Lucky Peach: Consider Yourself Changged
After the editorial bloodletting of vaunted food publications like Gourmet Magazine in 2009, David Chang’s brand-spanking new, tatted up and spit-polished food publication, Lucky Peach, is a welcome addition to the roster of culinary-oriented rags.
Chang chose the inaugural issue to be a low-tech paper showcase of the most Asian of noodles: ramen, in all its fresh and freeze-dried iterations. (Ruth Reichl even chimes in with a confessional about plying her own son with high grade, homemade stock ramen in an intro to a ramen tasting round up.) And also, eggs. Recipe after recipe on eggs (because eggs go with ramen).
The problem for me is: I like this magazine. A lot. But I don’t LOVE it. At least not the way that I had hoped.
However, there’s still quite a bit that will drag you away from an evening spent in a vortex of Family Guy reruns, and get up off the couch to actually throw on an apron and try some of the techniques Chang talks about in his narrative-style recipes.
Why? Because some of the recipes are so stone simple, yet they maintain a whimsy that’s so igniting you have to try them. The Arzak Eggs in plastic brought me back to the days when I was four years old and anticipated Halloween by making Kleenex ghosts by enrobing one kleenex around a bunch of rolled up ones and tying off the end (don’t judge, I said I was four!). Except these are, like, ghost eggs swaddled in plastic. It’s cooking and arts and crafts class rolled into one!
Another recipe I attempted from the magazine was Ko Egg, soft-cooked eggs with fingerling potato chips and caviar. Not gonna lie, the potato chips did not turn out perfectly for me, but hey, at least it got me thinking about eggs and frying micronized potato chips. I am actually committed to mastering the frying of these itty-bitty spuds to golden crispness now. In the process I also learned how to boil an egg so the center isn’t overdone; so it stays a little glossy. And I even embellished Chang’s recipe, since, sorry, I don’t have caviar on hand, but I did mince some jamon Serrano and sprinkle it on top of my gelatinous oeuf.
One of my complaints about this publication content wise is that it’s a little too steeped in Chang himself and his Momofuku endeavors. Reading can feel like you’re being sucked into an advertorial, not a piece of journalism. At times the editorial is so heavily coated in PR it’s like slogging through the copious amounts of mayonnaise in a cheap, soggy tuna salad sandwich. I liked reading it, but I felt like I do when I walk through the Air and Space Museum in D.C.; these are objects that are sanctified by the fact that they’ve been in space, and the enormity of the phallic-shaped monuments is thrilling to behold, but let’s be honest: it’s a public relations monument to fund the space program, no matter how much you dress it up in freeze-dried astronaut ice cream, or in this case, freeze-dried ramen.
Also, just as the Air and Space museum is devoted to phallic structures, Lucky Peach, (at least the first issue) is heavy on that y chromosome. Save for Reichl there isn’t one female, chef or otherwise, in the whole publication, and it’s pretty hefty-sized for a magazine.
Further, at times Chang gets trapped in a funnel cloud of Lower East side-centered chit-chat with buds Tony Bourdain and Wylie Dufresne. There’s a rather lengthy conversation surrounding why we Americans settle for substandard, industrial schlock that involves sports metaphors and terms like “mediocritization” which would have been more intriguing as a video (and probably will appear as such in the app Chang has planned). In print it just seems to go on forever and as a reader you get the impression the nuanced behaviors of the Chang, Bourdain, Dufresne trifecta would have made better moving images than words on paper.
Many of the references in this conversation are also jokey slams about the gentrification of Brooklyn. I get the reference, but I don’t know if I feel making the talk all clubby-clubby for a privileged few who happen to vacation regularly or live in New York is what I want in a magazine. I’m not sure this will translate to an audience that exists outside the New York-metro area. Or maybe Dave Chang doesn’t care about this?
Chang’s magazine may not deliver the moon, but it is a welcome addition to the pantheon of culinary rags out there, and perhaps, dare I say with squinty apprehension, a sign that the journalism industry is coming back? Unfortunately for me the gossip is too insider-y and at times, sort of ho-hum. I feel like Lucky Peach was a little like the Magical Mystery Tour and everyone thought that something exciting would happen simply by virtue of the fact that the The Beatles were filming something, and surprise!, nothing happened. For this reason, I’m anxious to see the iPad app that Chang is promising too. If his previous appearances in video are any indication, (his vbtv appearance with José Andrés was gust-bustingly funny, and his self-effacing humor endearing) and he can capture more of these spontaneous moments he’ll have a strong piece of food entertainment on his hands.
Until then I’ll hang on to my copy of Lucky Peach and keep it on the coffee table in the living room because there are still egg recipes I’m eager to try from this issue. Peach season may almost be over, but I hope with some fine tuning, Lucky Peach season is just beginning.