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Why Gourmet Shouldn’t Close in Vain

October 8, 2009

I’ve been thinking lots about Gourmet magazine closing, and what this really means.

Gourmet was essentially shut down because it was too high end, too high falutin’, too aspirational. And advertisers didn’t feel like they could sell their packaged good as well there as they could sell them elsewhere. Well, maybe so. But let’s look at the flip side.Gourmet cover 1980s

Let’s look for a moment at the fact that the world is sinking quickly towards the lowest common denominator, in this case, food-wise. Late last night, I saw a commercial where Kraft singles positioned themselves as the “solution to the world of American dreamers.” I swear I heard it, but I have spent the morning scouring the internet and can’t find a trace of this.  KFC is marketing a sandwich that saves us from carbs by sandwiching cheese in between two piece of fried chicken, instead of bread. No time to make dinner? No problem. Dump a can of salty mushroom soup over some chicken breasts and you can feed your family, and fast.

No way. No way, that we are going to accept all of this as a solution. No way that we are going to settle for a fair-to-middling remedy for getting dinner on the table, and not push ourselves a little bit more to figure out way to give our kids, our families, our friends something better to chew on. We need to push back on mediocrity in all forms, especially at our dinner tables, and be willing to work a little bit harder. There is too much at stake. Screw Hamburger Helper. Gourmet may have done some things wrong, and they may not have been the number one place to go for weeknight dinner ideas.  But that wasn’t the point.   By attempting to inspire people, by giving people a glimpse into different cuisines and ideas, by opening up other worlds, by teaching us something new, they did a lot right.

We need to continue to find ways not always to make things easy, but to make things different and better. Let’s pick that over complacency.

17 Comments leave one →
  1. Deborah Keblys permalink
    October 8, 2009 4:15 pm

    I absolutely agree. “Dumb it down” seems to be the motto lately. I used to love to watch the Food Network, but lately it seems like all I get are more hurry up meals and cheap eats. I think the general audience of cooking shows has become more advanced so I’m not sure why the shows seem to be regressing. I want to try something new and challenging. Teach me something new, not another variation on a 15 minute pasta dish!

    • Kerry permalink
      October 12, 2009 8:36 pm

      I completely agree with your comments. I’m often looking for a challenge, especially when planning dinner parties and I have little use for the quick and easy recipes offered by many on the Food Network. My kids are still so picky even those current shows’ recipes would be more than my kids would try. Please folks, we want more substance, skill and exploration in to the gourmet food world.

  2. Katie Workman, Editor-in-Chief permalink*
    October 8, 2009 4:50 pm

    I am looking for a less religiously-flavored way to say, “Amen” to your comment!

  3. October 8, 2009 6:53 pm

    Hear, hear, Katie! I actually think that this “lowest common denominator” phenomenon extends far beyond the world of cooking, and is so pervasive in today’s society that it filters many aspects of our daily lives, from the office to our schools to advertising to food to the media. It’s disheartening that the culture of convenience has bred ignorance as well.

  4. Elizabeth permalink
    October 8, 2009 8:01 pm

    I could not agree more with the “lowest common denominator” phenomenon. It can be downright scary to spend time in a grocery store these days and see so many food items that are “fix-it-in-a-flash” – either packaged, boxed, or frozen. Just add hamburger! Just add the sauce package, the spice packet, the streusel packet! And don’t get me started on the ingredients in all those packages….I would need to take chemistry again to understand what they are (and what they might do to my body).

    People need to get back to wholesome cooking. Cooking with real food, not packaged food. I wish people could get the message that it can be really easy to cook this way. Gourmet Magazine might have aimed too high for today’s cooks, but they gave something for the more aspiring cooks to think about, to try, and to dream about. I guess those who are looking for inspiration will just have to spend more time looking through recipes on……not a bad fate.

  5. October 9, 2009 12:42 am

    One of my favorite things about Gourmet was that they provided such a wide range of recipes and ideas – from the aspirational to the inventively simple (for example, the Quick Kitchen section in every issue). While I wouldn’t attempt every recipe in every issue, I always discovered new ingredients and techniques and was inspired to try something new.

    It’s especially tragic that we’re losing Gourmet at a time when, especially in the US, we could not need them more. Bowing to the lowest common denominator stinks.

  6. Kristen permalink
    October 9, 2009 1:41 pm

    Awesome! You are spot on!

  7. October 9, 2009 10:22 pm

    Hi Katie!

    Great post! We’ve been talking non-stop about Gourmet this week at Foodista. You hit on a lot of points regarding processed food in general that I think about on a daily basis. I also agree that Gourmet may not have spoken to everyone, or everyone’s cooking skill level, but they DID inspire thousands to get in the kitchen and cook something from scratch. It will be interesting to see what the future holds for other print publications on cooking.

  8. October 11, 2009 12:24 am

    Excellent post! I so agree with the comment about “lowest common denominator”. There is always time to have a home-cooked meal in the evening, it just requires planning. Our lives are so rushed and packed that we don’t feel in control….food prep, fast food, convenience…we have control over those. We just don’t always make the best or informed decisions.

  9. October 12, 2009 5:02 pm

    I want to thank you for this post. I have been sorting through several old issues of my Gourmet and thinking that there is nothing in my food subscription magazine list that even comes close. My hope is that home chefs will ban together and support one another in sharing their own delicious cooking techniques and menus to keep the “lowest common denominator” at bay.

  10. Katie Workman, Editor-in-Chief permalink*
    October 12, 2009 8:54 pm

    All of your comments have been so great to read – clearly there’s hope that we’re not all going to succumb to that lowest common denominator that quickly!

  11. October 12, 2009 11:38 pm

    We agree with you totally. What could be more human and engaging to our kids and friends than to cook a meal together and learn the way this spice or that starch reacts to heat and melds with a palette of pure, fresh ingredients? The pre-preprepared convenience foods of our culture in particular are culture-killers. To teach someone to appreciate how food works together and how it blesses others and how it brings people together is worthy of giving our time.

  12. October 13, 2009 1:08 am

    Gourmet is a classic in the true sense of the word. A magazine that fostered excellence — in writing, in photography, in cuisine. I keep hoping that Conde Nast will relent and realize that they have made a terrible mistake!

  13. Denise permalink
    October 13, 2009 2:28 pm

    I agree that the world today seems to have the make it quick and it doesnt matter what is in it concept. Even though there is nothing wrong with QUALITY meals that do not take long to make, there is something sad about the ISLES of Tuna helper, frozen crock pot meals, and canned chicken and dumplings.

    The world needs to come back to the mindset that dinner is a very important family event. I fonfly remember my childhood meals and they were all home cooked qulity meals….not hamburger helper.

  14. October 14, 2009 1:58 am

    I’ll miss the publication. I guess many magazines will go the way of the newspapers, as the internet is changing the very way we process information.

    I agree with the comment above, perhaps they will reconsider ?

  15. October 14, 2009 2:09 pm

    I’ll say it: Amen.

    I’ve worked in advertising and publishing my whole life, and man…it’s a tough game. I’m really sad to see them go, especially because they’re essentially being penalized for being too good.

    It’s so odd that we’ve seen this explosion of food-centric culture in recent years–but so many of these crappy short cuts are still being promoted and embraced by busy folks.


  16. October 14, 2009 8:12 pm

    It hurts losing Gourmet. I thought the images and the editorial in recent years was better than ever. Like many of the comments so far, I feel the need to fight back in some way. I will work harder to create new recipes, use the freshest local produce, find new ingredients and try new cooking techniques. I’m testing 4 new canning recipes this week thanks, in part, to Ruth Reichl’s recent comments on the subject.

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