If you glance at the cover of the new quarterly food magazine Lucky Peach, you might not realize it’s a food magazine. Sure there’s a whole chicken, talons and all, going into a pot on the front cover. The artwork, though, makes it more like a music magazine than a food magazine.
Above the title of the magazine are the words “A New Food Quarterly From Momofuku’s David Chang.” Chang’s magazine reads more like “Paste” than “Bon Appetit” for me. First of all, it’s meant to be read. There’s a lot of text in this magazine, including a short story that’s 20 pages long. You can go several pages without a photo, a drawing or an advertisement. Actually there are only two ads in the entire publication, and one is for the magazine itself. I like that.
Then there’s the language. It’s casual in many places. Chang’s co-creator, Peter Meehan is allowed to use “me and Chris Ying” as the subjects in a sentence on the very first page with text in the magazine. This cannot be an editing slip. Quotes are not edited to take out harsh language. The f-bomb, as those of us who do edit harsh language would put it, is used liberally thoughout in quotes. The casual language says to me that the creators of the magazine aren’t going to take themselves too seriously.
Food and cooking on the other hand, they take very seriously. This is made clear in an interesting conversation about mediocrity between David Chang, Anthony Bourdain and Wylie Dufresne. The piece is the dialogue between the three where mediocrity in restaurants (particularly Italian restaurants) is skewered, the farm-to-table restaurant trend is called bullsh** and a symbol of mediocrity (because the origin of the ingredients is emphasized over cooking with excellence), and culinary schools are accused of churning out few kids who will ever actually “contribute to a real kitchen.”
The majority of the first issue is dedicated to Ramen, which coincidently is perfect timing in my household. My 12-year-old has recently become aware that many of his friends eat Ramen noodles frequently, the kind that get most kids through college at four packs for a dollar. I won’t allow him to eat them, but I handed him the magazine and told him that we could learn how to make real Ramen together.
There’s a comparison of instant ramen by Ruth Reichl, a piece on Ivan Orkin (a white Jewish New Yorker who runs a Ramen restaurant in Japan), a guide to regional Ramen in Japan, Ramen recipes, and more. I had no idea there was so much to know about skinny noodles.
The recipes for the Ramen and other dishes are laid out differently than in other food magazines. Arrows take you from page to page, step to step, to a photo of the finished product. After getting the hang of it, this layout makes sense. There is even a recipe written in three haikus.
I haven’t made it through the entire issue yet, and I’ve spent a few hours reading it. It's much more than recipes and kitchen utensil recommendations. It's food writing. Reading "Lucky Peach" is a different experience than reading other food magazines that I flip through in 20 minutes, marking recipes that look promising. And that’s why I’ll be subscribing to Lucky Peach at the hefty price of $28 for four issues a year (individual copies are $10). If the first issue is a taste of things to come, it will be more like paying for a book than a magazine.
Of course, Lucky Peach will be launching an iPad app at some point to go along with the magazine, but I think for now, I’ll enjoy the print version.
Have you had a chance to take in the pages of Lucky Peach yet? What did you think?