Photo by cbertel/Flickr CC
This is a terrible day for everyone who cares about food and for writing: Conde Nast announced this morning that it will close Gourmet after 68 years of publication.
Ruth Reichl and an enormously talented staff, many of them longtime editors and writers, many of them new, reinvented a magazine whose gloss had worn thin when she arrived; the overtly elitist, you're-not-quite-good-enough-for-our-kind tone had become mostly tiresome, although each issue had a frozen-in-time quality that was perversely appealing. Was the piece on Vienna by Lillian Langseth-Christensen from this year? From 1969? Somehow it didn't matter, though you also felt it was accurate. By remaining above the fray and beyond trends, it was both sniffy and timeless. My uncle's wedding present to his sister, my mother, was a collection of bound issues of ten years of Gourmet from its founding to her wedding, and in my parents' bedroom that collection remained, for all of us to page through. (A friend or hers and reader of this site just wrote to tell me, as I didn't know, that was my mother's standard anniversary gift to friends was a subscription to the magazine.)
Under Ruth, the magazine focused on the quality of writing--she brought it much closer to The New Yorker, whose literacy (and elitism) was likely always a strong influence on its founder, Earle MacAusland, and by the time she took over was part of the CN fold. From the start she announced that she would bring in unexpected writers--novelists, crime reporters, poets--whose unexpected and wonderfully readable takes would rethink how people considered food. David Foster Wallace's piece on lobsters will always be one of the most anthologized articles on food, and she inspired many other classics.