Let's say you're a foodie -- somebody who knew, even before it was explained on "Top Chef," that an amuse bouche was a bite-sized appetizer, not a command to make the President laugh. Should you turn to Food & Wine or Gourmet for help in planning your blow-out summer party?
These mags' June covers, both highlighting the seasonal thrill of the grill, are virtually identical in focus. But there actually are distinct differences between the two. (Full disclosure: I did some freelance editorial work for F & W several years ago.) Unless otherwise specified, all the features mentioned are from the June issue.
Editor-in-Chief Shoot-out: a draw. Both editors' letters, well-written but not particularly noteworthy, give clues to the respective magazine's tone. Each editor discusses grill cooking -- but Gourmet's Ruth Reichl references gender politics and history, while F & W's Dana Cowin says, of grill mistakes, she's made a few. So here's the juxtaposition: an intellectual approach, at times wandering out of the kitchen into the wider world, versus a more straightforward, narrower focus on (hey, the name says it all), food and wine.
Quality of Features: F & W, B+; Gourmet, A. Gourmet is the star here. Perhaps as an offshoot of former New York Times critic Reichl's journalistic chops, the mag occasionally supplements its regular coverage of the food scene with commentary and reportage on related political, environmental and sociological issues, sometimes by figures not known for their gustatory interests. For example, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. wrote about mercury contamination in fish last July. The excellent "A View To A Kill," discussing possible changes in, um, chicken processing, begins in the great skewer-authority tradition of investigative journalism: "The executives who run American's chicken industry might not want you to read this article." "Juneteenth Jamboree" spotlights the (relatively unknown, at least by white people) commemoration of the end of U.S. slavery.
F & W does a very good job covering trends in the U.S. food and restaurant scene, as in Cowin's piece that explains why, even though Philadelphia isn't what she'd call a classic restaurant city, it still rocks food-wise. The mag's editorial staff also excels at developing creative features, like January's "100 Tastes To Try In '07," and packaging articles to support a theme. March's TV chefs issue featured not only the requisite report on Bravo's "Top Chef" winner (required because F & W is involved with the show), but also the funny "How YouTube Almost Made Me A Cooking Show Star," by noted blogger and author Julie Powell. Yet the closest F & W comes to broader commentary is a piece opining that cooks, following Japanese tradition, should use their hands more in food preparation. (Let's hope chefs inspired by this article will be washing up with Lady-Macbeth-like frequency.)
Recipes and food instruction: another draw -- F & W, A; Gourmet, A. From my armchair cook's perspective, each mag excels in its two major tasks: covering the food (and wine) scene, and aiding the cooking and eating enthusiast with clear, nicely presented recipes and tips. For the hypothetical hostess mentioned above, Gourmet offers a greater variety of foods to grill, including tofu and lobster. Meanwhile F & W provides more in-depth cooking instructions, from experts like cookbook author Steven Raichlen. Points go to F & W for its regular healthful cooking feature, which includes nutrition info for each recipe, and to Gourmet for its regular comparative tests of specific products and equipment.
Look of the book: F & W, A; Gourmet, B. F & W shines here with a mix of aesthetics and organization, such as using special logos to carry the "grill" theme throughout the book. Gorgeous food close-ups and extra-easy-to-read giant text carry your eye through the standout layout for "10 Easy Ways To Master the Grill."
Gourmet's feature well includes sometimes-haunting photos, like black-and-white shots of celebrants at the "Juneteenth Jamboree." Still, some of the mag's auxiliary pages, like its "Good Living" product layouts, lack F & W's varied fonts and graphic elements that would make the look pop.
And F & W's pages of text-only recipes are broken up by tiny clock graphics, while Gourmet's are uniformly gray.
Bottom line: I wish I could make this more of a true food fight, showing that one mag is much better than the other, but each is truly nutritious in its own way. F & W provides stylish service journalism, while Gourmet, though it could fine-tune its looks, offers a bit more, um, food for thought.
Food & Wine
Published by:American Express Publishing Corporation
Published by:Condé Nast Publications