Help! My Gourmet is Now Bon Appetit

Mar 012010
 

march_10_cover_vThe postcard inside the plastic-wrapped package advised “…we will be sending you Bon Appetit for the duration of your remaining Gourmet subscription term.”

And there it was, my non-Gourmet. First I got sad about Gourmet’s passing all over again. I like the way Elissa Altman summed up its demise: “Gourmet folded because it had a direct competitor under the same roof in the same genre geared to more practical and commercial endeavors, it made more money, and one of them had to go…End of discussion.”

Once I got over the fact that it was not Gourmet, I was curious to see how Bon Appetit was different. Content, for one thing. Bon Appetit is all about entertaining. Tone, for another. It’s all about ease: world-class dining made simple.

Yet most of the recipes didn’t look that easy. In fact, I got the biggest laugh from a cover blurb promising “5 Easy Ways to Eat More Veggies.” The number one way? Cook cardoons.

(If you’re wondering what they are, it’s probably because your grocery store has never sold them and you’ve never seen them before. Here’s a technique piece in Saveur, which described cardoons as “high maintenance.”)

On behalf of freelance food writers everywhere, I examined the March issue’s contributors, and found a mix of mostly veteran food writers, with one or two youngsters:

And you know what’s really strange? If you want to read any of these pieces, click on the website’s magazine section to access close to the entire issue’s content.

I couldn’t find any pieces about food policy or farming, or essays as brilliant as “Consider the Lobster.” Bon Appetit is much less lofty and aspirational. But then, Ruth Reichl is not in charge. On the other hand, it publishes younger writers, even a blogger. I don’t think Gourmet was ever going to acknowledge food bloggers. It was run by snobby old-school journalists. Let’s be honest.

I’m sure I’ll come around. Right now, I need reasons to fall in love with Bon Appetit. If you have some, let me know.

For more reading on differences between Bon Appetit and Gourmet:


  48 Responses to “Help! My Gourmet is Now Bon Appetit”

  1. I’m having the same problem you are. I subscribed to both Bon Appetit and Gourmet a few years ago. I would read Gourmet cover to cover; I would scan Bon Appetit for recipe ideas, and looked forward to its annual grilling issue.

    When I saw that issue of Bon Appetit, I got depressed. All it did was remind me of what I’m missing. I don’t think I’m going to renew my subscription when it expires; I’ll just pick up the grilling issue from the bookstore.

    • Well, let’s see what they do with all the empty space left by Gourmet. As a former magazine editor, if I saw 1 million readers left behind by the closing of a magazine, I’d try to pick them up.

  2. Harrumph. I haven’t received my replacement Bon Appetit yet so thanks for this recap. Interesting how different the two publications are.

    • Bottom line is that they’re not that different. Both appeal to upscale food enthusiasts who love to cook and entertain.

  3. “I don’t think Gourmet was ever going to acknowledge food bloggers. It was run by snobby old-school journalists. Let’s be honest.”

    Thank you.

    Gourmet’s conceit that ‘we don’t publish food writers, we publish *real* writers writing about food’ was annoyingly snobby (and frustrating, as a freelancer, to be honest). I also bristle at the distinction — made by so many Gourmet mourners (and former contributors) when the magazine folded — between food writing and food ‘journalism’. ‘But Gourmet didn’t publish food *writing*,’ they say, ‘it published food *journalistm*!.

    I consider myself both a food writer and a food journalist, and I don’t consider one to be more ‘important’ or worthy of praise than the other. (Gourmet also published ridiculous fluffy, glossy — and expensive — food spreads with beautiful and beautifully dressed models posing as eaters. But Gourmet mourners rarely mention those.)

    I don’t love Bon Appetit (now that I’m getting it in place of my Gourmet subscription) and usually flip through my issue in under 5 mins. I do pause though, for the occasionally great travel pieces. I loved the one on artisan tofu in Kyoto in the last issue (Adam Sachs writes consistently good pieces) and there was a memorable one last year on cocktailing in Tokyo that was fun but not silly.

    • Yes! I was also annoyed by the tact of employing great writers/novelists to write about food. Not always correct, but I suppose an interesting experiment. And those photo spreads with models — I always poured over them to try to understand why they chose the models they did, whether they were trying to represent readers or some ideal. But many other magazines do that too.

      I do think there’s a difference between food writing and journalism, in the sense that reporting does not include recipe writing. (Now you’re talking to an old-school print journalist who admired Ruth Reichl.) But certainly one is not more important than the other. Just more rare, now.

      Will look more closely at the travel pieces, based on your recommendation. I hope you’re pitching the magazine, Robyn. And congrats on the Saveur nomination for best travel blog.

      • Dianne, is lack of recipes the *only* ‘old-school’ distinction between ood writing and food journalism? Curious.

        I’ve pitched, of course. But competition is fierce these days (as you know) and BA has their favorites. As a food writer I’ve pretty much accepted that my future doesn’t lie in the pages of food magazines. Another reason your blog is so helpful — getting to grips with work beyond print.

        Thanks for what you’re doing here.

        • Good question. I was trying to decide whether essays were considered old school. Maybe not the confessional ones.

          Robyn, you need to pitch them over and over — have tons of ideas and keep trying. Eventually you will wear them down. I’ve seen it done.

  4. Well, to start (reason for falling in love), I’ll have a piece in the August issue, and it’s safe to say that you are partially to credit for my getting this far–not that it’s the cat’s meow, but close in terms of food glossies since the demise of Gourmet.

    It still aches me that it is gone, and I keep thinking that somehow it will reappear. And absolutely, agree, Bon Appetit doesn’t have the long, languorous writing of the former, and probably won’t as Elissa, points out it’s catering to something more practical and commercial. But, “snobby journalists”, really?

    To Bon Appetit’s credit they have shaken it up in the last year, created more interesting photography (at times), included an essay piece (Molly’s) and no doubt will change as part of our expectations change. I’m still waiting for mine in the mail, though, and just for the record, only know 3 of the 7 writer’s names, listed.

    • I DID introduce you to Victoria von Biel, the executive editor, who sat next to me at BlogHer, so I’ll take some credit. But she was already in love with your book. It was more of a melding of the minds between the two of you. Can’t wait to see your story in August!

      Yes, I think Gourmet editors were old-school in that they did not acknowledge bloggers as “real writers.” In fact they did not acknowledge many food writers are “real writers,” preferring to use commercially-successful writers and novelists.

      Will look more closely at the photography. I’m already a big fan of Molly’s. And yes, at least in the March issue, they’re introducing some newer writers.

    • More interesting photography?
      It isn’t to my taste. Some of the styling is downright weird. The cookies in the December issue?
      Of course, I was also annoyed with Gourmet’s use of models in the last few years. A little too pretty, but at least it wasn’t in the food as landscape realm.

      • You mean Bon Appetit’s photography is more interesting than Gourmet’s? I don’t think so.

        • No, the opposite! I am not impressed by Bon Appetit’s photography at all. I was responding to Nani’s comment that BA had more interesing photography at times.

  5. I enjoyed Molly’s column as well. Looking forward to taking a writing class from her next week. I agree there were some things about Bon Appetit that had me scratching my head. But I liked their RSVP section where their contact restaurants for reader’s favorite recipes. Sometimes restaurants aren’t willing to share their recipes with a customer, but will for the publicity in a magazine.

    • You are very lucky to have a class with her. It helps to live in the same town, eh?

      I do like the idea of the RSVP section. Gourmet also had the same kind of thing in the “You Asked for It” section.

  6. I respectfully disagree with your cursory review of Bon Appetit. Sure the article listed cardoons. But it was more about the non-availability of winter vegetables and what to cook during this season. The list included additional vegetables to try and I dare say that if cardoons had been listed in Gourmet, faithful readers would have rushed out to buy cardoons. Since this ingredient was listed in the stepchild, it is “laughable”.

    I have/had been a long time subscriber of both Bon Appetit and Gourmet magazines. If any magazine lauds inacessible ingredients, Gourmet would sit high atop the stack. There seems to be some sort of bash Bon Appetit culture since Gourmet closed. It truly isn’t the fault of this magazine that Gourmet closed its doors yet it seems to take the heat as if it was some petulant child who sat behing closed doors doing nothing but finding ways to accelerate its demise. They are two separate magazines and they have never tried to mimic the other. Sure there was some competition for subscriber’s dollars but the views of the magazines have always been different. To say that it isn’t Gourmet is certainly true. But it was never meant to be Gourmet.

    Bon Appetit does have its merits: Fast Easy Fresh is a great column for busy folks who still want to put a great meal on the table. In Season highlights an ingredient each month with what to look for relative to freshness and ways in which to cook it. This month’s feature is pineapples. I must tell you that I am always amazed at the number of students in my classes who do not know how to treat a fresh pineapple. The Prep School photos toward the back are a step by step for some of the techniques deemed a little trickier. Other features this month included One Dish Wonders, Desserts with Citrus and a Slice of Ireland. One of my favorite features of the magazine is the monthly entertaining articles. Another comment oftentimes heard in my classes is the inability to come up with a menu and then to figure out the timeline. These entertaining features provide a whole menu and sometimes add wine suggestions and decorating tips. This month boasted Big Night and Back Country Bolognese.

    While I am sad to see Gourmet go, I don’t think the side by side comparisons are fair. What one magazine might have lacked in your eyes was probably the reason others loved it. I know many who thought Gourmet too high falutin’ and Bon Appetit more accessible. Read it with fresh eyes and leave the comparisons out of it. You might see it a bit differently.

    Guess my coffee had a bit more caffeine in it than usual!
    Dawn

    • Wow Dawn, hardly anyone respectfully disagrees with me. They just disagree.

      Re cardoons, agreed that it is an obscure enough vegetable to have interested Gourmet. The article itself was fine. Having been a former magazine editor, I think the problem was with the cover blurb, which said “5 Easy Ways to Eat More Veggies.”

      I was not aware of a “bash Bon Appetit” wave. I just miss Gourmet’s focus on the literary and the journalistic. I won’t miss the crazy recipes, the snobbery and the obscure stuff. Bon Appetit is a professional, successful magazine with enviable ads, well-written articles and a large readership. I’ll certainly give it a chance.

      It sounds like your students are the perfect audience for Bon Appetit.

    • I’ve seen the “Bash BA” attitude everywhere since the closure — Dawn’s thorough response here is a breath of fresh air. A year or so ago, I had a stack of Bon Appetits next to a stack of Gourmet magazines, during a period of recovery. Something about the tone and accessibility and ease of enjoying food endeared Bon Appetit to me during that time & I’ve enjoyed it ever since. Though I also love what Gourmet did, that stack sat idle by comparison.

      I love food so much, I’d hope there would be space for both types.

      • Yes, well sadly not. I’m sorry if people think I’m bashing Bon Appetit. I didn’t really have much bad to say about it, really, other than it was not Gourmet and I thought the cover blurb was misleading. I plan to enjoy the next issue more, and people have been very helpful here with comments about what to look for that they enjoy.

  7. I miss Gourmet terribly – I absolutely loved the writing. It was a much smarter magazine.

  8. I was cracking up at that cardoons piece too, given that it took me two years to find them in MANHATTAN of all places, and then an afternoon’s worth of grief to cook them. (http://www.goodfoodstories.com/2009/12/07/the-elusive-thanksgiving-cardoon/)

    Like Second Becky on Roseanne, Bon Appetit is never going to have the same quirks as the Gourmet you knew and loved well. But in BA’s defense, it’s got winsome writing, accessible and diverse recipes-and I know I’m in the minority here, but I really love the clean redesign. It’s one of the few magazines I still subscribe to in a world of online content (yes, I too am killing the magazine industry) and I would very much miss it if it too left the publishing landscape.

    Oh, and don’t forget, the brilliant Karen DeMasco did a story on winter citrus desserts- my absolute favorite piece in this month’s BA.

    • Hah. I have only seen them at the Berkeley Bowl here in the East Bay, and have not tried to cook with them.

      I do like the design. It’s conservative, but clean. The citrus piece is gorgeous. The food styling is perfect overall. I’m remembering Gourmet’s messy photos of half-eaten plates, stains on the tablecloth, photo spreads with no text that went on for pages. I didn’t like them at first. Maybe there was just more experimentation.

      Thanks for looking over the magazine and giving me your assessment, Casey.

  9. I am also struggling with my replacement magazine. In the February issue there was an article that promised seasonal uses for buckwheat, the most appetizing of the recipes called for soba noodles and asparagus. I rushed out to my garden to see if my asparagus patch had started to produce and found it still buried under snow. Asparagus is seasonal in February, where?

    I also miss the write ups in Gourmet that proceeded many of the recipes. Without those write ups that say what is wonderful about a recipe I am not compelled to try the recipes.

    -Robin

    • A good cooking magazine like Bon Appetit tries hard to be seasonal, but asparagus doesn’t pop up at the same time all over the US, so they take their best shot at it. We had asparagus here in California last month.

      Re headnotes, I looked at the last few Gourmets, and the headnotes were brief, maybe a sentence or two, but yes, longer than they are in Bon Appetit.

  10. Andrew McCarthy? I love that washed up actors are getting food writing work, while food writers themselves are struggling. Stellar.

    • Yeah, interesting choice, eh? But it says he’s a contributing editor of at National Geographic Traveler, so he’s a man of multiple talents.

  11. Elissa is dead wrong in her assessment. According to Ruth Reichl (and I do believe she would know) Gourmet shuttered because of an advertising strategy that focused solely on luxury products–cars, travel, jewelry, etc. Luxury brands do not allow magazines to run their ads next to consumer package good ads so Gourmet could not take on other advertisers. Luxury products are and have been in a decline but Gourmet’s subscriber base was strong and it was more relevant than ever.

    • Aha. Where did you read/hear this? Interesting, but I don’t see how this would keep them from accepting consumer package goods ads in the first place, especially if they had fewer and fewer luxury ads. If I understand you correctly it is about where the ads are placed, and didn’t prevent Gourmet from accepting them.

      • RR spoke at the CIA Worlds of Flavor conference this year and addressed the issue. She said it’s the luxury advertisers who won’t stand to have their ads placed anywhere near a detergent or diaper ad. She also said the subscriber base was very strong. They would have had to completely change their advertising strategy in order to stay in business through the downturn I guess.

        • Interesting. Thanks for clarifying. Maybe that’s what it came down to — there are so many explanations, but this one is from the horse’s mouth.

  12. I don’t have the opportunity to evaluate, because I have been told my BA subscription won’t begin until May. The “seamless” transition from Gourmet (last issue November) to BA is not so seamless. I find that pretty unconscionable, actually. Let’s see if it’s decent enough to overcome my irritation.

    In the meantime, I bought about 50 back issues of Gourmet from the 60′s and 70′s on ebay, and i’ve been reading them.

    • Fifty back issues! That will keep you busy for a while. How odd that your subscription doesn’t restart until May.

  13. There was something aesthetically pleasing about Gourmet that I always found incredibly inspirational. While I do enjoy Bon Appetit (and always have!) it’s missing that gorgeous–almost romantic–quality that I looked forward to in the pages of Gourmet. For now, Saveur comes close to filling that, and Bon Appetit continues to provide great ideas and interesting pieces. I miss Gourmet, but am also eager to see if anything new and lovely pops up.

    Oh but I do have one major complaint! Since my fiance was already subscribed to Bon Appetit (he subscribed under his name, but for me), we are now suddenly receiving TWO of the same issue each month. I’ll have to call them about that!

    • Yes, that’s a good word for it — romantic. Saveur doesn’t quite fit it the same way, but I have always enjoyed it the most of all the food magazines, because of its love of the exotic.

  14. I always thought of Gourmet as aspirational – lovely essays about food, amazing photographs and information about exotic items, while Bon Appetit was stuff I actually wanted to cook – not simplistic or dumbed-down, just more practical and doable. I read Gormet, but clipped recipes out of BA – I thought it was a good balance. Before the demise of Gourmet, or rumours about it, I felt like BA was trying to hard to be more like Gourmet, which annoyed me. So now, I am sad to lose Gourmet, but also feel like I lost BA awhile ago.

    • That does sound like a good balance. I take it you’re not doing that now — clipping Bon Appetit recipes. Bon Appetit has lots of overlap in the audience between it and Gourmet. It was certainly fortunate that Conde Nast had another magazine so similar to take over the circulation.

      I never clip recipes from the food magazines. I wanted to keep them in pristine condition on my bookshelf, for reference for when a client wants to pitch a particular magazine. I look through a few issues for inspiration or to make sure we’re on target.

  15. OMG! When Saveur calls something high-maintenance, I’m heading in the other direction. To me, Saveur was high-maintenance.

    • You are funny. You could always stick with the related artichokes. Much easier to cook.

  16. I stopped subscribing to Gourmet years ago (before Ruth Reichl took over). There were too many travel & lifestyle-focused articles for my taste. And it wasn’t unusual an article to have a photograph of (but no recipe for) a dish that I wanted to try.

    So when I realized that I could get every Gourmet recipe on Epicurious (which takes up no space, is much easier to search, & comes with reader reviews/comments), I never subscribed again.

    • It is kind of odd that the entire issues are there, isn’t it? Also as I mentioned in the post, the entire issue of Bon Appetit seems to be online as well.

  17. I’m still grieving over Gourmet, and like you, have Bon Appetit arriving in my mailbox now. It just makes me feel old (and I’m really not that old, 40 is the new 30, right? or is it the new black? whatever.). Here’s my goodbye to Gourmet, on my blog: http://acookandherbooks.blogspot.com/2009/10/goodbye-gourmet-and-ruth-reichl-dont.html
    I’ll give Bon App a chance, but it’s going to be hard to love.

  18. I received my replacement BA, and quickly called customer service to cancel. The photographs, the recipes, the general layout. It was all so sad.

    I promptly subscribed to Saveur and it’s getting me through this period of withdrawal.

    • Yes, I have loved Saveur from the beginning because of its exoticism and dedication to discussing the cultural meaning of food.

    • Sorry to hear that, Catherine! At least you have Saveur to get you through.

  19. I have yet to receive my replacement bon appetite magazines. I subscribed to gourmet just before they cancelled last year. I received one magazine and then nothing more. Anyone know how to get ahold of someone to get a refund or replacements?

    • From the bottom of the Bon Appetit masthead: Call 1-800-765-9419, inside the US. %25-433-5019.

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