If you were to combine a cooking magazine, a literary magazine, a cooking channel, a reality TV show and MTV (how MTV was in the beginning, not now), you might come close to imagining the charm of Lucky Peach, the new food magazine from Momofuku’s David Chang. As a foodie, I was blown away when I got my hands on the inaugural issue (thanks Mr SW) because what David Chang and his staff are doing for food is unlike anything that’s being done right now. As a former magazine editor, I nearly wept for joy over the rock-star style that is Lucky Peach.
Let me explain. Even if you’re not a magazine editor or writer, you’re probably familiar with the typical setup of a magazine: a couple of departments/columns with snippets of information, maybe some products or two; news items; a couple of feature stories with photos; recipes, typically sorted by a topic, such as squash; in the back, an index. Bottom line is, the magazine has a format, and that format is what makes it easy for readers to read. Lucky Peach does none of that. Using the ingenuity that makes Momofuku restaurateur Chang one-of-a-kind, Lucky Peach changes the entire premise of food magazine publishing with just one issue. Why? To take co-editor Peter Meehan’s words, somewhat out of context, because “that’s the joy of starting your own magazine.”
Now don’t misunderstand. Lucky Peach definitely has form and lots of it. But that form less in your face than other magazines. I equate it to the Internet. Say you type “ramen” into Google. You’re going to get a gazillion hits. As you scroll down the page, you’re going to click on links that tell you what you want to know about ramen. Well, in Lucky Peach, Chang and Meehan have done the Googling for you. So, as you think about what you’d like to know next about ramen, you turn the page, and voila! There it is. No clicking necessary.
One Topic Fits All
Speaking of ramen, issue 1 is devoted to just that—ramen. You’d think in a 177-page issue (which, by the way, features no ads) that talking about one topic would get old. Not so much. The issue kicks off with a travelogue of Chang and fellow editor Peter Meehan’s trip to Japan to eat authentic ramen. The format of this story is brilliant! Meehan describes encounters with chefs in different ramen houses, the topography of Japan and food—all in a conversational tone that makes you feel like you are right there with them. Here’s an example of some of the great dialogue between Meehan (ME) and Chang:
ME: This is some next-level shit. (slurp. Assume these continue throughout)
DAVE: The noodles are insanely good.
ME: Totally chewy. And this broth is like…
DAVE: It’s crack.
ME: Dude, I would wait in line…
DAVE: I’ve never actually tried crack, but this has got to be as good as that. Or crystal meth.
Get Top Chefs Drunk and Ranting
Another feature that I absolutely adored was the dialogue between top chefs Anthony Bourdain, Wyle Dufresne and David Chang affectionately dubbed “Bourdain, Dufresne and Chang: Drunk & Ranting.” At first, as I read the dialogue, I thought, Wouldn’t this be better as a video? But after the first page, I was glad I was reading it. What could have been a boring discussion about mediocrity and cooking came to life. Plus, the dynamic between these chefs is hilarious.
Every Angle Under the Sun and Then Some
So, you’re reading a magazine about ramen. What do you want to know? Who the top chefs doing ramen are and what makes them special? Well, check. A handy guide to the best ramen houses in Japan? Check. A comparison of instant ramen noodles on the market so you can make your own? Uh, check. An in-depth discussion on creating the perfect egg to top your perfect ramen? Recipes for broth? Check, check. Can’t think of anything else? Good thing Chang did. He features a recipe section wherein he turns ramen on its head. What? You say you’ve always wondered what else you could do with instant ramen noodles. Chang makes fideos, gnocchi parisienne and ramen-crusted skate, all with those quick ramen noodles.
What else was left for Chang to do with Lucky Peach? Like any good chef, he added a twist of sophistication that doesn’t quite feel sophisticated by bringing in literary style. For starters, Meehan wrote a recipe in haikus. Seriously. “Render the bacon,/Add the corn. Jump and sizzle/As gold turns to brown.” The magazine also features a graphic story about the world’s largest bowl of ramen and a short (and disturbingly descriptive) story about a gourmet club in Tokyo.
A Big Bowl of Graphic Design
The other day, Lucky Peach was lying on my desk at work. Our graphic designer stopped by to say hi, and the magazine caught his eye. As he was flipping through, he got really excited. He said, “These guys are working their butts off.” Right away you know this magazine looks different from other magazines. The fonts are crazy intricate and mostly look hand drawn. Nearly every page has an original illustration. Creative license is taken with the way text is displayed, including one feature that flows the text in sharp angles like the side of a pyramid. There’s even an illustration by chef Juan Mari describing how to make arzak eggs.
Did I read all 177 pages? No. A person gets tired. But the magazine is quarterly, and unlike most magazines that take me 30 minutes to read cover to cover, this one will get me through most of the quarter. The subscription is $28 and worth every penny.