Friday, October 15, 2021

A Look Back at Gourmet Magazine


“When you attain my age you will understand one of life’s great secrets: Luxury is best appreciated in small portions. When it becomes routine it loses its allure.”

“Save Me the Plums” by Ruth Reichl was a trip down memory lane for me. When I first moved to Florida in the ‘90s, I became friends with a group of people who LOVED their food. There was a chef, a wine connoisseur and the most amazing home cook. Surprisingly, they invited me to become part of their dinner club. Surprising because I was not a chef, wine connoisseur or amazing home cook. Oh I liked food all right. I mean, I needed it to live. But I didn’t live to eat and that was about to change. I started my dinner club adventure by bringing lots of salads and baked goods. Then I ventured into entrée territory and all because I had subscribed to Gourmet Magazine. Gourmet was an “old, grande dame,” as Reichl describes it, when I first started using it. But then a transformative shift started happening at the magazine and simultaneously through my cooking. Recipes became easy and I was introduced to new spices. My food and cooking acumen grew exponentially at the same time that Reichl was at the helm. So I doubly appreciated everything Reichl shares in “Save Me the Plums.”

“Save Me the Plums” starts with Gourmet approaching Reichl with the incredible position of Editor in Chief. She describes her hesitation in accepting; she had no idea how to be an editor – she was a writer! But she longed to have a job that allowed her to cook dinners at home with her son and husband, so she accepted. Once she did, we watch as she stumbles through the learning curve of becoming an editor. She details the heady experience of being in the Gourmet test kitchens. We learn, along with her, the importance of cover art. She name drops a ton of people because she is surrounded by a ton of people and she always has a quirky way of describing them. And talk about descriptions – if reading Reichl talk about food doesn’t make you want to rush out and buy what she’s eating, then you must have just finished a meal. She loves her food and it shows.

One of the things Reichl envisioned for Gourmet was to have famous writers contribute stories to the magazine. One in particular resonated with me and Reichl spends a chapter talking about it. David Foster Wallace was conscripted to write a story about lobsters in Maine. And he did. However it didn’t just talk about cooking lobsters or the idyllic ambience of Maine. “Consider the Lobster” also talked about the morality of taking a living creature and plunging it into boiling water. Reichl talks about the anxiety she had publishing that piece (Foster Wallace was adamant about keeping the message intact). In the end, “Consider the Lobster” was published. And here’s my connection to this story: I wrote a Letter to the Editor regarding “Consider the Lobster.” And it was published! I dusted off the plastic bin in my closet and dug down under all the other papers I’ve saved over the years and yes, I found the magazine with my letter inside. What a surreal experience it was to read that chapter and find evidence of my association to it living in my closet.

“Save Me the Plums” isn’t all about Gourmet. Reichl also talks about her family, her unabashed love of food and her verve for life. She also provides us with some recipes and those were like getting letters from an old friend.

Of course nothing lasts forever and that is the same with magazines. Reichl and Gourmet’s incredible ride slowly came to an end, and she describes those painful moments as well. I had stopped getting Gourmet before the end came – there were just too many other options available for recipes. I remember one of the last issues I picked up at the bookstore – hardly any pages and the paper was so thin. It didn’t surprise me to hear that the magazine was being discontinued but it still impacted me. Gourmet was such a venerable magazine and Reichl made it culturally relevant. It was a shame it had to go. Luckily for us, Reichl resurrects it with “Save Me the Plums.” I thank her for writing this love letter to Gourmet and allowing me to reminisce at the same time.

Lynn Alexander is a recently published author and long-time book, food, cat and college football lover (Go Green!). Her career journey started in upstate New York, writing and recording commercials for radio. She moved to Venice, Florida to manage a restaurant which led her to Naples and Marco in 2002, where she currently books weddings and events for a local resort. Alexander is a Leadership Marco 2015 alum which fed her passion for history and learning. A butterfly at parties but a loner at heart, she loves nothing more than baking yummy desserts then retreating to a quiet corner to read.

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