a mag why do we see so many niche magazines in stores like Borders? Rows and rows and rows of mags devoted to narrow interests like beading or thrash metal music or, well, gardening in the DC area. How do those publishers manage to keep producing mags but Conde Nast can’t (won’t)? Are the small publishers willing to do it for only a tiny profit (or no profit at all)?

  8. Rosella says:

    Sorry to be a dissenting voice here, but I think Gourmet was a victim of its own preciousness. I had a subscription for years, cooked from it, ate at some of the restaurants it featured, even stayed at some of the lovely hotels they wrote about, but over the past ten years it had become increasingly irrelevant to the way people actually live. Recipes too complicated and difficult, ingredients requiring all-day shopping expeditions even in my well-provisioned city, stories about impossibly beautiful (and rich) people seeming to mock frugality and daily life — no, I won’t miss Gourmet at all.

    And I think Cooks’ Illustrated and Saveur are both much much better magazines, the first with its practical hands-on approach to everyday cooking and learning to actually cook without a recipe!

  9. Amy Stewart says:

    I am feeling very grumpy about the demise of Gourmet, but mostly because it seems like Conde Nast surely could have done more to control costs. I mean, they had Frank Gehry design their damn cafeteria! Was that really necessary?

    I don’t know what Gourmet’s revenue was at the time they decided to close their doors, but I do wonder what would have happened if Conde Nast had said, “Hey. Is there anybody out there who could figure out a way to produce this magazine for $10 million?” (or whatever their revenue was). There are lots of creative, hardworking people willing to work from home or from a cheap office, and willing to stay at the Best Western instead of the Four Seasons during a photo shoot, as part of doing work they love for a fair salary.

    I’ve seen beautiful magazines produced on a shoestring before. I have also seen big, national glossy magazines squander a fortune shooting four different cover options when one would have worked. Surely somebody could have figured out a way to keep Gourmet alive. What a disappointment.

  10. commonweeder says:

    Oh, no! I had no idea. How could they do this? I do not understand how publishers choose to end magazines like House and Garden and Gourmet. Is quality a thing of the past in the publishing world?

  11. jen says:

    I think ultimately all the magazines are going to end up shut down and online. Most people can’t afford a pricey magazine with more ads than content.

    I noticed at the store the other day all my $3.75 favs that I used to buy several years ago are now selling for $8+.

    Their costs might be rising, but my income certainly isn’t it.

  12. Eliz says:

    Amy, I agree. Cost-cutting, anyone? But there must be a reason they chose not to … I mean they could have cut expenses in half and still produced a masterpiece every month.

    Rosella, I too was charmed by Cooks Illustrated at first, but after the 25th treatise on the best way to make oven-baked chicken breasts, I couldn’t take it any more and cancelled my subscription.

  13. Kat says:

    Although I’m sorry to see a magazine with such a history gone, I have to agree with the poster who commented on Gourmet’s failure to change with the times. I started to lose interest in Gourmet’s pretentiousness about 7 years ago.

    It is true that if Gourmet can fold, no magazine is safe. But who is to say what will come won’t be even better? Where there is demand, there will be content.

  14. zephyr says:

    Gourmet lost me a long time ago, when Laurie Colwin, one of my favorite food writers/Gourmet columnist suddenly passed away. And, clearly, RR & Co never captured the imagination of enough subscribers. It’s subscription numbers never came close to Bon Appetit–where I found many more tempting recipes than I ever did in Gourmet. And if I was going to chose one food magazine, I opted for the one that dished up recipes I used.

  15. greg draiss says:

    Boiled napkins in a sautee’ of frog juice on crunchy kitty vittles for $50 is not fashionable anymore……

    Now…..Redneck SUSHI, eel, catfish and largemouth bass???
    That is the trend

    The TROLL

  16. Pam J and others –
    Niche, mom-and-pop, or independent mags survive and some thrive by running on bare-bones budgets. They rely on subscriptions versus advertising to stay alive — so the huge drop on ad pages has not hit them like their big corporate sisters.

  17. Foy says:

    We are all here on the internet. We are all part of the reason Gourmet is folding. The internet is replacing printed materials.

  18. Paul says:

    Saveur magazine will easily make you forget the loss of Gourmet

  19. Saveur will not make me forget the loss of Gourmet (and I’ve had a subscription to Saveur for the last year so I know). They are completely different mags. I grew up in a very middle class household and reading Gourmet was my window on the world. Some issues I just looked at the pictures. They were so evocative it didn’t matter if I even read the stories. I’m with you Elizabeth on the Nov. and Dec. issues. Winners year after year. They always came up with a wonderful new take on tradition. And Laurie Colwin was writing novels and short stories and cookbooks long before Gourmet discovered her. But that was the great thing about them — they kept adding new talent on the editorial end.

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