Mag, mag, mag: My predecessor, John Kessler, is now at the Denver Post, which recently ran his assessment of cooking magazines under the headline "Post's Food Writer Critiques Publishers' Servings." Maybe the grind of daily journalism has worn Kessler down, but I think he was far too charitable to a few publications that come off half-baked. Here's my critique of the same:
Cooking Light: It cuts the fat, but I've found that quite a few of the recipes cut the flavor, too. And every time I read this magazine, there's some dish featuring lentils. I suppose Cooking Light is wonderful for people who must watch their weight, their cholesterol and their blood pressure, but until I start caring about that stuff, I want all the fat, cream, butter, salt, cheese and sugar I can get.
Gourmet: Truly worth reading from cover to cover, this magazine is the only one in the bunch that contains restaurant reviews I can stomach (in fact, I devour them--even if they are about restaurants in towns I've never visited). The recipes are more sophisticated than most, and the travel pieces, while a bit PR-ish, are entertaining. For a deliciously nasty read on the politics of being a restaurant critic for Gourmet, read the book Glutton for Punishment by Jay Jacobs, who served as its hired belly for more than a decade. It's a must-have for any self-described foodie.
Food & Wine: Along with Gourmet, this is my favorite--even if it's a little on the thin side. Unlike Gourmet, the magazine keeps the free media junkets to a minimum, and Pierre Franey and Julia Child always offer interesting tidbits about the recipes.
Saveur: The new kid on the block, Saveur goes where no other food magazine dares--into the truth. With refreshingly candid stories on such things as authentic balsamic vinegar and the old cooks of San Francisco, this publication has everything going for it but writers and copy editors: Every story in the last issue contained at least one typo and one grammatical error. Still, I have high hopes.
Cook's Illustrated: Not much for enjoyable reading, but the demonstrative style is perfect for novice and intermediate-level cooks.
Bon Appetit: I've been getting this for thirteen years, and I think I'm tired of it. On the positive side, the recipes usually are easy to follow and keep ingredients you can get only in New York City to a minimum. On the negative, it's too predictable. Every holiday issue offers "the ultimate" in menus (although this year's Thanksgiving guide was a departure from the usual fluff). I also think it tends to overlook Denver.
One local guy who's hard to overlook is Fort owner Sam Arnold. Even Bon Appetit gives him some ink in the November issue, which mentions Arnold's traditional Southwestern Thanksgiving dinner. I was startled also to find him quoted in the latest National Geographic, of all things, discussing his second love (after wife Carrie): the buffalo. That, by the way, is what Sam will be serving for his main course on turkey day.
And I, too, recently heard from Arnold via fax. He and the Colorado Restaurant Association are urging people who make Thanksgiving reservations at not just the Fort, but at any local restaurant, to call if they can't make it. The CRA is trying hard to cut down on this ugly no-show thing.