Wednesday, February 29, 2012

One Coin, Two Sides

The culinary world is aflutter--as it has been every three months for nearly a year--with the release of a new issue of Lucky Peach, a magazine/journal/whatever put out by David Chang of the Momofuku {insert tasty food morsel here} Bar empire and Peter Meehan, formerly of the New York Times (where he wrote this excellent, much needed, and "man I wish I had the platform to go on this sort of rant" article) and co-author of Chang's great Momofuku cookbook. It's super hot, and if you're the sort of person who is on Twitter or Facebook and following others interested in food, surely you've seen them proudly flash photos of their copy like so many line cooks' tattoos. It seems to throw all journalistic sensibility to the hungry pigs: its highly decorated cover reminds me of the design ethic of the Garbage Pail Kids cards of my youth and the writing can border on the "how many times can we say f*** and s*** and get away with it" standard.

Oh, and it's absolutely wonderful.

Much of it is a direct line to the inside of a chef's/cook's/someone who just plain loves food's head. There's all kinds of crazy s*** going on inside there--the importance of toilet cleanliness, an interview with a cook on the south pole, Anthony Bourdain's thoughts on food movies and how they relate to life, death and sex (not always in that order). The inside is as busy as the cover. And it is red-hot popular right now. I missed the first issue, and went to see if I could get it from the publisher. Nope--it's out of print. Hmm. Maybe someone's selling it on eBay or something. They are! ...for upwards of $100. Ok. I can do without issue one. But the point here is that it's hot, and not only for the usual faddish reasons, though surely that has something to do with it. At the end of the day, this is a really fresh and solid food magazine--written for people who cook, who eat, and whose feet touch the ground once in awhile. I hate to say it, but I gave up my subscription to my beloved Saveur, because it so often lacked this quality. Something about it started to feel so unreal to me. Maybe it was around the time they started the "Real-Life Kitchen" section, showcasing the sort of high-end, Wolf and Viking drenched home kitchens that someone like me will never be in unless I've been hired to cook there (people actually get to plan the design of their kitchens?). Lucky Peach is down and dirty, and at the end of the day, it's accessible. Well done, guys.

On the flip side of the same coin is the extremely refined Gastronomica. Now in its 12th year, it looks at the world in every direction through a food lover's eyes. It can certainly seem a bit esoteric, and where Lucky Peach's design is a big vat of bubbling beef bones, Gastronomica's is a highly polished demi-glace. Essentially the same thing, but so incredibly not the same thing: the current issue features an article on an artist and a baker combining forces to document the place somebody (Natalie Wood, Dennis Wilson) disappeared from the earth using photography and desserts developed with sea salt made from the exact spot in question; a gallery of black and white mug shots of former food-service workers; a first-class essay by chef Edward Lee (yes, that Edward Lee) on a day spent killing pigs.

These two magazines arrived in my mailbox within days of each other, and until then, I didn't realize the yin and yang relationship they unwittingly have. I suppose they are both not for everyone. But I'd encourage you to forgo a couple of six-dollar coffees and drop the 12 bucks on either, or both, and check them out if you haven't.