The Demise of Gourmet Magazine and The Rise of The Cooking Channel

Gourmet Magazine survived for 68 years, through all sorts of trends in the food world.  Each page was filled with lush photography, interesting recipes and lots of information about how your food gets to your table.  Gourmet wasn’t about being a food snob, it was about being a food lover.

When I heard about Conde Nast Publications decision to close Gourmet, I went to my stash of dusty back issues I owned.  Flipping through the pages I was struck by the beauty in the magazine, the inspiration I felt reading the articles and recipes, the rumbling of my tummy as I got hungry looking at the pictures.

Reading Gourmet allowed me to travel to places I probably will never be able to with my single mom, sandwich generation reality.  Small Italian towns such as Basilicata, where Chef Evan Kleinman literally soaked up the local flavors with freshly baked bread.  I traveled to Malaysia and learned more about Nonya Cuisine, a cuisine born of the marriage of Malay women and Chinese men.  An article in the July 2006 issue reported on the advent of the farmer-chef, chefs who grew their own produce to be used in their restaurants.  Dan Barber of Blue Hill at Stone Barns, in upstate New York  defined fast food as “the farm to the kitchen without obstacle or delay.”  I love that.

In an article in Crain’s New York Business, former Gourmet Editor-in-Chief Ruth Reichl discussed some of the misconceptions about the magazine.

“People keep talking about it as this sort of high-end place for rich people when we were the magazine that did articles about tomato workers being slaves and problems with how chickens were being killed.  We were running a lot of very serious journalism.  I don’t know what will happen.  We pioneered writing about farmers and issues from the field, and we wrote about genetic engineering when nobody else was touching that. We wrote about trans-fat and it was important for me to do that. Whether other editors will decide to start doing that, I don’t know.”

Conde Nast will keep publishing Bon Appetit, which is more about the recipe than the whole experience of a particular food or culture.The  Crain’s article had this telling quote regarding Bon Appetit;

Magazine consultants have said Bon Appétit likely survived because advertisers have moved toward food titles that reflect the more affordable sensibility it has.

Bon Appétit has a larger class within the mass audience where Gourmet has become more of a class by itself,” said Samir Husni, director of the Magazine Innovation Center at the University of Mississippi, School of Journalism.

Gourmet indeed was a class by itself.

In what I consider a related story, Scripps Networks Interactive announced that they would be replacing the luxury-lifestyle channel Fine Living with a new cooking-focused TV channel called the Cooking Channel.  This is great news to me, as I rarely watch The Food Network anymore because so much of the programming is cooking competitions, celebrity chefs and crap.  Yes I wrote crap, and meant it.  There are only three shows I will bother to watch on occasion; Ina Garten, Paula Deen (she’s funny with her butter loving self) and the Neely’s.  I admit I like the Neely’s because they are so damn cute together, but I also like their “Down Home” Southern cooking.

I was a huge fan of The Food Network, and if you read my last post, know I also used to work there.  But way back then the network was more balanced in it’s coverage, with excellent shows on wine, food news, and cooking from extremely well established chefs such as Sara Moulton, Emeril Lagasse and Michael Lomonaco.  While working there, a young upstart of a chef named Mario Batali became a star of the food world, with his show “Molto Mario.”  Hopefully the new Cooking Channel will return to those lost roots.  According to The Wall Street Journal the new channel will focus on instructional shows.

Programs on the new network will be more instructional than Scripps’s more widely distributed Food Network, said John Lansing, who runs Scripps’s TV-networks division. The new channel will keep a significant number of food-related TV shows that currently appear on Fine Living, Mr. Lansing said.

The Food Network has seen its viewership grow significantly in recent years. This year through Oct. 4, Food Network programs have averaged 685,000 viewers per minute, 18% above the year-earlier period, according to measurement firm Nielsen Co. But the programming has shifted to highlight on-screen characters and competition, rather than, for example, step-by-step instructions to make a souffle.

I’m glad that they will be focusing on instructional shows, but if they continue to hire hosts by their looks and not their talent it won’t work.

I know of one very talented person who could probably make this channel the go-to destination for food lovers.  And she is just happens to be free right now.  Ruth Reichl.

Comments

  1. says

    Gisele I still love the Neely’s! I think it is their obvious love and affection for each other and their family that makes me like them. And I like their recipes too.

  2. says

    It agree it was a tragedy to lose Gourmet Magazine. I n spite of people’s view of it as “upper crust”, circulation was higher than it’s ever been when Conde Nast shut them down. As you alluded to, Gourmet expanded the world of those of us who will probably never make it to many of the places in our world they took us.

    I really cannot agree re: The Neely’s whose show I consider yet another sign of the dumbing down of our society. In the age of Barack Obama, it’s disconcerting to me to see Step and Fetchit’ alive and well.

  3. Germaine says

    PRINT MEDIA is almost DEAD. RIP.
    We are living in a very transitional and historical period in terms of Media,communications and technology.
    IMHO, The Food Network isn’t as relevant as it used to be. And ‘Saveur’ is my Generation’s ‘Gourmet’
    James Oseland and his staff put out a great magazine every time..

  4. says

    I really enjoyed Gourmet’s Diary of a Foodie TV show. You can still catch it on PBS stations, and Ruth Reichl has a new show in the can for PBS. We’ll still be able to get a bit of a Gourmet fix!

  5. Kristina says

    I agree with everything you said. The demise of Gourmet is truly a shame in the food world.

    I had no idea about the cooking channel/fine living. I’ll be very interested to see what they do with it. I never watch the food network because cooking competition shows make me crazy (as do most cooking instruction shows).

    Did you ever see the show Gourmet did? It was mostly a travel show about food and was excellent. I think used to run on Fine Living though. 😉

  6. Lisa Martinez says

    I enjoyed this post – and back your suggestion of Ruth Reichl joining The Food Network!

  7. says

    Yes, Gourmet was the upper crust of culinary foodie publications, and it is my hope too that The Cooking Channel will continue the flame and tradition. The only constant is change, and it is amazing that Gourmet lasted 68 years.

    Regards,
    Cajun Chef Ryan (CCR) =:~)

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