Food writing's tough. To paint contemporary food writing in admittedly broad strokes: Every charred tomato is "smoky," every childhood meal a revelation, every chef recounts the inspiration for their parsnip soup as though they collided atoms. On the other hand, there is more food writing than ever before because there are more people who think they can do it better — not including online.
One mixed blessing of the food movement is the rise of the print food journal, the literary food thingy: Gastronomica, Remedy, Lucky Peach, Meatpaper. Some are wonderful and smart, some are pretentious and stiff, some are beyond lyrical. But they all look great. This past year has brought two new beautifully designed, Chicago-based food mags. Let's meet them.
Quick sketch: Biannual, eccentric, unbound, food-journal-packet-thing, centered around recipe cards.
Founded: May by David Tamarkin, 35, a longtime food journalist who is now the media director at Frontera Grill and lives in Edgewater. Funded primarily through the online site Kickstarter. Tamarkin asked for $9,000 to get started — and got $27,000.
Industry experience: Tamarkin was a restaurant critic at Time Out Chicago. He quit as the magazine laid off most of its staff (and transitioned to online only). "Doing Middlewest was an idea I couldn't shake," he said. "It came out of a desire to do something more permanent, and when I thought about what made Time Out dispensable — literally dispensable — I decided I had to make something keepable, tactile, a nice object."
Contents: The first issue of Middlewest — designed by the Chicago artists Sonnenzimmer — does not resemble a magazine. It comes in a thin packet fixed with a string. Inside are loose recipe cards and a literary supplement, which Tamarkin says will change format each issue. The first supplement, which includes a short piece from novelist Emma Straub, is a series of faux letters loosely pertaining to food, broken up with brief (very random) descriptions of restaurants on Vine Street in Cincinnati. Just because.
Sample article: "Turkeys + Babies + 4 a.m."
Quick sketch: Biannual, submission-driven literary journal that uses food more as inspiration than subject.
Founded: Spring 2012 by Cyndi Fecher, 30, and Brian Solem, 29, originally from Elgin, now in Logan Square. Both hold day jobs as editors of educational and financial publicans. Published three issues so far.
Industry experience: The last time Fecher worked in a restaurant — the only time Fecher worked in a restaurant — she quit almost immediately when a staff member told a racist joke, she said. Solem worked the concession stand at a movie theater but left after receiving second-degree burns from the popcorn popper.
Contents: Fiction, poetry, photo essays, essay essays, the occasional history essay ("The Servers Got Served: Chicago Waiters Barely Had a Chance in Their Early Fight for Unionization"). There's always "food in the background and some of human relationship in the foreground," explained Fecher. "There's a glut of food writing now, and the least attractive kind is the 'what food means to me' piece, which we want to avoid here."
Sample article: A photo essay on the "unbeautiful aftermath" of an apartment dinner party.