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The Food World Pays Its Respects to Beloved Mag ‘Lucky Peach’

Thoughts from Mario Batali, Ruth Reichl, Jonathan Gold, and more

The news of the impending closure of Lucky Peach, the wacky, obsessive, beloved food magazine from writer Peter Meehan and Momofuku founder David Chang, is still sending shockwaves through the restaurant and media world. After six years and nine James Beard Awards, a double-issue this fall will be the magazine’s last.

Eater reached out to a slew of chefs and food media folks for their immediate thoughts and feelings on the news. Read what they have to say below, and feel free to drop your own tribute in the comments section.

John Birdsall

Writer

Lucky Peach always let me pitch what, anywhere else, would be the craziest shit: a profile of a young Thai corporate drone who dreamed of becoming a food writer, Elizabeth David’s late-career obsession with ice, cooking with cum. Editors Peter Meehan and Chris Ying treated writers like auteurs. I always felt they built a perimeter of shroud panels around me for longer print stories, giving me space (if not always very much time) to work out complex, shaded, and personal thoughts without the pressure to fit a commercial stylebook, or any conventional understanding of what food writing should be about.

When you start out as a writer, the thing you’re hungriest for is voice, an authentic, individual mode of expression — I’d been struggling for a decade to find one. In 2013 I wrote a rambling, picaresque, super-gay thing for Lucky Peach 7, the Travel issue, about a daylong search for cochinita pibil in the Yucatan that wasn’t really about food at all. Soon as that came out I emailed editor Chris Ying and was like, what’s next? Chris said I could pitch something for the next issue — Gender — but I’d have to write it in a week.

I wrote this thing, “America, Your Food Is So Gay,” basically first draft, no time to second-guess or polish on the back end, or even research up front. It was a breakthrough for me. I felt like Chris (and Peter) gave me the trust to relax, shut out worries about whether what I was writing was ridiculous, left me too exposed, or didn’t sound the way a piece about food was supposed to. They just believed in what I thought, and how I expressed it, first time off my keyboard; they helped me find my voice. Later, Chris emailed to say they found an extra $200 to pay me. As if they owed me more than I did them.

Mario Batali

Chef

Love Meehan, love Chang, love print, love deep dives. If Lucky Peach can’t make it, then we might as well crawl into our cell phones and laptops and build out virtual homes inside them.

Robert Sietsema

Eater NY senior critic

Of the increasingly disparate and far-flung community of food writers and food workers, Lucky Peach was the glue that held us together, crossing class and cultural lines. For those lucky enough to write for the publication, it was a place to pitch stories more arcane and outrageous than other places would accept. For the readers, it was a window into a culinary world more genuine and detailed than could be plumbed elsewhere. When we were tired of scanning the articles and books we were required to read, we sat down on a comfy chair and read Lucky Peach with real relish. Though no one is yet talking about how it went belly up, losing Lucky Peach is like the death of a close friend, who died before her time.

Ruth Reichl

Writer, editor, cookbook author

I’m in San Sebastian, at a raucous end of Dialogos de Cocina party at the Basque Culinary Institute, and the news just put a stop to the dancing. Shocked and sad.

Brooks Headley

Chef

Every so often the folks at Lucky Peach would call in (or Seamless-in) a big lunch order from Superiority Burger right when we opened. It was always a rollicking way to start the day. If they ordered, say, $75 of food, I’d tack on maybe an extra $75-worth of off-menu, one-off salad specials, old cookbooks laying around, unsellable quarts of gelato experiments, family meal pasta salad, a re-gifted jar of $40 tomato paste that ended up on our shelf of misinformation, you get the picture. The delivery person would always look extra confused at the multitude of bags: “That one doesn’t even have any food in it.” Weird little fake restaurant is always gonna support the weird food magazine.

They did stuff that no one else did. Peter Meehan’s outstanding and way overdue Claudia Fleming profile, that genius multi-page recipe for Marco Canora’s gnocchi, the thing where they made Mark Ladner eat SpaghettiO’s (gross!), every single thing that Fuschia Dunlop wrote. I actually learned important, useful information in every issue. Harold McGee multiple times! Pre-BoJack Horseman Lisa Hanawalt’s “On the Trail with Wylie,” man, that was so good!

It was ONLY thing in print for a long time. It wasn’t shrouded in glossy commerce, it wasn’t overly intellectual and dry (read: boring), and it bypassed that goofy food magazine thing where everything is so soft focus and every chef is this tortured artist with music on hold from a pricey hotel playing in the background.

A very very special thing, Lucky Peach. I’m floored and sad that it’s going to be done. In this current political and social hellscape, we need publications like Lucky Peach so much. I’m holding out for hope that there’s a swell of support and it keeps going somehow. It has to.

Jonathan Gold

LA Times dining critic

If LP is really going, it is devastating in so many ways — it was the last great food magazine left, pretty much. It fostered a real sense of community in that part of the food world concerned about more than Tuesday night suppers or the next fast-casual concept. Peter Meehan is a tremendous editor, who brings out the best in his writers; helping them find depths they may not have known they even had. And it developed a new generation of food writers who looked at the world in lovely, non-judgmental, non-transactional ways.

Ivan Orkin

Chef

It was an incredible honor to be on the cover of their inaugural issue, which coincided with my return to the United States. It was lovely because after 10 years it was intimidating to come to New York and try to open a restaurant. It was a humbling moment. I made some really great friends out of it; I got a co-author out of it in Chris Ying. That’s been a real honor, too. Peter Meehan and the whole Momofuku crew have been great.

It’s too bad. But they’ll do something else. All those guys are monumental talents. I don’t think you’ve heard the last of anybody.

Kevin Pang

The A.V. Club food editor

What Lucky Peach pulled off was magical. The winds against them were category F5, so you can’t help but feel amazement at what they did, in their particular industry, under that economic climate, with the street cred they amassed.

Peter and Dave were the marquee names who get credit for shaping the editorial vision, but that magazine wouldn’t be as smart, funny, journalistically sound and gorgeous to behold if not for that O.G. crew of Chris Ying, Rachel Khong, and Walter Green. I’m in awe, in love, and grateful to them all. Every writer or artist would be so lucky to work with such thoughtful colleagues; they pushed and challenged and wrung things out of me I didn’t realize was there.

I had stories in seven of their 23 issues. Still can’t believe it. How could a grunt newspaper reporter have his byline alongside the likes of McGee, Bourdain, Dunlop, Gold, and Reichl? Until someone wakes me up, I can say unequivocally that writing for Lucky Peach was the greatest thrill of my professional life, and second place ain’t even close.

Alton Brown

Cookbook author, television host

Lucky Peach is the food journal I always wanted. Intelligent, witty, well written, and thought provoking. It took me years to get over the loss of Gourmet, but this... I just don’t know what I’ll do without it.

Lucas Peterson

Eater Dining on a Dime host, writer

I had never much cared for food magazines, and then I flipped through a copy of Lucky Peach for the first time. It was too weird and impolite to be another glossy industry mag, but too well-executed to be someone’s inside joke, and filled with as much great writing, photography, and illustrations as any publication out there.

Lucky Peachs demise is sad because there isn’t anything else like it, and nothing really replaces it. It was a great magazine for people who cared about food but weren’t “foodies,” and who cared as much about stories behind industry as the industry itself.

I’ve been writing for Lucky Peach since 2013. A considerable amount of any professional success I’ve had I can link directly to my work with them. That they happen to be some of the smartest, nicest, and most hard-working people I’ve ever met is just an added bonus.

Yes, we need to hear about the hottest new restaurant trends, the world’s most expensive potato chip, and 18 sexy summer salads. But sometimes we need more that. So thank you, Lucky Peach. I’ll miss you a lot.

Christine Muhlke

Bon Appetit editor at large, Bureau X founder

Sure, there was some great writing on subjects that food magazines wouldn’t touch — the kind that made me wish I didn’t have page counts (and advertisers) to worry about. But what Lucky Peach really represented to me was a pinprick of hope for magazines. That words might win after all. That enough people shared a paper fetish to keep us weirdo editors employed, doing what we love, like shuffleboard instructors on the Titanic.

Kat Kinsman

Senior Food & Drinks Editor, Extra Crispy

It took me a while to come to Lucky Peach. Not that I didn't read it — I was a subscriber from the first issue. It seemed more like something I should read, than something I actually wanted to. I guess it felt as if there wasn’t a place for me in its pages. It was cool, high, and edgy in a way that I am not. But then something changed. It warmed, broadened, deepened palpably. Settled into its skin. Invited more people into the room. Suddenly it wasn’t about the cool thing — it was about the earnest thing, and they found writers and editors who wore their damns on their sleeve, and dug to tell the stories well and with voice and humanity. The editorial decisions they make to explore the stories of the world, and to be sure that the right voices are included have set a standard that I hope the rest of us can uphold. This is one of the best, smartest, heart-correct bunches of people in the business and I am grateful they came together, even if it was for far too short a time.

Eric Ripert

Chef

The magazine very much earned its status as “the New Yorker of food.” It featured many great collaborators including Anthony Bourdain, Mark Bittman, Robert Sietsema, and Mario Batali. Every issue was an instant collectible.

Charlotte Druckman

Writer

Any and every time a print (or digital) publication folds, it’s a loss and a heartbreak — this is especially true for writers, but it applies to readers, too. When Lucky Peach launched, it was like the VOICE OF CHANG in magazine form, and not in a literal way, so much, but it took the “disruptive” spirit of Momofuku and put it into editorial form. I remember thinking, Oh, its like Dave Chang gave Tony Bourdain the keys to the printing press and said, Have at it, with a sickly talented sidekick, Peter Meehan there to execute. Writers were allowed to express themselves, unfettered, and were encouraged to be in-your-face, irreverent, even ribald, and, at the same time know-it-all, to geek out on some admirably insanely obscure food intel. Its pulp- and comic book-inspired aesthetic enhanced the effect.

It was the voice of a new foodie generation, a gonzo-gone-gonzo voice... of a presumably male generation. That, of course, is another way of saying that there was some deeply BRO-DUDE shit — a swinging-dick of a publication. It defined foodie-ism as masculine. And it did it well, with superior writing, a raunchy sense of humor, and —most welcome — perverse imagination. It’s not that it didn’t include female food writers or cover female subjects — eventually those things happened. But it had an undeniable, seemingly deliberate testosterone-driven point of view; an aura that felt timely when the book launched and, simultaneously, could make it polarizing or alienating to readers. Part of that timely broheim esprit came from the inclusion of chefs. Instead of simply featuring hero-worshipping profiles of (again, mostly male) chefs, Lucky Peach gave them bylines and didn’t simplify their recipes for home cooks or temper their inside-baseball jargon. Many of its regular contributors were chefs. Did it have a circle-jerk effect? Sure. But don’t most magazines tend towards cliquishness? Yes.

Some of my favorite features ever written, food-related or otherwise, were Lucky Peach stories: Peter Meehan’s profile of Claudia Fleming is perfect in every way, as is everything Rachel Khong has penned for that publication. Without Lucky Peach, I wouldn't have discovered John Birdsall, as the gorgeous writer he is, or at all. I've always had ambivalent feelings about it, which you can probably tell. But I respected the work, and the creativity, and those first few issues really felt like a kind of revolution.

Aside from providing yet another reminder that publishing is FUCKED, Lucky Peachs folding might be taken as an indication that we’ve reached another point of cultural palate fatigue. Although in the past couple of years the magazine seemed to be focused more on recipes and home cooking, it never shook its aggressive manwich appetite. We’re seeing less and less interest in chefs as celebrities, or rock stars, or whatever you want to compare them to, and people are maybe (finally?) tiring of the voice Lucky Peach channeled, and in many ways defined, so well. They’re saying the Future is Female. If there’s any possible silver lining to be found now, as this magazine we all cared about in one way or another, and one that was so successful and achieved that independently, leaves us, maybe that’s it.

Regardless, it’s a sad day for anyone who cares about the written word.

Adam Sachs

Saveur editor in chief

What a fucking shame. See that? I just typed an actual thought in my head without bothering to whitewash into posh, bland magazine language. Lucky Peach did us all the favor of reminding us that food writing needn’t be precious or predictable or blandly authoritative, that it’s ok to be weird and excited about weird stuff, that there’s a lot to say about anything, even a bowl of soup, as long as you’re earnestly, honestly enthused about it. Peter and his merry gang made it look fun and seem cool to be writing about this stuff, which is harder than it looks. I will miss the physical thing itself and wish the people who made it well and will do my best to steal all their good ideas.

Ed Lee

Chef

Lucky Peach was the antidote for everything in the food world that was sugar-coated and trite. I will miss the longform essays. It is what we need more of, not less.

Kristina Erfe Pines

Spoonful Magazine founder/publisher

Spoonful Magazine is extremely disheartened to hear of the recent changes at Lucky Peach. The independent food media is a small but passionate community, and we have admired Lucky Peach as a frontrunner and trendsetter in the independent food publishing industry. Their editors truly redefined the entire food publication space by creating compelling, and sometimes controversial stories that paved the way for other independent food publishers like us.

And over on Twitter:

A great thread from New York Times dining critic Pete Wells:

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