I love food, and I love reading about food. In the morning, I think of what I’m going to be having for dinner, and the last thing on my mind before I go to sleep is the welcome ritual of breakfast. When I heard about Lucky Peach, a new boutique journal of cutting edge food writing, I had to sample it. It sounded a bit more sexy and fun than Gastronomica, which is published by the University of California Press (and it shows).
From the start, there were articles I loved. Anything by kitchen science guru Harold McGee; that goes without saying. My favorite issue so far was Number 2: The Sweet Spot. Yes, it had a dead fish on the cover, but it included such delicacies as Adam Gollner on “The Glabrous Fruit of Samarkand,” Rachel Khong’s “Miso Horny,” and “Foam Party” by Dave Chang with Ferran Adrià, that Spanish wizard of molecular gastronomy. This issue was so cool, it actually included a page of custom-designed fruit stickers with slogans like I’m a pepper, Organic: wash before using for sex stuff, and Great with cigarettes!
I’m up to Issue 8 now, which proclaims itself “The Gender Issue.” One half is devoted to Men and the other to Women, while they meet in the middle in a short section called “Sex.” The latter inspires with its quirky/sexy/creepy illustrations from comics anthology Thickness, and a roundup of the strange sexual habits of marine creatures (“Should the top female clownfish die, her aggressive male counterpart will turn female and take over where she left off. Think about this the next time you watch Finding Nemo.”)
The “Women” cover is decorated with a crop of seed-bearing figs, cantaloupe, red pepper, and papaya (with a suggestive oyster on the half-shell thrown in for variety), while the “Men” cover has a bevy of phallic popsicles, sausages and radishes, dominated by a proudly massive butternut squash. I could hardly wait.
Alas. One can’t help feeling that in spite of good intentions, the male chefs who edit this journal had a little trouble actually envisioning what those space oddities called “women” might actually want to read. In the “For Women” section there are a few highlights. The piece called “Great Chefs Around the World” celebrates home cooks in Burma, Senegal, Laos and India. I found it ironic, however, that mention of female Western Great Chefs (as in women who run restaurant kitchens and get recognized for their culinary expertise) is barely there (one interview with Alice Waters).
What we get instead is a recipe for “Beefcake meatloaf.” Okay. Then a tutorial on cooking penises. Yes, it’s written by a woman, but… really? The “Men’s” side already has an article on castrating chickens and cooking rooster testicles. Then “Four Meals at the Toughest Strip Club in Downtown Los Angeles.” Yep. An article about a strip club. Are they serious? Then “Meat Maids,” a piece about women butchers. The Women’s section actually has more testosterone than the Men’s. To my mind, the best piece in the issue is John Birdsall’s memoir of cooking as a gay man in America–in the men’s section.
And then there’s Anthony Bourdain’s “short story” about a distinguished food writer (how did he manage to come up with that protagonist?) who gags on his latest assignment to write about “the ten manliest meals in America,” scorning the heinous requirement to write (once again) about the machismo of offal, steak and barbecue, whilst simultaneously jonesing on the idea of women lustily chomping tripe and squirrel brains. Sounds like this piece might have found better company in the women’s section.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I love Anthony Bourdain even though he scorns vegetarians as though we were cretinous lepers. He wrote Kitchen Confidential, which makes up for a lot. He used to have a brilliant gonzo style, like the Hunter S. Thompson of the kitchen. But the deep-end dining shtick is wearing thin. I think he ought to try writing about vegetables. It just might give him a second wind. Especially if he focuses on cabbage.
Rachel Khong’s introduction to the women’s section speaks for itself: They forced me, the female, to write this note, in order to prove that there is, you know, a female working on this magazine. Many of the letters that come flying into our mailbag say “WHERE ARE ALL THE LADIES?” and it’s true–often what comes across loudest is the dudeness of it all. But the ladies are here. I promise we’re writing, illustrating, photographing, cooking, taking care of behind-the-scenes business (shoutout to our interns Amanda, Aralyn, and Frances).
Um. Please tell me there is a cute boy intern who makes the coffee. Pretty please?
I have to admit that I affectionately satirized David Chang and his New York restaurant Momofuku (Lucky Peach) in Buckwheat Honeymoon.
While still a teenager in the nineties, he’d gotten his start in California by creating and selling a Korean version of that meat lover’s barbecue icon, the Bacon Explosion, in which he substituted crispy pork skin, ground pork shoulder and woven strips of pork belly for the conventional Italian sausage and bacon. The resulting slow-smoked fat bomb, he boasted, exceeded even the 5,000 calories of the popular original. Now he ran a noodle joint in Manhattan, which was much lauded for its lip-smacking ramen and luscious pork buns. The imminent debut of his more upscale restaurant, Momotaro, was creating a major buzz among foodies. The menu on Momotaro’s website specifically noted that vegetarians would not be accommodated.
Momotaro = “Peach Boy.” Heh, heh.
Here’s my wish list for future articles in Lucky Peach:
David Chang: “Why More Women Should Sample My Buns”
KCRW Good Food host Evan Kleiman: “‘Twas The Night Before Piemas”
Jonathan Gold on South Indian (vegetarian) Udupi cuisine [actually, anything by him]
Ruth Reichl: “Comfort Me With Applejack”
Martha Stewart: “Decorating Your Spouse With Pasta Alfredo”
Anthony Bourdain: “Forced At Gunpoint To Write About Macarons”
- Anthony Bourdain Wrote a Short Story for Food Journal ‘Lucky Peach’ (theatlanticwire.com)
- Lucky Peach 8: The Gender Issue is Here! (ecookbooks.typepad.com)