jumping the shark

When TV shows lose their way, the viewing public sometimes says the series has “Jumped the Shark”. It’s a funny way to say that something that was once entertaining has become droll, trite and nothing but a waste of time. Usually, not long after “jumping the shark”, the show dies a miserable, lonely death. The origins of the phrase “Jump the Shark”, of course, comes from a dismal season finale of the show, Happy Days. It was the episode when the Fonz had to jump a tank of sharks on his motorcycle. It was a lame trick and didn’t make any sense and the viewers weren’t interested in watching aliens (Mork from Ork) or Fonz try to fight unnecessary foes. It became clear after the shark episode that Happy Days no longer had anywhere they could go with their characters or plot lines. The show was going through the motions and nobody cared anymore.

And so it is with food magazines.

According to the NY Times, Bon Appetit announced it would be “courting younger readers by adjusting its logo”. You see, from now on starting in January, Bon Appetit will be bon appetit (oh! how hip!) and the “O” in Bon Appetit will be a different color than the rest of the letters every month.

Every month the o will be different? Really? Oh, Barbara. It’s going to take a lot more than turning the title of the magazine to lower caps and changing the color of your “O” ever month to make the kids want to read your magazine.

How about hiring someone young? How about allowing freelancers like me (ahem) a shot at a column every once in a while?

I don’t know why this surprises me. I’ve known ever since 2003 when the October issue of Gourmet came out that something bad was about to befall the big guns of food publishing.

Maybe you remember the cover. The image was so out of place you might have stopped dead in your tracks in the check out lane. I recall dropping my bag of muffin mix and gasping an audible “Oh no!” when I saw it. It was the cover that decried “CHEF’S ROCK!” and featured a handful of chefs (LA’s own Suzanne Goin, Eric Ripert , Scott Conant and Laurent Gras) dressed up like rock stars and playing kitchen equipment instead of instruments. The cover made no sense, had no accompanying story that justified the cover and appeared to be quite honest, desperate to appear hip.

Back when Bon Appetit and Gourmet magazine were introduced to the American reader, there were a plenty of exciting things to report on. There were unexplored cooking techniques (deglazing! sous vides!), unknown ingredients (lemon grass! Harissa!) and culinary traditions to be adopted from around the world. Bon Appetit wrote about chefs before celebrity chefs existed. Gourmet magazine explored food before there were Food centric networks and culinary blogs. But with the powerful force of the Food Network and the multitude of self-published blogs, these figureheads of the culinary publishing world have lost their relevance.

For a fresh angle, I’ll go to Amateur Gourmet, Orangette.blogspot, or Spicysaltysweet.com. I’ll pour over my Bill Buford New Yorker articles and the gorgeous food reporting of Saveur. I will continue to love me my Jonathan Gold, Patrick Kuh of Los Angeles Magazine and a handful of LA Times food writers (not snide Leslie Brenner, that’s for sure). I’ll watch TV food stars and read my Waverly Root, my Marcella Hazan, my Best of Food Writing collection or any other of my weekly purchases from the Cooks Library. I’ll read and read and read, but I more than likely will flip through the bon appetit. It’s rare when I get swept up by one of their stories. Even more rare is when I actually cook one of their epic dinner party recipes.

It’s true. Things are getting competitive in the culinary publishing world. Perhaps the antiquated icons of food publishing will collapse under the weight of their ancient ideas and arcane way of doing things. Maybe they never will. But as I look at the current state of food publishing, I can’t help but think there’s another way to make room for more innovative publishing concepts. Surely there’s room for a few more great food stories.

So until my big break as the next great food blogger, I’ll continue writing, keep on waiting tables job, carry on trading stories about great meals, and always, persist in finding the next great dish.


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Food Woolf Written by:

Brooke Burton is an Los Angeles-based restaurant professional and hospitality expert. She is a freelance food writer, speaker, and co-author of The Food Blog Code of Ethics.

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