The fighting continues…

I really don’t get what all these Bon Appétit readers are so upset about.

What I read on Josh Ozersky’s post on Grub Street, was a statement about Bon Appétit’s attempt to attract a younger, more hip audience by changing the typeface of their magazine. I read his skepticism and frustration with an old way of thinking and saw his challenge to Bon Appétit to think out of the box and to take more chances in its attempt to find a more hip readership. I read a post that suggested that maybe it takes a little more than all lowercase letters and a vowel’s monthly color change, to create a buzz that would appeal to a younger fan base.

But that’s what I read. Hundreds of other food-blog readers scanned Ozersky’s post and saw red. They read insult and accusation. They read Ozersky’s comments and felt he had slighted them for liking to cook at home.

Blame it on my potentially poor speed-reading skills or my single-minded need to find proofs for my personal opinions on the food industry, but I did not feel at the very least bashed by Josh Ozersky’s post. Instead, I got happy. Really happy.

Finally, someone was saying what I was thinking! These big glossy food magazines have gotten so big and lofty in their appreciation of “the bigger things” (more on that later), that they’d forgotten how to appeal to a much broader audience. They might say they want to skew younger but they’ve forgotten what “new” really means.

Ozersky mentioned the biggest problem the big-gun food magazines face is, is that they “will never be any hipper or friskier…because no magazine about upscale entertaining can ever speak to people that don’t have big houses and plenty of time on their hands”.

This, I think, is where people started to see red.

Sure, he said that the magazine appealed to people with money and was written for people who “ate in”. But isn’t that true? Isn’t Bon Appétit targeted for people who have the time and money to cook and appreciate food? Look at the ads between the stories and you’ll know exactly whom the advertising department is aiming at. These are people with great outfits, go on European vacations, have well equipped kitchens, don’t worry about their food budget (going to Whole Foods/Whole Paycheck doesn’t make them sweat) and most definitely like to throw extravagant parties.

Sure, people like me with six-figure debt (thanks film school!) read the magazine and diligently cook from it, but the glossy isn’t TARGETED for my financial bracket. Just ask my accountant. My financial bracket shouldn’t even spend the amount of money I do on food and think I’ll ever get ahead.

But back to Josh Ozersky. After he posted his little side bar about Bon Appetit, Grub Street post was immediately bombarded by angry readers’ comments. And boy were they pissed. They ranted and raved and stated that he was terribly wrong and that there was nothing antiquated about their beloved magazine. They said Bon Appetit was their bible and that it is written for everyone that loves food—regardless if they eat in or out.

Even my hero, the Amateur Gourmet, had something to say about the Grub Street post. He said the blog didn’t make him mad until he reached the end of the article. He wrote that Ozersky’s comment that Bon Appétit is for people who eat in” was what fired him up.

He said:

Personally, I see some truth to what he’s saying: cooking at home isn’t as exciting as going out…but you’re not engaged with the outside world the way you are when you wait two hours in the cold for your table at The Spotted Pig…. You may not find us in the glossy pages of New York Magazine, but you will find us at our kitchen table, laughing with friends, and digging into a slice of homemade apple pie. I don’t know where you’d rather be, but I know where I’ll be tomorrow night.”

I don’t think this is what Ozersky meant to say. In just this little side bar, Ozersky states that Bon App has lost its edge because it appeals to a class of people. What I think he’s saying is that in appealing to the rich it eliminates all of us. Bon App is a lifestyle magazine, not a recipe for a universal way of thinking about food.

As food lovers, we read about food because we love it. We love to think, taste and discuss it everywhere and anywhere. If you’re young and interested in food, or a food lover with a tight budget or a person who wants to know something new and extraordinary, you’re more than likely not going to turn to bon appetit for the scoop. You’re going to go to the Internet, or the Cook’s Library, or a number of different locations to see what people are saying.

To truly love food, one must understand all the aspects of it. There is taste, aroma and texture. There is personal style, history and traditions. To be wise, one must be well read, well versed and experienced. Bon Appétit has served its purpose in the early years. Back when the magazine was first published, the articles were edgy. It did take chances. The magazine was a bible for my mother’s generation and brought to a new level of culinary appreciation to millions of men and women. But now it’s the 00’s and Bon Appétit isn’t cutting edge any more. The Internet is. Google searches lead readers to the answer to almost any culinary question.

I cook at home. I obsess over ingredients. I study cookbooks. I eat in inspiring restaurants. I work in one. I read Bon Appetit.

But the fact of the matter is, I still don’t LOVE Bon Appétit. I never have. And the reason I don’t love Bon Appétit is because I’ve never felt like that magazine was written for ME. I might not have a big house, a big budget, all the right shaped pots and pans the recipe calls for, or the state of the art stove, but I can most certainly appreciate the articles and recipes. If these flagship magazines don’t change the direction of their editorial content, they won’t have the staying power to change the culinary lives of next generation of readers.

But we’re all selective readers, I suppose. We see what we want to see.


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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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