Sunday, January 24, 2010

Gourmet & the Lost Generation of Foodies

As much as I loved the movie Julie & Julia, Julia Child did not teach my generation to become better-than-average cooks and free-wheeling foodies. Gourmet magazine did. For those of who graduated from college, got good jobs and came of cultural age during the '60s, '70s and '80s, the slick, advertising-heavy food magazine was our portal into what we wanted to be - the kind of meals we wanted to conjure up and to prepare for friends, the restaurants we wanted to eat in when we "got to" New York or Los Angeles, and the kind of spas and hotels we wished we could afford to visit on the Riviera or in the Black Forest. As a wine writer, I loved Gerald Asher's travelogues of his visits to the world's great wineries and winemakers. I am still trying to catch up with him. Gourmet's layouts were stunning, the photography urbane, the recipes generally challenging. There was always an ingredient I couldn't find and a term I would have to look up in those pre-Google days - but many of my attempts were successful, and I learned first-hand how to appreciate good food and dining.

It was quite common in those days to go into a friend's kitchen on a Friday evening for a dinner party for 8 and see a recent issue of Gourmet folded to that evening's holy grail, a heavy kitchen knife keeping the book open to the right page, flecks of creme fraiche or maybe tartar sauce spread across the type. Gourmet was our handbook in the kitchen and our travel guide on the road. Looking into the magazine racks in our living rooms, next to the Bentwood rockers, rya rugs and too many potted plants, the only reading materials that all of us generally had in common was Gourmet. Old issues of it, and sometimes the New Yorker, were stacked in our basements and hall closets, and when we were forced to throw them, their covers were often neatly filed away.

Truthfully, the magazine had started going downhill before Ruth Reichl got her hands on it. But after she did, it was dumbed down beyond all recognition, except for the gloss. Urbane was replaced by urban. We learned how to make street food and revisit comfort foods and maybe even tried to convince ourselves that it was "authentic cooking."

Each day, I find more new things to attract my interest than the old things from yesterday that I leave behind. But I do miss the old Gourmet, even though I don't want to relive the days when it was flourishing. My hope is that some day someone will revive it the way they did Vanity Fair. But that probably won't happen. Gourmet gave us good times and a good feeling, but I didn't shed tears when it closed, although I did feel sorry for people I knew who worked there and lost jobs..

As a source of inspiration, the soul of Gourmet was dead long before the body quit breathing.

Until next time...

Roger Morris

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