You can break down human nature any which way, and no matter how you slice it, one thing remains true: everyone must eat, and food has always been an important cultural measure through time. The circulation of cookbooks and culinary publications have helped to introduce new culinary practices to many corners of the world, with one valuable example being Gourmet Magazine, established in 1941.

The Life and Death of Gourmet Magazine

November 18
4:00 6:00 p.m.

Hatcher Graduate Library, Gallery (Room 100)

Tuesday Jan Longone, the University’s Curator of Culinary History, will give a lecture “The Life and Death of Gourmet,” intended to be viewed alongside her exhibit of the same name, in Hatcher library. The lecture will highlight the influence Gourmet had on the culinary world during its publication history, as well as the factors leading to its downfall in 2009.

The exhibit, which has been open since Sept. 2 and will continue until Dec. 1, highlights every issue of Gourmet published in its sexagenarian lifespan. The exhibit also features cookbooks written by writers and contributors to the magazine — many of which are rare editions she’s collected over the years.

Longone, who has an encyclopedic knowledge of culinary literature, has done fifteen other major culinary exhibits in the past, “Gourmet” being the latest. She made a living as a rare book dealer until her post at the University, focusing substantially on cookbooks and books centered around the culinary arts. Over time, she’s accumulated a vast catalogue that includes rare copies and a few invaluable publications. One of these showpieces is possibly the only intact copy of a study on French wine and olives written by 17th century English philosopher John Locke, who’s more well known for his contributions to Enlightenment thinking than wine culture.

The issues and cookbooks in the “Gourmet” exhibit are all from Longone’s personal collection, collected over 60 years of marriage with her husband, who is a fellow culinary fanatic. In the exhibit, Longone wanted to showcase the contrast between the first issue of the magazine in 1941 and the last issue in 2009, and thought the process of putting the exhibit together would be simple. However, she was once again sucked into the magic of the magazine and reevaluated her approach to the exhibit.

“Every time I turned a page, I realized, ‘My God, Gourmet taught me how to become a culinary historian’,” Longone said. “I realized how much influence the magazine played in my life all along, I really couldn’t believe it.”

Gourmet was a deviation from other culinary publications because, according to Longone, the amount of intellectual content alongside recipes, lifestyle advice, puzzles and long-form reporting. This mix of appealing content garnered many loyal readers during its time, including some who went on to become famous chefs, restaurateurs and writers.

Longone, who has close ties with many famous chefs from all over the world, highlighted how Gourmet not only affected her life as a young culinary historian, but changed the lives of other individuals in various sects of the culinary world. She mentioned Jeremiah Tower, Ruth Reichl (the last Editor-in-Chief of the publication) and Alice Walker as prolific names in the culinary world who had purchased lifelong subscriptions to the magazine, as Longone had, many years ago.

While Longone believes there were many factors that led to the downfall of the magazine, which is a central topic of her lecture, she believes a substantial one was the loss of its original charm and change in structure after being purchased by the massive publishing house Condé Nast.

“When they started writing articles about playing golf in Scotland and staying in $7000 hotel rooms, I realized this isn’t written for me anymore,” Longone said. “I think a lot of people became discouraged at that point.”

The lasting impact of Gourmet became the influence the magazine has played in culinary culture, and Longone credits the publication with helping change the way the world looks at food.

“Gourmet changed the way we think about food, and food is part of culture,” Longone said. “When I was younger, people would pat me on the head and say ‘Oh look how cute, she collects cookbooks,’ and it used to drive me crazy! I would say, ‘These are valuable social documents.’ You can’t really know anything about anyone before knowing about their food.”

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