All writers have their high-water marks — for many, publication by a prestigious house like Knopf or a highbrow magazine like The New Yorker is the pinnacle of satisfaction and success. For me, it was all about Gourmet.
For as long as America has had a food culture, Gourmet has been its core. But on Monday, Gourmet announced it was closing its doors.
Ten years ago, Gourmet sent me and a good friend to my father's native country, Jordan. It was an extraordinary journey in a country at a cultural crossroads between its Bedouin heritage and Palestinian newcomers. Wherever we went, as soon as the Jordanians heard the name "Gourmet magazine," doors opened welcome and wide. People prepared tremendous feasts, shared family cooking secrets and techniques, unscrewed jars of spices, and let us poke into their refrigerators and cupboards. I gained an insight into the haven that I could never have otherwise experienced.
Gourmet showed us the real possibilities of food: It wasn't just to nourish the body or excite the palate, but to engage the mind and imagination, to magnify our experience, bringing us more fully into our senses, allowing us to be more completely alive. Part of what made Gourmet so special was the true literary mind at her helm. When I published my food-centric novel, Ruth Reichl was kind enough to send me a beautiful personal note. She showed compassion and immense generosity toward me and so many other upstart writers and chefs.
It always seemed clear that Ruth's vision for Gourmet prized innovation and inclusion as an essential part of forging American food traditions. As a cook, I'd inherited my father's Mediterranean approach to food — a centuries-old path to eating. But I knew that in America, things got trickier. Where were the cooking traditions of a new nation? In a place of instant ingredients and global food imports, what were our native ingredients? Our true American dishes?
Diana Abu-Jaber is the author of Origin, Crescent, The Language of Baklava and Arabian Jazz. Here, she sits with her father, Gus (also known as Bud) — the cook in her family.
Courtesy of Diana Abu-Jaber
Courtesy of Diana Abu-Jaber
I believed that Gourmet would always be there to help guide us on this tricky journey. When I began working on a follow-up book to my memoir The Language of Baklava, Gourmet planned to use a piece from this manuscript called "Sugar Fiend." The essay is about what lies at the heart of a food heritage, and as I wrote to my editor at Gourmet, having it appear in their publication was a dream come true.
It was scheduled for December publication, but Gourmet will be closing shop with their November issue. And suddenly, a very big part of me feels quite homeless. It makes me sad to think my daughter will grow up without this important signpost to her own cultural legacy, this celebration of appetite, honoring international sensibilities, American tradition and environmental awareness. Like a treasured monument or historical landmark, a magazine like Gourmet should be prized and protected above the raw facts of advertising dollars and corporate downsizing. But, of course, that isn't the world we live in, is it? That sort of world is leaving us. So long, Gourmet.