The Gourmet Cookbook (Houghton Mifflin) was a 1,000-plus-page compendium of some of the best recipes—think Lobster Thermidore—from the magazine’s archives updated for 2004. In a nod to changing American tastes and culinary consciousness, the house will release Gourmet Today. Forget Lobster Thermidore: now it’s Pork and Pancetta Ravioli with Vegetable “Bolognese” Sauce, with the typical milk and meat omitted from the sauce. Many recipes can be prepared in a half hour or less; tons of them will satisfy vegetarians; and there’s a chapter on cocktails, reflecting the current craze. Gourmet editor-in-chief Ruth Reichl, who edited the book, talks about the massive changes she’s noticed in American home kitchens.
PW: How much emphasis did you place on seasonal cooking, healthier dishes in the first Gourmet cookbook? [See PW’s 2004 Q&A with Reichl.]
RR: There wasn’t [an emphasis] because that wasn’t where we were. The whole issue of sustainable fish wasn’t a big part of it. I sometimes think of that as the butter cookbook. We weren’t thinking really consciously. We didn’t have an obesity crisis.
PW: How have things changed?
RR: There have been enormous changes in the way we eat. This isn’t a diet cookbook, but we thought, how can we add flavor in ways that don’t require lots of fat? We’re now thinking, maybe you don’t want a whole stick of butter in a recipe.
PW: What about the notion that Americans don’t spend time cooking anymore? Michael Pollan’s recent New York Times Magazine story noted, “the average American spends a mere 27 minutes a day on food preparation (another four minutes cleaning up); that’s less than half the time that we spent cooking and cleaning up when Julia [Child] arrived on our television screens.”
RR: There’s all this pessimism that people aren’t going to cook. I just don’t believe that. There’s a new passion that people have for so many of the kinds of things that are important for thinking about sustainability, and all these exciting new products have come into the market. That people want to spend less time cooking sometimes doesn’t negate the fact that people are cooking recreationally in a way they haven’t before.
PW: What differences have you observed in how Americans cook since The Gourmet Cookbook came out?
RR: People acknowledge without embarrassment that they’re time-pressed. It’s not embarrassing to say, “I made this in 20 minutes.” Ten years ago if you were a person who cared about food, it was a little humiliating to say you had used prepared ingredients. But now, Indian sauces, Thai curry paste and frozen edamame are in the supermarket. They make it easier to cook quickly. You go to the farmers' market and there are all these new—to us—vegetables, like purslane, kohlrabi, bok choi and lacinato kale. And 10 years ago you couldn’t assume everybody had a stand mixer. Now you assume anybody who’s going to buy a cookbook has a stand mixer. We’ve become a pot and pan culture. People used to make do with whatever they had, but you can now assume people have a pretty good collection of sizes of pots and pans. Now the reality is most of our readers have better kitchens than we’re cooking in!
This story originally appeared in Cooking the Books, PW's e-newsletter for cookbooks.