When the Wall Street Journal reported that Conde Naste was closing Gourmet Magazine, it gave a chart suggesting that all the magazines in the CN stable were losing money. But a single competitor seemed to buck the trend. Saveur is actually prospering.
I asked Pam, my wife, about the difference between Gourmet and Saveur. She said Saveur is about the culture of food: people, restaurants, trends, cuisines, celebrity foodstuffs, generally speaking. Gourmet is more about the food of food: recipes, techniques, procedures.
And by this reckoning, the fall of Gourmet and the rise of Saveur is perhaps not mysterious. After all, in prosperous America, people are cooking less. They are eating out more. And they are ordering in, or bringing in, more and more.
Pam was recently looking at stoves and the sales person said of a particular stove,
"Oh, you don't want one of those. That's a trophy stove."
"What's a trophy stove?" she asked.
"Oh, you know, it's for one of those beautiful kitchens where all they do is boil water and order in."
These families don't care about recipes as they used to. This is increasingly a black box technology. We don't actually need to know how "cooking" happens. This will be accomplished by someone else somewhere else. In the language of a corporation, these families are "outsourcing" the food function. (Even as they are "in sourcing" the fitness studio and the movie theater.)
As is often the case, American culture is moving in two directions (at least for those with incomes to manage it.) People know more about food and they care more about food, but they are spending less time working with food. It's a tasty little morsel of a paradox. (Watch for coverage in the pages of Saveur.)
I hesitate to put words in his mouth, but when I interviewed him a couple of months ago, Mark Miller, the formative American chef, and the man responsible for the American passion for Southwest cuisine, appeared to be telling me that Americans continue to be more in love with the idea of cuisine than it's reality. This would say that Americans actually love reading about food in Saveur more than they do preparing it from a recipe from Gourmet. (And not only because they are so very time poor.) And this would give us another explanation for the rise of Saveur and the fall of Gourmet. Devout apologies to Chef Miller if I misrepresent his opinion here.