Over the last decade, countless food magazines and newspaper dining sections got slashed, gutted, or drastically reconfigured to keep up with the changing tastes of readers and advertisers. The recent announcement about Lucky Peach’s impending demise serves as a reminder of just how hard it is for boundary-pushing print publications to stay in the game.
But despite these major shifts in magazine publishing, some chefs and restaurateurs across the country are keeping the print flame alive. Bart Sasso and his partners at Ticonderoga Club in Atlanta decided to launch a quarterly as a way to expand the cultural vision of their restaurant. “When people ask what our place is all about, it’s easiest just to hand them a copy of our quarterly — it’s a good primer,“ Sasso explains. In the Bay Area, pastry chef Nick Muncy is launching a magazine called Toothache to give himself and his colleagues a new platform for expression. “I guess what makes the magazine unique is that there aren’t any food writers or other non-chef people working on it,” Muncy says.
Here’s a guide to notable chef and restaurateur-driven magazines, with details on a few new publications that are getting ready to make their debuts.
More than any other restaurateur, Andrew Tarlow has helped shape the modern Brooklyn dining scene. His restaurants and bars are quirky, fresh, and inviting, and they’ve inspired countless imitators around the world. For the last 11 years, Tarlow has published a three-hole punched, non-glossy magazine that perfectly captures the spirit of his establishments. The publication’s editor, Anna Dunn, was a former barista at Marlow & Sons, and Diner Journal often features recipes, essays, and photos from other current and former staffers of Tarlow’s restaurants.
Each Diner Journal issue follows one main theme, and you’ll always find a few recipes and many gorgeous food photos — but those are the only things that this publication shares in common with typical food magazines. For a taste of just how different Tarlow and Co. can be from the establishment, check out the recent “Dear Island” issue, which the team describes as “a meditation on one cook’s summer journey, from the clanging underground kitchens of Manhattan to a camp kitchen on an island in upstate New York.“ Diner Journal is published three times a year.
Last summer, Matt Straus, the proprietor of Heirloom Cafe in San Francisco, launched a quarterly magazine focusing on longform stories about food, wine, and the restaurant industry. Straus tells Eater that this project is another way for him to explore the things he cares about. “We recognized a need to grow, and at the same time felt that opening another restaurant in San Francisco was maybe not the best decision,” he says. “Rents are very high and staffing is very challenging, though making money hand over fist wasn’t ever the design of Heirloom as much as having something to say about restaurants and the way they operate. One day it occurred to me: If we're interested in ideas, why not branch out into dealing with those ideas more directly? A magazine about food culture, even though it was daunting, seemed a good way to do that.”
Kitchen Work is billed as “an old-fashioned, hold-it-in-your-hands magazine,“ so aside from a few paragraph-long excerpts, most of the writing is not online. The Winter 2017 issue features a recipe for red pepper dip, an essay about farm life, political musings from Straus, and a remembrance of an incredible meal cooked by David Burke.
Ticonderoga Club Quarterly
A year and a half ago, buddies Greg Best, Regan Smith, David Bies, Paul Calvert, and Bart Sasso decided to open a low-key Atlanta bar/restaurant with a menu that defies easy classification — veal sweetbread picatta sits alongside an Ipswich clam roll. The restaurant announced its launch via an irreverent publication called the Ticonderoga Club Quarterly, which continues to be largely written and edited by the owners. “We’ve always loved the little town newspapers you can find in wire racks at the front of well-worn locals, with their quaint editorials and kooky ads,” Sasso says. “Creating our own just felt like the perfect opportunity to not only introduce Ticonderoga Club and its lore, but to celebrate the many friends and family that helped us make it a reality.“
To kick off the debut issue, cocktail guru David Wondrich wrote an opening letter as the club’s first fictional “president.” The magazine — which Sasso says is the world’s only “annual quarterly” — also featured stories from the owners, recipes, fake ads (and real ones for their colleagues), letters to the editor, and even a preview menu, formatted like a centerfold. Sasso says the publication is a hit with the restaurant’s clientele. “We had to do a second run of the first issue due to demand, and we’re about to print another run of the second issue as well — but also because of a chronic typo bug that issue seemed to catch.”
Finesse and its ilk
One of the most unusual fine-dining trends of the last decade is the rise of restaurant vanity publications — thin, glossy magazines that celebrate the work being done at the high-profile restaurants that offer these publications to guests, usually for free. Over the last six years, Donatella Arapia, David Burke and Gotham Bar & Grill all decided to publish magazines in this vein. (A company called Haute Life Press produced a few of these, and several others.) Thomas Keller’s Finesse helped kickstart this relatively innocuous trend, and it remains a cut above the rest, thanks to sharp design and contributions from some talented writers.
If you’re a fan of Keller’s brand of auteurist California cuisine, there’s a good chance you’ll dig the words and photos inside Finesse. Launched in 2010, the biannual journal originally offered behind-the-scenes details on Keller’s restaurants in California and New York, but the purview has since expanded to include “different themes of importance” to Keller, with contributions from notable food writers. The recently-released “evolution” issue features stories about talented chefs like Jessica Koslow, Gavin Kaysen, David Tanis, and Curtis Duffy.
And on the horizon...
• Chicago super star Stephanie Izard is gearing up to launch her own publication soon. The chef behind Girl and the Goat and Little Goat says that she wants to “create an outlet that lets us explore new cultures, ingredients, people, and places through food and travel.” Although she has not announced any details about the title or publication date, Izard began hiring her team earlier this year. “Everything from Food & Wine to National Geographic to Real Simple to the New Yorker has been a source of inspiration,” Izard says.
• Nicky Muncy, the former pastry chef at Coi in San Francisco, is currently hard at work on the first issue of a new independent magazine called Toothache, which will feature contributions from his chef colleagues. “I’m pretty much giving the chefs blank pages, and letting them put in whatever they want,” he says. “Most of the content is beautiful food pictures and recipes, although there is a little bit of informative food writing.” The debut issue, which Muncy hopes to launch in a few months, will focus primarily on pastries, although he hopes to eventually offer “an equal savory-to-pastry ratio.“ The magazine already has a stunning Instagram page.
• Heather Sperling and Emily Fiffer, two veteran food writers, are putting the finishing touches on a farm-to-table restaurant in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles called Botanica, which will also have an affiliated print magazine. The Botanica homepage is already essentially a digital publication that’s full of lovely food photographs and recipes.
“Once we open, we’ll be populating it almost daily with everything coming out of the kitchen — and we imagine it will organically expand to include pieces on wine, cocktails, produce, and any and all other elements that make Botanica what it is,” Sperling says. “It’s meant to be a digital repository of everything in the restaurant — one that is designed to be extremely useful and, hopefully, inspiring.”
After the restaurant is up and running, Sperling plans to launch the magazine, perhaps as a quarterly. The restaurateur and her business partners have a friend in the print publishing world who will be assisting with the production. Sperling also notes: “For Emily and me, a dream afternoon includes sunshine, a comfortable couch and lots of pages to turn.”
Oh, and one more thing...
• Later this year, Sqirl’s chef/restaurateur Jessica Koslow and her team are planning to open an ambitious new LA project that will likely have an affiliated publication. Koslow says that the as-yet-unnamed restaurant will showcase “very California meets Israeli meets Georgian, Moroccan, and Mexican technique.” The sprawling space will incorporate both sonic and visual pieces of art. Presumably, the publication will cover the food, the art, and everything else that’s going on at the restaurant. Creative director Scott Barry recently told Eater: "I really like the idea of taking stuff that we're interested in and actually handing that information out to people."
Greg Morabito is a senior editor at Eater.
Editor: Erin DeJesus