By Beverly Stephen and Barbara Mathias
“Food Arts absolutely chronicled the American Food Revolution,” Ed Brown said when he introduced us at the annual meeting of Restaurant Associates chefs held at the Culinary Institute of America in October. “They did much more than report it, they helped shape it!”
We were honored to be able to take the chefs down that meaningful 25-year memory lane. Now, through Flavor Forays, we are bringing people who were Food Arts readers to see the people and places we reported on.
A lot happened in these last few decades. And for 25 years, Food Arts was at the front lines reporting on this Great American Food revolution: farm to table, the rise of women chefs, science and technology in the kitchen, the love of all things artisanal and heirloom and local, local, local.
As journalists we were excited by our scoops. We were the first to cover Ferran Adria at El Bulli, the Nordic manifesto which led to NOMA, Emeril before he was Emeril.
We can’t talk about Food Arts without talking about founding editor Michael Batterberry. It was his style and vision that made the whole thing happen. His background in art enabled him to put food and art together on center stage.
Michael and his wife, Ariane, believed there was a need for a new magazine celebrating the chef-led American food revolution and in 1988, they launched Food Arts. Their mission was to give chefs the respect they deserved as artists and business people. They believed that chefs needed information no one else was providing. This was before instant news on the internet, blogs, Beard awards. A chef in New York didn’t necessarily know what a chef in California was doing.
Working with Michael at Food Arts was like being seated next to the most interesting guest—at the kind of fabulous dinner parties most of us never get invited to. When chefs were in town they would come by to visit—Charlie Trotter, Jose Andres, Emeril, Susan Fenniger. Cookbook authors came to plug books—Nathan Myrhvold brought the page proofs of Modernist Cuisine to us first. Writers came to pitch stories, a duchess from Palermo described her palazzo turned bed & breakfast, young visionaries like Dave Arnold came to brainstorm his dream of a Museum of Food and Drink (now open in Brooklyn). We met with top writers and photographers who were willing to work within our rather modest budget—all for love of Michael.
Michael had props—a Venetian party mask, a Japanese samurai sword, a stuffed chicken all waiting their turn for whimsical cover photo shoots. A great raconteur, he had stories: helping Greta Garbo home after a late night in Rome, lunching with Isak Dinesen, hanging out with Julia or the Brennans, returning to the U.S. from England on an ocean liner which stopped at the statue of Liberty and Gene Autry came on deck on Champion the Wonder Horse, reared up and waved his hat in salute to Lady Liberty.
Accolades poured in after his death. Anthony Bourdin: “Michael was one of the first people anywhere to treat me like a writer. Back when I was an anonymous, line cooking journeyman, long before Kitchen Confidential.”
The magazine always had a sense of humor too. One of our best loved features was “Hits and Flops” where chefs could commiserate about the dishes nobody bought. For example, Paul Canales of Duende in Oakland decided to make a really classic paella with rabbit and snails. “It should have been a slam-dunk,” he said. “But The snails really freaked people out. …I may bring it back I still have five cans of snails.”
We’re proud that chefs today are not only respected professionals, you’re rock stars. In Food Arts you were bold face names just like celebrities in the gossip columns.