Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Farewell Gourmet and Chanterelle

Certain institutions have established themselves so firmly in ones mind that it isn't even a question as to there durability. It's like Ford Motors, Heinz Ketchup and McDonalds, you just assume they will always be with us. So it was with great surprise and some sadness that I read this week that two such institutions were closing Gourmet Magazine and Chanterelle (which never re-opened after their summer break).

My friend Ilse gave me 5 years worth of Gourmet magazines when I live on Gloucester street in Toronto, I cherished them and even moved them with me when I came to New York. They planned a very important part in teaching me how to cook and entertain. For years no one could touch them, they were the ne plu ultra of cooking magazines. Of course they were a cooking magazine way back when there were only a few, unlike today's over crowded market. Like so many others I don't buy magazines any more, they seem like a waste of a tree especially when you can get everything you want online.

Ruth Reichel who I have great respect for took over Gourmet and reinvented at a time when it had become stogy and old fashioned, and even thought she did here damnedest to breath to life into it the moment had already passed. Fancy cooking magazines where no longer the rage, now everyone want simple, quick and easy. An Every Day Food pamphlet they could get for a few bucks at the grocery store check out. With simple recipes often using packaged goods they already had at home.

The truth of course is that people aren't cooking like they once did, we watch more food shows and do less cooking then other other time in our history.

Which makes the closing of Chanterelle all that more surprising. I would have thought in the uber posh neighborhood of Tribeca a venerable temple of chic cuisine would have thrived, especially one of such quality as Chanterelle. What I remember most about Chanterelle was their first place in Soho, it was the same austere old room, high ceiling with those fancy French Provincial (I'm not a furniture expert so correct me if I'm wrong) dining room chairs, giving the room a feeling of understated luxury. I'd pass by and stop to stare in the window and admire the over the top penmanship of the hand written menu, wondering if I would ever be wealthy enough to eat there. When they moved to Tribeca it seemed like they went from being small and exclusive to being an institution akin to someplace like the Four Seasons. A prime corner with soaring windows in the heart of downtown's version of the upper east side. Rich people with pretenses of hipness.

Chanterelle had been open for almost 30 years. I only ate their once, for lunch, a friend took me for my birthday, it was lovely, the food was delicious, but for me the scene was to rich and uppity, my hair wasn't blue enough and my wallet not Gucci, I prefer even my fancy, special event restaurants to be comfortable and monumental austerity never really felt cozy to me. Which isn't a criticism so much as just an observation, I always had the greatest respect for their style, it was just, to me, very fancy, in an old fashioned moneyed way that never made me feel comfortable.

Gourmet magazine published for 69 years, there had been rumour one of Conde Naste's food magazines was going to close, but all the bets were on Bon Appetite. In the end I suppose it came down to which one had the most ad pages. Another example of bad business making decisions based on the bottom line, not on history or quality; but maybe that's just me being nostalgic?

Even though I didn't dine at Chanterelle or buy Gourmet magazine I was glad somehow that they existed to show us how the other half lived and to give of in nothing else a glimpse, a thrill at the possibilities and a hope that maybe one day we would be able to cook that well or eat that richly.

1 comment:

Kurt Brown said...

Remind me to eat a power lunch at the Four Seasons Grill Room next time I'm there.

Just in case...

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