After nearly 70 years of fine eating, the lavish meal known as Gourmet magazine is over.
Conde Nast blamed the tough economic climate Monday when it told its staff it was closing the stalwart of the food media world, long considered the dean of culinary publishing.
"It's the center of gravity, a major planet that's just disappearing," said chef and author Anthony Bourdain, who said Gourmet was the first food publication to give him a chance as a writer. "There's been a lot of speculation about this happening, but I'm still stunned."
Conde Nast also said it was shuttering Modern Bride, Elegant Bride and Cookie, a parenting magazine. Earlier in the year it ceased publication of Portfolio, a business magazine, and Domino, a homes title. Sister Conde Nast publication Bon Appetit survived the cuts.
For those in the food world, the closure is a bit like waking up to find the old Life magazine had closed shop.
"It's certainly the grand dame of food magazines," said Tim Ryan, president of the Culinary Institute of America. "We'll never see the likes of a Gourmet magazine in that form again."
Since 1999, Gourmet has been headed by Ruth Reichl, a doyenne of the food world and former New York Times restaurant critic. Reichl ushered the magazine firmly into the 21st century, overseeing launches of award-winning Web sites and television series.
Exploring the culture of foodMore than just a cooking magazine, Gourmet explored the culture — and increasingly the politics — of food.
It was that connecting of the dots between policy, the environment and the dinner table that food writer Michael Pollan, author of "The Omnivore's Dilemma," most lamented losing.
"They were reaching an audience that wasn't sensitive to the political and ecological implications of their eating," he said in an e-mail. "It was largely a hedonistic community that Ruth introduced to some hard issues."
Conde Nast had no comment. But in a memo to staff Monday, Conde Nast CEO Charles Townsend said the company would remain committed to Gourmet's book-publishing and television franchises and keep its recipes on the popular Epicurious.com.
It was unclear what would become of the magazine's Web site, or whether Reichl would remain with Conde Nast.
Few expect another publication — virtual or otherwise — will fill the vacuum. Magazines that do rise from the rubble likely will reflect the newer trends in food publishing, driven by personalities and brands.
The greatest casualty may be the long-form food journalism favored by Gourmet, said Dana Cowin, editor-in-chief of Food & Wine.
"Ruth definitely devoted a lot more space, time and interest to literary writing and it's a shame to see that go," Cowin said. "You're not going to see that on a blog and when you use a recipe search tool."
Weathered upheavals of American food sceneSince its launch in 1941, Gourmet weathered repeated upheavals of the American food scene. At its inception, people ate local and seasonal because, well, that's all there was. When processed food supplanted the farm stand, Gourmet marched on.
And when food morphed from meal to movement and Americans ate local and seasonal as a political statement, Gourmet was there.
During Reichl's time at Gourmet, she saw the rise of the locavore movement and molecular gastronomy, two trends she highlighted in her first issue a decade ago.
But in recent years, how Americans got their food media has changed. Despite Gourmet's robust Web presence, keeping a bricks-and-mortar publication afloat proved too taxing.
"The transition from hard paper to the Internet is not as easy as it should be," said celebrity chef Bobby Flay. "We just take it as a sign of the way things are going to be now."
Gourmet's demise also illustrates the change in how power is held in the food world. The ability of print media to make — or break — anything is waning. Increasingly, it is the viral aspect of social networking and blogging that gives rise to new faces, places and flavors.
And in perhaps a nod to that, Reichl's first public comment after the announcement was made via Twitter.
"Thank you all SO much for this outpouring of support. It means a lot," she wrote. "Sorry not to be posting now, but I'm packing. We're all stunned, sad."