Chow Time

Foodies bracing for the Thanksgiving onslaught of friends and family may be inclined to turn to a trusted resource for some last minute inspiration on Thursday. Out could come the November issue of Bon Appetit with a "Midwestern Modern" Thanksgiving spread, or perhaps the latest Cooking Light and its feature on Turkey Day pies. But that won't quite do for Jane Goldman. Her Thanksgiving menu will be inspired by her own creation: Chow, the magazine she launched earlier this month.

The inaugural issue of Chow hit the newsstands on Nov. 2 with favorable reviews and against unfavorable odds: In October alone 132 new titles entered the market, a record high. Worse, a full 60 percent of these are unlikely to last a year, according to Samir Husni, a professor at the University of Mississippi's Magazine Service Journalism Program. But he admits to liking what he sees in Chow. "I like the name; I like the idea," he says. "But the competition is so tough ... They are competing with two giants: the Conde Nasts and the Time Inc.'s of this world."

The "idea" of Chow, according to Goldman, a 49-year-old former editor at Industry Standard until that magazine capsized with the dot-com boom, is to address younger food enthusiasts with more attitude than the established giants. It's food as fashion, food as pop culture. The first issue, cobbled together in Goldman's San Francisco apartment, includes articles on how to procure illegal cheese, tips on dealing with hangovers and where to get the best holiday takeout. "The top five do a tremendous job of addressing their audiences," she says. "Of those, there's none that treat food as an ebullient pleasure, as fun." Food magazines today, she says, are too earnest. They've lost that loving feeling.

"I totally agree," concedes Chris Kimball, editor of Cook's Illustrated, one of the five Goldman has set her sights against. "Gourmet cooking, which started in the '70s, was extremely serious and got away from a joy of cooking. Whether that works as the central philosophy of a magazine remains to be seen." (Barbara Fairchild, Bon Appetit's editor-in-chief, declined to comment, and Gourmet's Ruth Reichl sniffed to the New York Times that "nothing is taboo in our magazine.")

The obstacles for a small start-up publication like Goldman's are myriad. With an unpaid staff of under a dozen handling everything from advertising to art to circulation to copy, Goldman scratched together around $350,000 from friends and family for the launch. Meanwhile Time Inc., which publishes Cooking Light, and Conde Nast, which publishes Gourmet and Bon Appetit, have annual revenues in the billions. Add to that the fact that there are hundreds of niche food magazines out there competing for the small available number of upscale advertisers essential to any magazine's survival.

But Chow, with an initial modest circulation of 50,000, is off to a promising start. When the magazine landed on the stands, Goldman says they were receiving an order a minute online. The vibe is populist cool; hipster models sport T-shirts and jeans; the photos present food, refreshingly, as it actually looks. And the talent runs deep: Francine Maroukian, a former caterer and author of several cookbooks, is the food editor; Max La Riviere-Hendrick, chef de cuisine at San Francisco hotspot Gary Danko, is the food stylist; restaurateur Charlie Palmer designed the Thanksgiving menu. But Goldman et al. had three years to put out the first issue; the true test will be whether they can consistently deliver every two months.

And to whom? The target demographic according to Goldman is, well, Goldman herself: a gourmand of any age with a sophisticated palate--who still manages to burn the toast. "While I may know the difference between Ethiopian and Eritrean food when I go out to eat, I am still not comfortable cooking a pot roast." So this Thursday will find her at a friend's apartment, thumbing frantically through the pages of her own publication. "Even for accomplished chefs, Thanksgiving is hard to do: sauteing, baking, roasting and it's all supposed to come out at the same time!" Sounds almost as tricky as putting out a magazine.