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Because maybe you do care what I had for lunch...

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Au revoir, Saveur

Friday night's roast, beef removed

You could say I learned how to cook through correspondence courses. Sure I got some of the basics from the Joy of Cooking, the wedding gift that got me started cooking. But my real education came from the food magazine Saveur.

I've subscribed to Saveur since 1999, almost as long as I've been married. I still remember the day I decided I needed to subscribe to a cooking magazine. I went to the bookstore and looked through every food-related journal I could find. Some were too basic and seemed geared towards people who don't have much time to cook. Other magazines seemed all over the place, with countless unrelated recipes thrown together almost incoherently, accompanying stories seeming to be completely beside the point. No way was I going to subscribe to a low-calorie/weight-loss oriented magazine. And I was turned off by a lot of the celebrity worship in many of the magazine pages.

Then I picked up Saveur. The issue was relatively thin, but inside it was tight and well-focused. The sections were clear and easy to navigate. The photography was generous and gorgeous. There were plenty of enticing, challenging recipes. And the articles were well written by experience people with very refined stores of knowledge. Now this was a magazine I could learn from.

I subscribed immediately and never regretted my choice. The people who write and edit for Saveur love all aspects of food, from the provenance of ingredients, to cooking techniques, to the history and people behind every kind of cuisine imaginable. In my little laboratory I experienced a wide range of flavors and tried out methods I'd never knew existed. I also learned that there is a different kugel for every aunt out there; behind every dish is a great story.

I love the way Saveur caroms between the high end and the low end, treating both with equal respect. In fact, for every story on an acclaimed European restaurant there seems to be at least one church supper. A large portion of the stories involve personal histories, if not family recipes. The editors are rigorous in the kitchen and in their research but the tone is never snobbish.

The magazine loves restaurants and chefs almost as much as home cooks, but it does not engage in Food Network-like celebrity chef theater. Sure, Alice Waters and Thomas Kelley make an occasional appearance, but usually in the background. The editors of Saveur would rather tell you about a restaurant you've never heard about. Years before Gourmet recognized it, Saveur introduced us to Fore Street Restaurant. Lane and I drove all the way to Portland, Maine just to eat there on our anniversary one year. It was worth every mile.

I managed to publish a very short piece in their Fare section years ago and will forever worship former Food Editor Melissa Hamilton. She did an informational interview with me and was very encouraging. She told me not to bother with cooking school -- just go have a life and write about it. I love this magazine so much I tried to intern there. I wrote about the ignominious meeting recently in this blog. I'm glad they didn't hire me.

One of this year's summer issues featured a story on the Michelin three-star Swiss restaurant Rochat, including recipes like roasted sweetbreads on a skewer with piquillo pepper sauce, morel tarts with baby fava beans, and asparagus with Osteria caviar. Sounds fancy, no? Editor-in-Chief (and co-founder) Colman Andrews asks this question:

What's the point of offering recipes from Rochat, then? How can a nonprofessional hope to reproduce this extraordinary food? There are two answers: the first is that these dishes are reasonably straightforward and thus possible for anyone who knows his or her way around the kitchen to at least approximate; the second is that, if you know how to cook in the first place, you can use Rochat's recipes as inspiration whether you follow them exactly or not... It's fun to Editor-in-Chieftry to emulate great chefs, but it's also fun to steal their ideas.

Finally, I go to Saveur for inspiration. But I am starting to sound like one of those psycho geek stalker fans. Colman Andrews, I'm your number one fan! But this kind of inspiration is what brought about Friday night's dinner. In order to answer Cherie's question I looked up a back issue -- the one with the above Rochat story and a piece on Indonesian cooking. The latter put me in the mood for Southeast Asian flavors, but when I got to the Coop I noticed they had chuck roast, the kind of beef that does that melty-velvety trick when slow roasted. How would chuck go with ginger?

I browned the beef and then added thick slices of ginger and chopped acorn squash -- those inspired from a Japanese ginger-pumpkin-beef stew I'd read about somewhere. Then I threw in screw pine leaves, lemongrass stalks, kecap manis, shallots, and cassius. The sharply-sweet flavors were a strong contrast to the mellow beef. I liked it.

So if Saveur is the perfect food magazine, if it inspires one happy meal after another, why am I saying goodbye? One word: Jasper. After he was born I had little time for my favorite magazine. Issue after issue showed up in the mail and I would sigh, feeling overwhelmed, and toss it aside. Issue after issue went unread. As he's grown older I've been able to return to Saveur and get through, oh, maybe half of the magazine each month. But all those unread copies on the shelf are haunting me. I want to go back and read them before I move on. (OK, blogging kind of gets in the way, too, but I need an outlet.)

That and I'm just ready for a change, a new perspective. Just the other day another parent in our neighborhood passed all her back issues of Gastronomica on to me. I am now in food-writing heaven. Sigh... I'll resubscribe to Saveur someday. In the meantime, someone else sign up for me? You'll love it.

1 comment:

Jenni said...

i have loved reading your blog, thanks to gabby for introducing me to you. i am guessing that you know liz and lindsey, both friends of mine. so, i am feeling you on this one, i should probably let my subscriptions go too...but i just can't let myself. my cooking has definitely slowed down a bit, or should i say sped up a bit due to the fact that someone is always tugging at my legs when i cook...thanks for the good read and the info on the bean project, very good