Ruth Reichl signs off on the latest (and last) recipes from Gourmet magazine

From   |  December 11, 2009
In Book Scoop, Coffee and Convo

When Ruth Reichl was in Miami last month for the Book Fair, the demise of Gourmet, the magazine she’d edited for the past 10 years, had recently been announced. Ruth told an audience of several hundred fans that neither she nor her staff got any advanced warning whatsoever that the magazine would be axed.

“We already had the December issue ready to go to press,” she said. “It was the annual Christmas cookie cover, and we had photographed the cookies to look like pieces of jewelry. I thought it was our best cookie cover ever. The photos were absolutely stunning. But now, of course, you’ll never get to see them.”

Reichl’s pain at the magazine’s closing was obviously very fresh and very painful. She was on the book tour circuit to promote what will most likely be the final compendium from Gourmet – a 1,008-page tome called Gourmet Today with 1,000 recipes.

Even though the book is a bit pricey at $40, I nabbed a copy immediately after Reichl’s talk and headed straight for the table where she would autograph copies. Normally I’m not a stickler for autographs, but something about this moment and this book seemed rather historic.

If not historic, this book at this time certainly represents a shift in the world of gourmet cooking and food publishing. Reichl, who edited the cookbook and wrote introductions and notes, told her audience that every recipe printed in Gourmet magazine was tested 11 separate times to make sure it would “work” for the home cook in a home kitchen environment.

“Who else does this,” she asked. (Well, other than perhaps Cook’s Illustrated, probably no one!)

As someone who develops recipes and has operated a “test” kitchen for 15 years, I can attest that this degree of recipe vetting borders on the obsessive. (Not to mention hugely expensive, which might be one factor that led to the magazine’s death in an economy such as this one.)

I for one would rather have just a few “perfect” recipes, guaranteed to work every time, than a slew of pretty pictures of food that’ll end up in the garbage can. But now, thanks to Reichel and Gourmet, I have this gorgeous bible of a book that suggests ways to cook Ambrosia Layer Cake, Zuppa de Pesce and everything in between.

If you’re looking for a holiday gift for that gourmand on your list, this would surely be a great addition to the recipe library. And if you want to check out lots of recipes from Gourmet for free, log on to www.Epicurious.com where the (searchable) Gourmet index alone runs 500 pages. That ethereal part of Gourmet, Reichel assures us, will simmer indefinitely.

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