Found­ing ed­i­tor-in-chief Dorothy Kalins on how the food world (and whole wide world) has changed

SAVEUR - - 25th Anniversar­y -

WHEN A HAND­FUL OF US SHUT OUR­SELVES IN A ROOM TO birth a new food mag­a­zine, we had no idea what Saveur would be, but we were damned well sure what it would not be. In­stead of dumb­ing down, we’d go deep. In­stead of “Six Ways with Pork Chops,” we’d con­nect recipes to their cul­tural roots. In a world of low-fat cas­soulet, we’d be the pub­li­ca­tion to ac­tu­ally visit Castel­naudary, where the dish was born.

We were sea­soned writ­ers and ed­i­tors and cooks ac­cus­tomed to work­ing to­gether, trav­el­ing to­gether, ar­gu­ing with each other. Col­man An­drews, jour­nal­ist and critic, had al­ready pub­lished the sem­i­nal Cata­lan Cui­sine. Christo­pher Hir­sheimer over­saw food cov­er­age at Metropoli­tan Home, the mag­a­zine I’d run for 11 years, and was about to be­come an award-win­ning pho­tog­ra­pher. We had his­tory and mu­tual re­spect.

Other food mag­a­zines didn’t seem in­ter­ested in food’s prove­nance or rit­u­als. We were. We felt an ur­gency to re­con­nect food with its ori­gins. We be­lieved that recipes have sto­ries to tell; we were con­vinced that know­ing the ori­gin of a dish fixes it in the mind, and that we weren’t alone in our hunger for mean­ing. Be­cause cook­ing is a per­sonal act, our ar­ti­cles would be per­sonal, too, short­en­ing the dis­tance be­tween writer and reader. And if our startup bud­gets meant we couldn’t pay top dol­lar, we hoped the best writ­ers and pho­tog­ra­phers would be drawn to our in­sis­tence on qual­ity and au­then­tic­ity. (They were.)

At Saveur, food wouldn’t be pho­tographed in fan­tasy set­ups. We felt cook­ing was hard enough in a dis­tracted world (and that was 25 years ago!) with­out the fur­ther in­tim­i­da­tion of over-lit “food in heaven” pho­tos. We’d get the hell out of the stu­dio, cel­e­brate nat­u­ral light, and shoot on lo­ca­tion. Sans food stylists. And prop stylists. The re­sult­ing im­agery (hands-on, a bit messy, just­cooked) would ben­e­fit from graphic de­sign so time­less as to read mod­ern. “This mag­a­zine wants to look like it’s been around for

ever,” said found­ing cre­ative di­rec­tor Michael Grossman. Amen.

Of course, launch­ing a mag­a­zine with a name no one could pro­nounce pre­sented a chal­lenge. (It means “sa­vor,” we’d re­peat.) Our beloved pub­lish­ing di­rec­tor, Joe Arm­strong, was con­grat­u­lated by his mother’s friends down in Abi­lene, Texas, for his im­por­tant job at that new re­li­gious circular, Sav­ior.

But Chris Meigher, who founded Saveur’s orig­i­nal par­ent com­pany, Meigher Com­mu­ni­ca­tions, was will­ing to take a risk on the French name. The “s” in Saveurs—the French mag­a­zine this one was based on—was dropped, and we ran with it.

What was the food world like in 1994? We could still get Ju­lia and Mar­cella on the telephone. The late, great Mar­ion Cun­ning­ham once stuck her head into the tiny of­fice Christo­pher,

Col­man, and I shared, ex­claim­ing cheer­fully, “I just wanted to see what you three were up to!” Paula Wolfert sat on the floor of our con­fer­ence room and hand-rolled cous­cous from semolina. An­dré Solt­ner stopped by the Saveur kitchen and demon­strated how to get a 13th egg from a dozen by scoop­ing the whites from each bro­ken shell with his thumb. It was gen­uine cu­rios­ity, not mere per­ver­sity, that drove us to put saf­fron on the cover. News­stand sales? What­ever. I mean, women in Spain still pick thread­like stig­mas from cro­cus blos­soms with their fin­gers!

To mark 1999, the last year of the old mil­len­nium—and frankly, to give our pub­lisher a fresh idea to sell—i dreamed up the

“Saveur 100.” Next, I had to con­vince a staff wary of any en­ter­prise that pri­or­i­tized brief blurbs over 14-page fea­tures. But with the bat­tles came the fun. In the first of what ma­tured into an an­nual is­sue, we praised Cuban mo­ji­tos, canned Por­tuguese tuna, and Chupa Chups lol­lipops. We pho­tographed Daniel Boulud and Jean-ge­orges Von­gerichten duk­ing it out in Cen­tral Park (“New York Has the Best French Restau­rants”), and crowned Edna Lewis our “Fa­vorite South­ern Cook and Na­tional Trea­sure.”

That world is gone. Used to be, the only in­ter­sec­tion of “food” and “tech” I en­coun­tered on a daily ba­sis in­volved my Fly­ing Toast­ers screen­saver. And I re­main (jus­ti­fi­ably) fear­ful for jour­nal­ism in the dig­i­tal age. How can we process the in­evitable on­slaught of in­for­ma­tion with­out ed­i­to­rial in­ter­me­di­a­tion? But I see good things, too. I’ll ad­mit to an em­bar­rass­ing re­liance on recipes from Nyt­cook­ing.com. I de­pend on the hard-to-find in­gre­di­ents e-com­merce pro­vides. On In­sta­gram, I’ve learned to han­dle hen of the woods mush­rooms from @for­agerchef in the Twin Cities, and trav­eled with chef @an­i­talonyc on a 30-day trek through China. I rec­og­nize that when Eater went na­tional in 2009, it raised the stan­dards for food re­port­ing. And I was part of the move that made the James Beard Awards plat­form-neu­tral.

Nev­er­the­less, it puts my face in a per­ma­nent frown to con­tem­plate our col­lec­tive jour­ney from the French bee­keeper’s daube to In­stant Pot. Though I’ve come to terms with av­o­cado toast, you’ll still catch me snarling about born-yes­ter­day food ed­i­tors who think they’ve dis­cov­ered age-old cook­ing meth­ods or con­sider chefs the cen­ter of the uni­verse—which they only some­times are.

The uni­verse Col­man, Christo­pher, and I cov­ered in­no­cently has dis­ap­peared. No longer is it so safe to wan­der the world. We sus­pected, even as we cre­ated this mag­a­zine, that home cook­ing would be­come an ur­gent af­fir­ma­tion of our daily lives. We could not have guessed how ur­gent. On 9/11, when I was the ex­ec­u­tive ed­i­tor of Newsweek, it seemed that three words—osama bin Laden—sig­naled the end of ex­ploratory op­ti­mism.

In late 2019, we or­der meals pre­pared in de­liv­ery-only ghost kitchens. Could any­thing be less con­nected? Now, more than ever, we need a new Saveur. I’d like to say that I could not have imag­ined that the 22-year-old girl, 15 min­utes out of Vas­sar when she joined our staff a quar­ter cen­tury ago, would be­come ed­i­tor of this mag­a­zine. But as Christo­pher pre­dicted then: “One day, we’ll all be work­ing for Sarah Gray.” And so we are.

DOROTHY KALINS IS CUR­RENTLY WRIT­ING A BOOK ABOUT COOK­ING CALLED THE KITCHEN WHIS­PER­ERS.

Right: The Saveur staff cre­ated this mock cover when Kalins left the mag­a­zine, in 2001, to be­come the ex­ec­u­tive ed­i­tor of Newsweek.

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