Breakaway Cook

Sayonara Gourmet, Baka Yarou Chris Kimball

kimball photo

By now everyone is probably tired of hearing about the demise of Gourmet magazine. I don’t really have much of an opinion on it, other to say it never appealed to me in the first place; I found it tame, full of the commonest of notions on culinary wisdom, full of travel stories of places that, if I did manage to visit there, my visit would have zero in common with whatever unaffordable direction they inevitably took it. I’m actually amazed it lasted as long as it did, with their custom of sending teams of stylists, photographers, writers, and editors for extended assignments in every nook of the globe.

What prompts me to say something about it is the execrable op-ed in today’s NY Times by Christopher Kimball on the demise of Gourmet. Kimball, the publisher Cook’s Illustrated and bow-tied caricature of a Vermont marm-pedant, somehow imagines that food writers on the internet, including bloggers “without the need for credentials or paid membership,” to be responsible for Conde Nast pulling the plug on Gourmet. Internet scribes, according to Kimball, have not only mortally wounded the fine writers at Gourmet, they have dumbed down ALL food writing.

He is the Gatekeeper, the Scribe, who is not at all happy about the direction food writing has taken.  Kimball loathes the everyman, the noncredentialed, those not in the Club, where standards for membership are awfully rigorous. Quite remarkably, he even speaks laudably of those with “good breeding.” Yikes! Incredible as it sounds, he seems to imagine the food writing world as a sort of culinary Princeton or Harvard,  of several generations ago, where only the “right” students — the patricians — could even hope for membership.

I was prepared to just write off the op-ed as a jumbled muddle of incoherence and move on to something more interesting, but Kimball had to bring Julia Child, through supertortured logic, into his fold:

“Julia Child, one of my Boston neighbors, epitomized this old-school notion of apprenticeship. As her dinner companion one evening, I watched as she became frustrated by the restaurant’s  dim lighting, grabbed a huge watchman’s flashlight from her pendulous satchel and proceeded to illuminate her main course. She wanted to investigate her food before eating it, the waiter’s recommendations notwithstanding. This act of spontaneous journalism evolved from a lifetime love of education and reverence for true expertise. Her first question upon meeting a young chef was always, “And where did you train, dear?”

At which point I started to get upset. Julia, of all people, epitomized as a blue-blood! I don’t think so! She was almost single-handedly responsible for the wake-up of American home cooking, the one who encouraged EVERYONE to give good (French) food a try at home. Her “training” consisted of a short stint at Cordon Blue to escape her drudgery as a housewife to a diplomat. The “training” Kimball attempts to invoke through Julia would actually resemble a hardcore apprenticeship of sadistic chefs at starred restaurants, the French equivalent of Japan’s own form of culinary sado-masochism: sweeping floors, scrubbing pots, and sharpening knives for a twelve-year (or so) span before being allowed to actually cook food. Julia did none of that, and had no aspirations toward chefdom; she was a home cook!

Stick to seven-page explanations on why your fried chicken is the absolute, nay, the ONLY way to properly cook fried chicken, won’t you, Chris? If somebody — especially someone unqualified — showed you an actual better way, you wouldn’t hear it anyway.