Ruth Reichl on Gilt Taste and the future of food journalism
Ruth Reichl, former editor of Gourmet magazine, was recently in Los Angeles to talk about her latest endeavor at Gilt Taste, the online gourmet market/culinary magazine launched this year by Gilt Groupe, the site for fashion and travel deals.
How are you liking your role as editorial advisor at Gilt Taste?
I love it. I watched my magazine die not because people didn't like it but because there were no advertisers. We had more than a million subscribers, and if we couldn't get advertisers, then there's something really broken about that model. So this is a new model, with commerce instead of advertising. I love the idea of supporting these artisans who are growing things, baking things, making cheese. They aren't necessarily great business people. So we're really supporting them and introducing them and their products to people.
How did you get involved?
[Gilt Groupe Chairman] Susan [Lyne] came to me and told me she really wanted a journalism aspect to the site. I wouldn't have done it otherwise. There's a difference between food and fashion. You don't have to tell people who Giorgio Armani is. But how are we going to get the food world people out there? If we create really good journalism, people will come for the stories.... People tell me every day, "I can't tell you how much I miss [Gourmet]." There's a hole in food journalism and hopefully we can fill it. These are well-written and well-edited. [Features editor] Francis [Lam] and I really kick these things back and forth and press for better stories, stories that are thoughtful. They're important stories. Even the videos. There are filmmakers who do the videos for us. Isn't it time to move on from "This is how you carve a turkey" and do something more artistic? We're trying to think outside of the box in every way.
Is there a line being crossed when you merge commerce and journalism?
There isn't any line to cross. We're one unit. That firewall that used to exist has been eroding for years. We wouldn't be selling something if we weren't proud of it. And we wouldn't write about something we weren't interested in.... Now, I don't have a publisher asking, "can you use these products in a recipe?" just because they're an advertiser.
How are you involved in selecting products available on the site?
Editorial is where my heart is, but I am constantly traveling, meeting people who are telling me about products. I was in Las Vegas and had this amazing caviar that's sustainably raised and not available in this country, and we're working on getting that. I'm probably on my own here and love yamaimo [the Japanese yam known for its slimy texture], but it's hard to find outside of Asian markets. One of the best products on the site is American-raised bottarga.
How have you seen Los Angeles' food scene change since you were food editor at the L.A. Times?
It's a really young food energy. It reminds me of what's happening in Paris. Chefs are saying, "I don't want to cook for movie stars and rich people." It's comfortable and casual. And this is hugely different from back in the day when everything was dictated by the movie industry and who was eating where.... The food people have wrested it back from them.
You mentioned a hole in food journalism after the end of Gourmet. Is there a lack of good food journalism in general?
There's a lot of good food journalism, but it's not in epicurean magazines. [It's in] newspapers, the Atlantic has a food component, the New Yorker food issue. When I started at Gourmet we asked ourselves what we should be covering. The farms, where food comes from.... And we faced this attitude, "People don't come to Gourmet to learn about fish farming or how trans fats are bad for you." We said, they should. And they did. People who eat food and cook food want to know. But it's a hard sell to advertisers.
Is Gilt Taste a viable model for long-form journalism?
I think it will be increasingly with food and fashion magazines. They'll start to ask themselves, why not? Maybe it's not a pure model for the future. It's a bold experiment that I wanted to be part of.
What about blogs' place in the future of food journalism?
They're stunningly good, a lot of them, with great recipes, and a lot of them can really write. The difference is there's a group thing that happens with good journalism. It's very collaborative, the effort of a lot of people. There's a real place for what [blogs] are doing. But it can be in a vacuum, you don't get the big picture or can move it forward in a big way.... The rumor that print is dead is just like what happened with the movie industry when videos came around. They said, "Nobody's ever going to go to the movies."
Look at the magazine Lucky Peach and how successful it's been.
Yes, it's so irreverent and so much fun.... [Lucky Peach publisher] McSweeney's is doing a great job at proving that print is not dead. It's just the landscape is changing. There's room for all of it.
-- Betty Hallock
Photo credit: Marcqui Akins/Gilt Taste