Here’s the thing: Until Ruth Reichl’s delightful Save Me the Plums: My Gourmet Memoir, I had made what I thought was a lasting peace with Bon Appétit.
I had decided to accept, and perhaps even like, the hipster page layouts, the photos of people in vintage-wash t-shirts and man buns, harvesting mussels and ramps, pushing kimchi and miso. It was all fine: Time changes; we evolve; next generation, et cetera. And the recipes were fine – even good, sometimes – and respectably au courant. Curious about jammy eggs? Bon Appétit to the rescue.
[On that particular note, though, so did my mother – despite the fact that the term “jammy egg” wouldn’t have crossed her mind.]
But Bon Appétit wasn’t ever, and will never be, Gourmet. Writing about trendy foods and advancing gastronomy are two entirely different things, as are sharing recipes and using food to build community.
Was Gourmet snobby and old-school? Often. It was also the adult in the room, the seasoned parent, the voice of world-traveled wisdom.
It was memory, taste, exploration, comfort, technique, and sophistication, all stitched together with a thread of gravitas. Gourmet understood that food and communion are inseparable, worthy of respect and thoughtful consideration.
Take Reichl’s story about 9/11, for example. You’ll have to buy the book to read the full account, but this excerpt from an interview Riechl gave to Publisher’s Weekly will give you a hint:
How did the New York of the early 2000s shape your time at the magazine?
9/11 was a stunning event for all of us in New York. When the staff of Gourmet went down there with our trays of lasagna and chili and brownies, the firefighters came staggering out of the hell that was Ground Zero and fell on the food. I remember one man saying, “Thank you, you brought me a taste of home.” I think, for all of us, it underlined how important food is, and made us all the more determined to tackle the subjects with seriousness.
The power of this story became clear last Wednesday when, for the first time, the first image to pop in my mind was not the actual memory of where I was on 9/11/2001 (nursing a newborn), but an imagined image of the Gourmet kitchen and all the staff and chefs, in the days after the attack, working around the clock to prepare and deliver food to first responders. Reading Reichl’s account of that time put the memory of the specific event in a broader context. It gave taste and texture to an abstract feeling, not only of loss but also of healing, of how we might knit ourselves back together after tragedy.
And in that memory, for me, the mourning was greater than before. What we’ve abandoned since that day does a disservice to the lives lost on that day.
Last Wednesday evening, sitting in kitchen chairs by the kitchen window, Bernard and I compared notes on our days – the way we do now in the evenings, because we are older, and we are the parents of teenagers who have their own evening plans, leaving us to our own devices.
Bernard said: One of the guys at work was talking about how much he wished we could go back to the way things were right after 9/11, when everybody got along and we supported one another. Kind of makes you wonder, doesn’t it, how everything got so fucked up.
Eighteen years of collective, untreated, post-traumatic stress, perhaps? A superficial, rich-but-soulless recovery that makes everything look cool and progressive on the surface (man buns and vintage-wash shirts and all), while the fear and loathing underneath just fester? Greed-based decisions to value advertising over editorial, glamor over grit?
What I know for certain is this: Some days, every now and again, I remember clearly – and beyond sentimental nostalgia – how things used to be. And I miss them.
And I miss Gourmet.