I love food magazines.
Well, let me clarify: I love the idea of food magazines, though the reality of them usually don’t stand up to my own preconceived–and some would say idiosyncratic–notions of what a periodical about food and cooking should be. Back when I was the editor for “The Paper Palate” which is a now defuct blog in a series of networked food blogs (The Well Fed Network) that covered food in the paper media which included newspapers and magazines, I -had- to read a lot of food magazines. A LOT of them–many of which I would not normally pick up and glance through, much less read.
I mean, really–can any of you regular readers see me willingly pick up “Cooking With Paula Deen” unless circumstances forced me into it? (Circumstances being that I had to “review” the magazine and I was being paid to do so. Not paid enough–no one could pay me enough to look through that magazine more than one or two times in my life. Ugh.) Or how about “Every Day With Rachael Ray?” Rachael Ray–the woman who has put her name on a special “Garbage Bowl,” that you need to buy to use to put scraps in while you’re cooking. (Look–just use a frickin’ regular bowl, people. Or a counter-top compost bin. Or toss it in your sink if you have a disposal. Anything that you have around, for jeebus’ sake–but don’t go and buy a bowl because Rachael “designed” it to hold garbage! Ai ya!)
Well, it should be obvious to most readers that I’m not going to like either of the aforementioned magazines, and not just on principle, but because there’s nothing for me in either of them, but look, I don’t even like the venerable and beloved Cook’s Illustrated. When I was first really learning my cooking chops, I bought the magazine, but a few things started to bug me after a couple of years. One was the superior and somewhat condescending tone of the writers and the editor when they talked about their “best” recipes. The second thing that started getting under my skin was the fact that they started repeating recipes–they’d do a “best” recipe for brownies one year and then a couple of years later, do another “best” recipe for brownies. How many “best” recipes for pot roast do we need in the world? Or chocolate chip cookies. And, how can two different recipes both be the “best” recipes for any given dish?
What finally tossed me over the edge into an eternal loathing of Cook’s Illustrated was the way that the writers and editors treated Asian recipes–which is to say they wrote in a condescending, and culturally insensitive manner about cuisines that they really didn’t know diddly-squat about and I did. And that, my friends torqued my gizzard so badly that I wrote a big long rant about it and has kept me from reading the magazine (or watching their television shows) ever since.
So, I’ve fessed up–I don’t like very damned many cooking magazines. I love “Fine Cooking,” because they actually teach technique in addition to recipes and when they feature recipes from other cultures, they don’t play stupid games like suggesting substituting dill pickles from Safeway for Sichuan pickled vegetable. Instead, Fine Cooking’s authors and editors treat each recipe and cuisine with the respect they deserve, recognizing that food is one of the ways people from every culture define and share their innermost, cultural selves.
And Gastronomica is a pretty awesome read, though it can get way cerebral at times, more so than even I, an intellectual elitist, can bear. But its still fun, enlightening and thought-provoking, with lovely illustrations.
(There are other food magazines that I like, but I’m not going to go into them all right now–if you want to know the others I like, ask in the comments section.)
So, you get the picture, right? I’m a hard-nosed, cranky, jaded and apologetically picky reader when it comes to food magazines, and now that I don’t have to write about them all the time, I can read them or not as I please.
Have I eaten in one of Chang’s restaurants?
Have I read about him?
Have I read his cookbook?
Do I like what I read?
Chang is one of those people whose obsessions run along parallel to my own, and so I feel a kinship with him. He seeks deep flavors, rich flavors that speak not only to the belly, but to the heart and mind of his diners. He’s constantly searching for ways to communicate these flavors to the wider world and bring cultural understanding by culinary means.
And, he just bloody well likes a damned good bowl of noodles.
So, he has restaurants, right? But he wants to reach folks who don’t eat at his restaurants. So, what does he do?
He starts a magazine, which he names after his first restaurant. (Momofuku means, “lucky peach.”) Actually, originally, the project was going to be a television show, but then that turned into an iPad app (which I don’t think is available yet, but when it is, I’ll be looking into it), and the idea of a quarterly journal came about. And then, some great writers came on board, including Peter Meehan, Harold McGee, Anthony Bourdain and Ruth Reichl, and some great-looking “outsider” style art and photography were tossed into the mix along with stylish but readable graphic design and out came a food magazine that by damned–even the bitchy old culinary nerd here likes.
Yeah, I liked it.
It’s not pretentious, the writing is fresh, new and not too hip to function. Perfectly good, but socially improper Anglo-Saxon words are sprinkled throughout which doesn’t bother me at all, because I’ve worked in quite a few kitchens in my time and I know exactly how chefs and line cooks talk. (“Colorful” does not even begin to describe the language of the restaurant kitchen.) There’s lots of drinking, laughing and bragging in these pages, but also deep wisdom on what exactly a dish of noodles should be and mean.
Oh, yeah, noodles. The first issue is all about ramen. Yeah, ramen. Not just the instant ones (though they are present and accounted for therein), but bowl upon bowl of the hand made ones cranked out and slurped up in little dives and airy restaurants and smoky joints all over Japan and now the world. It was the topic of ramen that made me pick up this first issue, and it was the article by Ruth Reichl on the topic of the instant noodles that made me keep the magazine in hand and pay for it.
Look–take it from me–it’s a great read from cover to cover. It will make you think, laugh out loud and most importantly, hungry.
There is no higher praise for a food magazine than that.
But wait! There’s more.
Recipes! What’s a food magazine or journal without recipes? (Gastronomica. Though, to be fair, they have recipes now and again, too.)
Anyway, there will be no “best” recipe for brownies to be seen in Lucky Peach. Nor any super-quickie 25 minute meals. Nope. Instead you get cool (and admittedly somewhat esoteric) stuff like a recipe for proper home made alkaline ramen noodles. (Don’t know what those are? Read Harold McGee’s article about them on page 82.) Pork belly and pork shoulder cooked so they can be sliced and served with ramen. The until now unpublished recipe for Momofuku’s ramen broth, v. 2.0.
And, some really weird recipes using instant ramen noodles that I’m not too sure about, but not every recipe in every magazine has to be a winner. Besides, these instant ramen recipes are pretty fun to read if not eat.
Go out, now and pick up a copy, sit down and feed your head, heart and belly on the words and pictures therein. Even if you’re not as picky a reader as I am, I bet you’ll still like Lucky Peach.
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