It was a bold move when Momofuku's David Chang took magazine publishing and food writing into his own hands with Lucky Peach. There was a sense there that Chang felt as though the food media as it stood wasn't covering food, restaurant and chef culture in the way Chang related to, so rather than wait around for someone to start to write articles he wanted to read, he and his friends just put out something of their own.
Of course, maybe you have to be David Chang for someone to agree to put out a magazine for you. But in recent days I've come across similar ventures on a way smaller scale: The chef-made zine. I've been in Atlanta for the Atlanta Food & Wine festival, and during my time here, two chefs have handed me publications they've produced and put out themselves, small volumes of the type of food conversations they'd like to be having but aren't seeing anywhere else.
The first is a tiny set of two slender booklets, put out by a group called Feed Publishing, which they are calling the publishing arm of their restaurant group (they own two well-known restaurants in Atlanta, Restaurant Eugene and Holeman & Finch Public House). One booklet is titled Mayonnaise, and is written “by a chef,” and the other is Seven Drinks, written “by a barkeep.” Mayonnaise contains thoughts on mayonnaise, a recipe, a method, musings on different aspects of mayonnaise and how it relates to, say, pimento cheese or dessert, and a kind of hall of fame with tiny pictures of “mayonnaise luminaries.”
Seven Drinks takes on seven different drinks, in no particular order, with personal stories and random thoughts about gin and tonic, a hangover cure to rival the Bloody Mary, the Manhattan, buttermilk, and so on. Where appropriate, recipes are included, along with doodles and graphics. Feed Publishing's volumes are expected to be on sale eventually, but only through the restaurant group's locations. They are basically a DIY extension of a brand.
The other chef-driven publication I came across is a small, beautiful magazine called Brother, which basically chronicles the journey of a pasture-raised chicken. But it's the story of a quail and chicken farmer, a chef's visit to that farm, the slaughtering process (along with incredibly graphic photography of that process), and the dinner and conversation that resulted from the chicken giving its life. There are recipes in the back and gorgeous photos throughout, the most troubling and beautiful of which is a full spread in close detail of chicken guts, intestines, and head — all in stunning close-up.
Brother was produced by Ryan Smith, the chef at Hugh Acheson's Empire State South, though he did it completely independently of the restaurant. Smith collaborated with photographer Andrew Thomas Lee, designer Alvin Diec and writer Wyatt Williams to produce the issue. You can buy copies of Brother from their website. (It costs $8 plus $2 shipping.) If they recoup enough money from sales — they put up the money for printing themselves — they hope to produce more issues, also focusing on single ingredients and producing the issues collaboratively with farmers and writers.
The South has a serious DIY mentality, and it could be that that's why we're seeing these chefs from that region jump into publishing, but I predict that more and more restaurant people, frustrated with what's out there in terms of food media, will start to decide that they want to control the conversation themselves. In Brother's introduction, Smith writes “The idea sprouted in my head to make a magazine not because there aren't enough curated, pretty pictures of food in the world. There's already plenty of that.” The best chefs are trying to tell a story with their cooking, so it's only natural that eventually they might want to do some actual story telling as well.
Check out some more pictures of Feed Publishing's booklets and Brother below, but be warned that the image from Brother is graphic (and not even anywhere near as graphic as some of the kill scenes featured in the magazine).
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