Bon Appetit

Ah, democracy. Is there anything it can't ruin?

I speak here not of obvious things like Iraq, or California, but of those finer pursuits better left untouched by the masses, things like journalism, pornography, and gourmet magazines. Give power to the people and what do you get? Exactly what you deserve: bloggers who post rumors and call it news, "hot amateur action" featuring people who shouldn't even wear tank tops, and cooking shows with Rachael "I'm Opening a Jar of Olives!" Ray.

But what's really insidious about giving the general public access to the finer things is that it ultimately erodes the standards of the genuine item. Let amateurs report your news, and soon you have Britney on the cover of The Atlantic. Give horny kids with camcorders free rein on the Web, and before long Playboy is "raunching it up" in a vain attempt to stay relevant. Let the Food Network convince every schmuck with basic cable that he can take Bobby Flay in a "Throwdown," and next thing you know, our favorite gourmet magazines are teaching us how to boil water.

Such was the reaction this January when Bon Appétit underwent a minor relaunch; let's call it a reheating. A quick glance at the food blogs reveals a sense of betrayal, slightly informed by snobbery, at the "dumbing down" of Condé Nast's beloved gastro-pub. Apparently, the February issue's cover recipe called for some prepackaged pancake mix. Won't somebody think of the children?!

While I generally support elitism in all but its least-deserved forms (I'm looking at you, Nick Denton), here I must take exception. I think the new Bon Appétit is as gorgeous and entertaining as ever. The photography (which is clearly not of actual food, but whatever) is sumptuous, the writing is smart and lively, the features are informative, and the recipes are probably good, too. (I've marked several that I plan to attempt soon, but probably not before I finish this column. I'll let you know.)

Is the "new" Bon Appétit different from the old one? Sure, a little, and I can see why faithful readers might feel betrayed. Rather than focusing on its strengths, Bon Appétit seems to be taking a page -- several, in fact -- from its competitors. A new section called Prep School (get it?!) provides everyday cooking tips similar to those that made Cook's Illustrated a cult favorite. And there is a clear emphasis on "quick and easy" recipes, such as those in the dreaded Everyday With You Know Who.

But the March issue also features a cover story on brining your own corned beef, which is neither quick nor easy, and in fact shouldn't be attempted by anyone with a job, kids or mail to open. And even some of the allegedly "simple" recipes would take the average fumbling yutz an entire evening to pull off, even if you do know exactly where to find the mustard greens and Champagne vinegar in your local Key Foods.

But while I don't mind the somewhat amateur-friendly vibe here, I do take issue with something much more deserving of outrage: the prosciutto-thin line between advertising and editorial. More than once did I catch myself reading some "feature" that turned out to be a paid placement. I understand that cooking magazines will naturally have a cozy relationship with its "sponsors," but that doesn't mean I want to look at it. PDA is distasteful in all its forms. Get a room.

And no, despite having eaten several meals while I wrote this column (what, you thought this went out live?), I haven't yet cooked anything from Bon Appétit. That doesn't mean I won't, but let's face it: The odds grow smaller with each passing day, as the magazine gets buried beneath an increasingly large pile of mail. Maybe I'll go open a jar of olives.  

Published by: Condé Nast Publications
Frequency: Monthly
Web site
Next story loading loading..