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Gourmet glamour

(article, Adam Ried)

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Maybe I shouldn’t admit this, but my favorite gym amenity is the magazine rack. After all, The Rack allows me to indulge in all the suspect titles I secretly love but don’t allow myself to buy. Dreary, seemingly endless Stairmaster sessions fairly whiz by if I've got a trashy magazine or two to browse. So thank you, Rack, for ensuring the modest level of fitness I maintain.

For several weeks back in the fall of 2009 though, The Rack was an embarrassment of riches. Right around the time that Gourmet magazine shut down, someone began leaving back issues of it in The Rack. Not just issues from the previous year or so, but really old issues, many dating back as far as 1960, when the magazine was still edited by founding editor and publisher Earle MacAusland. 

[%image reference-image float=right width=400 caption="A gold mine at the gym."]One day there was the September 1963 issue, with an “Along the Boulevards” column by Mr. Café Society himself, Lucius Beebe, and a piece about London by the renowned writer, traveler, and printmaker Samuel Chamberlain. The next day there was the September 1966 issue, with another Chamberlain travel piece, this time about Gascony and Guyenne in France, and a “Memorable Morsels” column of pithy quotes collected by author and storied Chicago Tribune reporter Vincent Starrett.  

One day I found the October 1971 issue, with an essay about walnuts by Jane Grigson, followed on another day by the November 1970 issue, with a pasta article by James Beard. And so it went for several weeks.
In fact, though I’d never done it before and haven’t done it since, I actually started going to the gym twice a day for a while, driven solely by the thrilling anticipation of the next discovery. (I even exercised on those extra visits, to the undoubted joy of my coronary arteries.) By the time the Gourmet stream trickled dry, I had squirreled away a stack about three feet high, spanning the 1960s through the mid-1980s, many of which were, curiously, September, October, and November issues.

October 1961 is an issue I’ve read over a few times, in part because an article in it strikes a personal chord for me. It’s a review of the Restaurant Laurent, in the Lombardy Hotel in Manhattan, and it tickles me because my grandfather and his wife Flo (of the flaming red hair, whom he married after my grandmother died) lived at the Lombardy when I was a kid. We ate at Laurent, or “downstairs” as my grandfather referred to it, often.

On page 74 there’s an ad for Luchow’s, another famous Manhattan restaurant, where I suffered a food trauma I remember to this day. I was young, perhaps 6 or 7, and my grandfather, my father, and I were having lunch together. Just as the appetizers were arriving at the table, my grandfather turned to greet friends one table over. The waiter set down a scoop of chocolate ice cream in a glass coupe at Grandpa’s place, and I was blown away. Ice cream, before the meal? How cool was this place? 

As Grandpa talked with his friends, I swooped in for a spoonful of ice cream while the coast was clear — and nearly choked. That’s when I learned the hard way that chopped liver served with a dipper looks just like a scoop of chocolate ice cream. I suppose the lettuce garnish should have tipped me off, but I didn’t even notice it. Grandpa’s uproarious laughter at that scene is one of my strongest memories of him.

Also among the restaurant ads in the “Let’s Eat Out” section is one for Keen’s English Chophouse, at 72 West 36th Street. That one gave me a little jolt of excitement, because I remember an episode of "Mad Men" (the ultimate retro 1960s show) in which Don Draper barks to his secretary to make him a lunch reservation at Keen's. I’ve never eaten there, but Keens is still around, now billed as a steakhouse and apparently minus the apostrophe in its name, serving its famous mutton chops at the same address.

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The recipes in the issue are an intriguing mix of the fancy French dishes in vogue in the early 1960s and other dishes that seem as relevant today as they were then. In an article on scallops, for instance, there are recipes for seviche and grilled kebabs of fennel-marinated scallops alongside those for Coquilles Saint-Jacques au Champagne and Coquilles Saint-Jacques Mornay. An article on lamb features the recipes you might expect to find, such as Lamb Kidneys and Mushrooms en Brochette and Sautéed Breast of Lamb, with others like Lamb Shanks with Tarragon and Braised Lamb Chops with Prunes, which is something I make every winter to this day, sometimes switching around the dried fruit from prunes to apricots to figs.  

[%image fritters float=right width=400 caption="Danish Rice Fritters"]The piece “A Galaxy of Hors-d’Oeuvre” includes a recipe for smoked oyster butter that’s just half a step away from a Marcella Hazan tuna butter recipe I’ve been making forever, though I’ve tarted it up with lemon zest and shallots. And in an article about rice called “From Rice to Riches,” along with recipes for Gâteau de Riz au Caramel and Riz a l’Imperatrice are others for Danish Rice Fritters, which I’ve adapted here, and a Ginger Rice Pudding with dried figs, crystallized ginger, and honey that I’m making next. Also in the issue was a piece about the developing cuisine of Israel.

I guess all of this is to say that it’s easy to spot the appeal and sophistication of Gourmet in these early issues. Though undeniably oriented toward French cooking and New York restaurants, the editors cast a wider net, too, that’s still instructive today and must have been a bit revolutionary in 1961.  

These days when I get to the gym, I still dive for the magazine rack, and happily grab whatever it has to offer. But given my druthers, I’d take a 50-year-old issue of Gourmet over this week’s Entertainment Weekly any day.

p(bio). Adam Ried writes about food and cooking from Boston.

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