While I can’t entirely dispute Arion Berger’s argument (“Zine Cuisine,” 6/26) that many of today’s cooking magazines appeal to the idle domestic fantasies of upscale strivers or the snobberies of manly gonzo-perfectionists, I can personally vouch that she neglected one significant demographic: people who simply enjoy cooking. Therefore, I am disappointed, but not surprised, that she completely ignored one of the magazines to which I subscribe (Fine Cooking) and dismissed the other with a sentence (Gourmet). Let me say a few words in favor of each:

Fine Cooking, published by Taunton Press, is similar to Cook’s Illustrated and Saveur in that it cuts right to the chase, devoting all of its time to the practical matter of cooking, leaving aside travel articles, party planning, and craft projects. Unlike the other magazines, however, it is bright, conversational, and approachable, not humorless, cliquish, and pretentious. Though it features some regular staff writers, most articles are guest written by luminaries of the food world—from the restaurant business, from agriculture, the wine-making community, whatever field the article concerns. You feel as though the experts are by your side imparting their knowledge briskly and patiently. The careful work of the editorial staff keeps the articles free of jargon and maintains a consistent style despite the fact that the authors are not writers by trade. The focus is on “master recipes,” which showcase a fundamental technique or basic preparation that can be adapted in a variety of ways. This magazine showed me how to make a simple slow-cooked tomato sauce, a perfectly roasted chicken, a flawless beurre blanc, and a rich pot-à-crème. I have spun off all of these seemingly simple recipes into spontaneous and creative original dishes. It has taken me from the domain of the dilettante to the rarefied air inhabited by a true crook.

As for Gourmet, it gives the lie every month to Berger’s claim that there’s never anything truly new under the sun. Gourmet’s restaurant critics are on the cutting edge of elite cuisine, and, as a cook who likes to innovate, I am always trying to steal ideas (albeit with limited success) from the chefs who are profiled in the reviews. As someone who makes less than $20,000 annually, it frustrates me to read the endless reviews of $400-a-night spas and grand hotels, and I throw out Gourmet’s annual questionnaire inquiring into my favorite resorts and fine restaurants whenever it arrives. But I do make mental notes for the future, for when I can finally afford such things. Finally, while Gourmet gives you precious little guidance in successfully executing the recipes that accompany the lavish photos from their menus, the recipes do work wonderfully if you have the temerity to attempt them.

Both magazines are extremely practical and free of attitude and pose, which is why I imagine they weren’t covered in you review; they don’t provide much grist for someone seeking entertaining and outrageous excerpts. If, however, you like to entertain your friends, and serve good meals to the girlfriend whom you love very much, if you’re like me, they’re indispensable.

Alexandria, Va.

via the Internet

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