At a recent panel discussion on food writing, the moderator implied that we were all in deep mourning for the passing of Gourmet magazine. Being the contrarian that she is, Julie Powell (author of Julie & Julia and the newly released Cleaving,) brought us back to earth by pointing out that Gourmet could, at times, seem snooty and out of touch with it's modern audience. I love the two viewpoints - on one hand we want to idolize the institution that Gourmet had become, on the other, it was just a magazine - and one that catered to the privileged epicurean, or those aspiring to be.
My view on Gourmet runs the full spectrum. I will miss the lovely covers and photography by Romulo Yanes and many talented contributors. I will miss Ruth Reichl's editorial influence - if anyone straddles the worlds of the caviar-and-champagne set and the cash-strapped home cook, it's her. I will miss the recipes. I won't miss the parts I tended to skip over anyway - travel stories about epicurean vacations at spas and resorts so far out of my price range as to be in the realm of fantasy. Or front-of-the-book items like crystal paperweights that you could use as a fancy fruit bowl - for only $500 dollars.
I've still got subscriptions to Saveur and Cook's Illustrated to fill some of my cooking magazine needs. And in place of my Gourmet subscription, I am now receiving Bon Appétit. Thank you, Condé Nast.
While I wanted to hate it, I tried to keep an open mind when the first issue arrived. I picked apart the design and photography immediately. I liked some of the images, but some I found oddly old-fashioned, with weird, spotty lighting and heavy shadows. I suppose food photography is somewhat like fashion - what was old is new again. Open mind, open mind, I reminded myself.
A food magazine is many things, but superficially, it is a source for new recipes. Maybe I'm not the average reader, but I expect the recipes arriving on a monthly basis to my mailbox to be carefully written, use quality products (no can o' soup sauces,) and be well-tested for home cooking, as well as beautifully photographed and presented. A tall order indeed. So I set about to make the first recipe from Bon Appétit with a critical mindset. I decided to make one of the desserts - Apple and Maple Bread Pudding. It was a huge hit. I brought it to Christmas dinner along with a good vanilla ice cream and it disappeared quickly. The cousins raved. The uncles came back for seconds. I stashed away a small portion to have for myself later.
As far as the recipe goes, I'd say the only flaw was that I had difficulty getting the apples to a "deep golden." They were starting to get mushy before browning, so I divided them into two fry pans and had better luck. For the finished product it didn't seem to matter. Overall, it was a successful recipe.
My verdict: I will definitely give Bon Appétit a chance. I'll need to try more of the recipes and get to know the writers and the regular columns. I'm going to miss Gourmet. No doubt. But I can't wait to see what Ruth Reichl and the gang do next. There's so much going on in the food world these days, I'm sure whatever it is will be exciting.
My version of the Bon Appétit bread pudding to come in the next post.