As much an inevitability as it was an organic progression, indie food magazines—think Monocle engaging in a three-way love fest with The New Yorker and Bon Appétit—have been quietly revolutionising the way we read publications about food. After the phenomenal success of Michelin-starred chef cookbooks, purchased as much for voyeuristic enjoyment and as evidence of the owner’s discerning proclivities as they are not for actual deployment in the kitchen, the one-upmanship factor requisite to food snobbery was always going to find its way to food magazines.
Serendipitously, however, the cache of indie food magazines that have increasingly made their presence felt in the mainstream psyche is actually a compendium of mostly well-curated content. In the confluence between food and culture, the result is well-researched, well-written, literary-driven content that’s taking food writing to the next level.
Vali Valibhoy of cult Melbourne magazine store Mag Nation says that while these magazines are indubitably “niche, you would never throw them out”. His store stocks 4,000 titles, and of these, 200 are gastro-centric. Cherry Bombe, a biannual New York publication that cites as its raison d’être women and food, is frequently sold out, despite its not inconsiderable price tag of RM140 per issue.
Increasingly less niche is the David Chang-founded Lucky Peach. With a circulation of 100,000, it was described as “a reminder of print’s true wingspan” by The New York Times—a fair assessment given that the content written largely by a raft of gastronomic luminaries is exceedingly incisive. But Lucky Peach cannot afford to rest on its laurels. Long gestation period notwithstanding, indie food magazines are really hitting their stride now, from Gastronomica, Food52, Tasting Table, and Honest Cooking leading the charge for intelligent food writing online, to such print titles as the resolutely rustic Kinfolk, which produces engaging content from some of indie food’s brightest young things, Chickpea, an all-vegan quarterly, and Fire and Knives, the London-based quarterly helmed by former Guardian food blogger Tim Hayward, which comes with its own cryptic crossword.
Evolving light years beyond the Vogue Entertaining and Gourmet Traveller genre of food publications, this new generation of culinary magazines delves into everything from art and design, to metaphysics and science. Any food-loving reader who has ever despaired whether they would ever meet their magazine soul mate would be well advised to remember to be careful what they wish for, because now choice—and a surfeit of it—is what they are inundated with. And just like the Michelin-starred chef cookbooks before them, these beautifully designed, cunningly written, and mesmerisingly photographed food magazines threaten to ensnare readers in a web that will be as expensive an addiction to maintain as it will be impossible to extricate oneself from. On the upside, however, your bookshelves will be the envy of all your covetous food-loving brethren, and that, you’ll be inclined to agree, is priceless.
First published in Esquire Malaysia, January 2016 Issue.