Monday, October 12, 2009

You Stupid Bloggers Killed Gourmet Magazine

That is the gist of Christopher Kimball's argument found here.

 Kimball is the publisher of Cook's Illustrated, author of several cookbooks, and host of "America's Test Kitchen". He bemoans Conde Nast's decision to close Gourmet magazine (with three others) and he clearly blames you knuckleheads that read and/or write food blogs and search for recipes online.

"The shuttering of Gourmet reminds us that in a click-or-die advertising marketplace, one ruled by a million instant pundits, where an anonymous Twitter comment might be seen to pack more resonance and useful content than an article that reflects a lifetime of experience, experts are not created from the top down but from the bottom up."

I would argue that an issue of Gourmet (I once had a free subscription) was a collection of a few recipes buried under hundreds of annoying advertisements. The magazine was more like a woman's fashion magazine than a cooking periodical. To me, it was too similar to other checkout rack garbage to bother renewing when the free subscription lapsed.

Kimball's rag uses an entirely different business model. His magazine does not contain scores of scratch and sniff perfume and Jaguar ads. Subscription and retail sales drive his business (along with many pull-out mailers hawking their latest book). Maybe he should have focused his criticism on Conde Nast's business model as he has not gone down the same road.

Cook's Illustrated is another periodical to which I no longer subscribe. I grew tired of all the provincial New England type recipes but what really turned me against the magazine was their God-awful attempts to cook anything that did not include roast turkey or "chowdah". An "Essential" salsa recipe better have more than one jalapeno in it or you are just a bow tie wearing candyass afraid of anything that actually has flavor. Stick to "chowdah".

Kimball's editorial in the NY Times confirms his status as an effete snob. I will continue to both shun his products and use the Internet to find things I'd like to cook.

Unlike Mr. Kimball I welcome your opinion. Now, if you will please excuse me, I have to go microwave a SpagettiOs, corn dog and Cheez Whiz casserole recipe I found online.


Kim said...

I couldn't have said it better myself. Although I've learned a lot from the Cook's empire over the years, I've also learned that when I try to follow their recipes to the "T" I become a frigid, uptight b*&ch in serious need of a stiff drink. Who cares if a recipe is from some nobody on the internet without (god forbid) "experience", if the food tastes good?

I thoroughly enjoy your blog (and others like it, although yours is my fave) because you cook the types of things I like to cook and eat, in the ways I like to cook and eat them (not on fine china). There is something earthy, relaxed, and soul-satisfying about that type of cooking that is just not captured in many of the mainstream food media.

There is a fundamental distinction between the motivations of the food media and, say, food bloggers. The food media are basically writing and testing recipes because they have to in order to complete an assignment. The food may be good, but they didn't pay for the ingredients, and it probably isn't what they are actually eating for meals. In contrast, food bloggers write about what they have chosen to buy, cook and eat for their meals - something I can relate to on a personal level. I just don't see how the food media can compete with that level of authenticity.


R. Mansfield said...

Power to the people! The internet has been a terror to the elitists of any field.

It's interesting, isn't it. I get a cast iron skillet in the nineties. 15 years later, I'm so into cast iron, I hardly cook with anything else. I start my own blog with some friends who also like cast iron. They hardly ever contribute anything, but I'm hooked, so I keep writing even if they don't want to.

Then I get contacted to write for a cooking magazine because all of a sudden I am seen as an authority of some kind. I've never thought of myself in that manner, but I suppose the internet has become the great equalizer.

So now, I'll be a published food writer, come the January issue of Louisiana Cookin' magazine. That would have been impossible or at least a lot more difficult without the internet.

But the reality, Greg, is that you and I are already published food writers--from the bottom up as Kimball would say. He doesn't have to like it, but here we are. And as you imply, Kimball's comments are a bit disingenuous based upon his business model.

Jeff said...

I don't disagree with you, but in all fairness, Kimball DOES mention his business model in the editorial

"...Cook’s is today alive and well (I restarted the magazine in 1993) and Gourmet has foundered. The difference? We abandoned advertising in 1993 for a 100-percent subscriber-financed model, including a thriving paid Web site."

Robin said...

Power to the people.

Greg said...

Kim - Thanks for reading my gibberish.

You make an interesting point about writing assignments vs. writing about what you choose to blog about. I have not had a writing assignment since college and I'd forgotten that feeling. I suppose a real professional would turn out solid material in either case but I can't do it. If it doesn't interest me I can't write about it.

Rick - Congrats on the Louisiana Cookin' gig and you are right about the Internet.

I've never been able to decide if this is a food blog or a cast iron blog or some horrible hybrid of both.

Jeff - You are correct and I changed the text of my post. I guess I found other parts of Kimball's editorial to be eye popping enough that I glossed over that line.

Robin - Amen!

onocoffee said...

In one of the more recent issues of Cook's Illustrated, they reviewed "green" non-stick pans. The one that won costs $129. So much for cookery for the proletariat.

I read Kimball's opinion in the NYT and was immediately struck by the elitist flourish that only a self-important gourmand would write. It's fluff and nothing of substance. Quite simply, Kimball's piece is nothing more than a blog rant run amok.

As he writes, Gourmet "...was the triumph of the American magazine model, one driven by lifestyle rather than nuts and blots, and floated by the billions of advertising dollars..."

From what I've seen in the industry, a "gourmet lifestyle" is something that only the rich can afford. I see the cooks out there drudging it out on a daily basis and it ain't glamorous. There's no cooks I know living a "lifestyle" and jetting off the mysterious lands seeking out rare ingredients. They're at the Asian grocery store buying saffron flowers for 89 cents a pack.

Another telling note by Kimmel: "...a respect for those who had earned the chops, as it were, who had a lifetime of good breeding and experience to stand at the cultural helm."

If that isn't the perfect example of white elitism, I don't know what is. That culture is dictated by the well-bred (read: white-bred). Of course, the hypocrisy is that today's "cultural helm" celebrates offal and charcuterie and all those things that the old day elite used to stick to the poor while getting fat off of the prime cuts.

Finally, I'm glad that Kimball wrote his piece and had it published. It underscores the difference between him and myself and that's important to know.

Pokeberry Mary said...

Do you have the recipe for that spaghettiOs thing? LOL

Chilebrown said...

I am such a Looser! I still have four years left on my subscripton. I liked the pictures and stories. Is there supposed to be more?

Becky said...

I am still in mourning for the passing of Gourmet magazine (over 60 years of culinary history, including the contributions of MFK Fisher, James Beard, Laurie Colwin, and other stellar writers, tossed in the trash) and I cannot support your hasty (and, imho, rather ignorant ;-) dismissal of the publication as "Vogue for Cooks" True, the massive ad pages sucked--but how else to pay?--but the direction the magazine took under Ruth Riechl, advocating sustainable and local foods, alerting readers to horrific practices such as the "Tomato Slaves" of Mexico, and encouraging the inclusion of indigenous foodways from traditional cultures into the daily menus of former French Cuisine snobs, was really admirable!

Gourmet had a million readers. It had a venerable history. It was murdered by Chuck Townsend of Conde Nasty in favor of the lightweight pap like Bon Apetit and Vogue, instead of being representative of the same ilk...

However, you'll not get a peep out of me about bloggers causing the demise (if anything, Gourmet appealed to the READER as opposed to just the Recipe Seeker, and we readers never have enough to read ;-) and I'm in complete agreement with your assessment of Mr. Candy Ass Bow Tie.

I've subscribed to Saveur.

Zio said...

Apparently Kimball doesn't agree with Chef Gusteau.

We're not novice cooks and we've tried a couple of recipes from famous "chefs" only to find they've left out a rather important bit or two causing culinary disaster only hours before the guests are to arrive. And maybe Mr. Kimball would argue that a chef "with a lifetime of expeience" would not have needed to be told to add that bit. But in my opinion if you're going to publish it then it damn well ought to be complete. Some of the best dishes we've made recently have come from blogs just like this one Mr. Kimball.

Greg said...

onocoffee - Lots of items marketed as "green" cost significantly more. I was in REI he other day and saw the Recycled version of the North Face Cat's Meow sleeping bag costs an extra 40 dollars over the regular version.

I kinda think the greenest skillet is a reconditioned cast iron pan that you can hand down to your great grandkids but that's just me.

I wonder if Kimball has any writers remorse for that stupid editorial?

Pokeberry Mary - You should wait for the "America's Test Kitchen" version. It will be infinitely better. Good breeding you know....

Chilebrown - No

Becky - I'm sticking to my guns on the Vogue point just because of the ads and the dopey photos that accompanied any story about a gathering.

I have no doubt that excellent writers and photographers worked there. The problem was the delivery mechanism for their work.

Re: how else to pay? I remember the subscription mailers in the magazine basically offered a years subscription for a buck or two an issue. They had to lose money at that rate and obviously the ad revenue didn't make up the diff.

Raise the price and lose some ads?

Might have been worth trying but they had already gone down the "lifestyle road".

Zio - There are some food blogs that I used to have in my sidebar that I dropped after making a few recipes. There was just something I didn't like about the taste. Other blogs like "101 Cookbooks" and "David Lebowitz" have never let me down.

We can all pick and choose and decide for ourselves. I do the same thing with cookbooks. I probably still have 40+ cookbooks but I gave a bunch away to the library and friends.

I do find myself turning to blogs more than the books lately and if I were disappointed I wouldn't do that.

Pokeberry Mary said...

I'm thinking great writers and chefs -- can blog. ;)

Pokeberry Mary said...

I wonder if the internet is kind of like a new French Revolution. In a way it opens the door to the comman man--the one who has always been wondering if he'll have a job tomorrow. It's so interesting to me that in America there is a class of people who truly believe their breeding makes them better than anyone else. I guess that's the feeling I got from the Time's article. Certainly a person can learn to cook and know what's good without a culinary degree. Not that the classic expertise is useless--but to think the common people are useless is the real foolishness. "Let them eat boxed cake."

synchronicity said...

@onocoffee - I agree with you re: "gourmet lifestyle". You wanna know the "gourmet" meal I've been making a lot recently. Take a corn tortilla (packs of 12 sell 3 for a buck at my local supermarket), heat one side in an old cast iron skillet (what brought me to this site was, after 20 years, looking at the underside of it), then flip it over, smear on some refried black beans, add some cilantro (59 cents a bunch), some lime juice (from a ten cent lime squeezed in a handheld lime squeezer bought for about 4 bucks from a supermercado in the local hispanic neighborhood), some cumin (bought in bulk from...some spice shop somewhere), heat for another 2-3 minutes, then take off the skillet and top with salsa, lettuce and tomato.

Let's face it, it's cheap peasant food, but it's damn good tasting (my wife loves it) and not terribly unhealthy. But no, my lime squeezer was not bought at Williams-Sonoma, and my produce isn't from Whole Foods. I didn't get "the recipe" from some glossy book filled with full-page pictures of Mexico. In fact, there is no "recipe"; I threw it together one day. And THAT is what most people who cook for themselves and their families do. I own two Charlie Trotter cookbooks and will never make a darn thing out of either one. I also have index cards with handwritten thai recipes (legacy of an old relationship) that I still make on a regular basis. I could probably learn more in one day from the ladies shopping at the Asian grocery store than I could in a year-plus of reading about "the gourmet lifestyle".

synchronicity said...

BTW Greg, those spaghettiO's better have sliced franks in them!

Russell said...

I really don't care what Christopher Kimball says as long as the recipes his CI test staff makes are good. (After having a subscription for a couple years now, I would say most of his staff is very good. And even if I don't make the recipe, the "how I came up with this recipe" editorials, which oddly show up in the physical magazine only, are normally interesting to me as a newbie cook.)

I agree some of the CI recipes are insane, but some of the recipes like the Blueberry Scones, Best Buttermilk Pancakes (cast iron griddle), and Pork Chops / Steaks (cast iron skillet) are excellent.

Btw... In the Sept/Oct 09 issue they specifically recommend a Lodge 12" skillet instead of getting one of the Green Skillets they were reviewing. (The best of the “new green” skillets was "recommend with reservations" which is just one step above "not recommended")

Here is the full callout (pg 29):
"The Original Green Skillet"
It's heavy, and it needs to be seasoned - but a cast-iron skillet is a chemical-free, inexpensive (our favorite 12-inch model, from Lodge, costs $33.95), with great nonstick performance that will last you a lifetime. You can't get any greener than that.

And… Based on recommendations from this blog, I just bought a #8 Wagner & #9 Griswold off Ebay to add to my collection... (Before these I just had Lodge skillets. I do find it odd to be able to see your reflection in the cast iron as you cook. :o)

Sheri Wetherell said...

Too funny! Our site ( is a the type of business model that Kimball railed against since the NY Times & TIME wrote about us and other recipe wikis. He issued the "Wiki vs. Test Kitchen Challenge", which we gleefully accepted! We wanted to prove that food bloggers and other home cooks can (and do!) crank out some seriously good food too. We're still waiting for him to accept our acceptance :)

Anne said...

Russel, just an FYI the editorials do show up on the web you just have to accidentally click on the teeeny-tiny "article" tab next to the "recipe" tab somewhere between the header and the recipe.

...figuring that out took me way longer than I'm willing to admit to the internet. It's not the most obvious thing on the site.

Greg said...

Pokeberry Mary - I think you are right about the common man being able to use the Internet and it appears to make some defenders of the old order nervous.

syncronicity - The franks in the spaghettiOs might clash with the savory elegance of the corn dogs.

Russell - I have Kimball's Yellow Farmhouse Cookbook and I bet the buttermilk pancakes are the same recipe. They are very good.

I just don't think CI has shown an ability to do Southwestern food worth a crap and I'm sure people from Louisiana cringe at what they might do to a gumbo.

33.95 is way too much for a 12" Lodge but at least they see it has merits that will far outlast the disposable skillets.

Sheri - That is funny. I wonder if he finally decided to walk away from the editorial and the dumb challenge. It just is a no win position as far as I see it.

Anne - Hope your tip helps some people.