My expectations were high when I opened my mailbox and saw that I had received my first issue of Lucky Peach, the new food quarterly from Momofuku's David Chang and McSweeney's. The cover alone was enough to send my eyebrows skyward: brawny arms holding aloft a plucked chicken in what looks like a grungy back-alley kitchen. With cartoon eggs popping out of its...you know. What was I in for?
The first article, a travelogue written by Peter Meehan about his and Chang's ramen noodle tour of Japan, was just about as explicative-filled and food-porn-tastic as I expected. I hate to say it, but it read a lot like an Tony Bourdain essay (whose actual essay in this magazine was surprisingly F-bomb free, by the way). Following Meehan and Chang on their face-stuffing adventures was entertaining and certainly made me hungry for some ramen, but this kind of over the top food writing wears a little thin for me after a while.
And here's where Chang and the other producers of this magazine get brilliant, in my opinion. They bring in other voices and give them free reign.
One of the ramen chefs we first met in Meehan's travelogue, Ivan Orkin, offers his perspective as an American running a noodle shop in Japan. Bourdain's mock (or is it?) critical essay comparing Chang's career to various noodle-centric movies is witty and well-written. I devoured Harold McGee's two articles on alkalinity in ramen noodles and the role of MSG in Chinese cooking. Ruth Reichl pipes up with a ramen-noodle tasting. And so on.
Each article is written in a style that is unique to the author, which is incredibly refreshing since so many food magazines edit down writers' individual voices to more closely match a house style. McGee's article is authoritative, Reichl's article is funny and sweet, Bourdain's is mocking but true. I loved it. Just when I was getting tired of one person's voice, here was someone else to offer a new perspective or bit of fascinating information.
And we haven't even gotten to the artwork or the recipes. The artwork alone is worth the cover price of the magazine. The full-page spreads catch the eye and require their own moment of meditative "reading." The smaller illustrations give the articles a visual context and engage the senses (oh man, if they could add some scratch-and-sniff photos, I'd be in heaven).
I can't wait to try my hand at making homemade ramen noodles and then cook them in Chang's bacon-y ramen broth from Momofuku. I'm also curious to try Ivan Orkin's "6 minute, 10 second" hard-cooked egg, perhaps as part of an Ode to the Egg meal featuring the other egg recipes in the magazine from Wylie Dufresne and David Chang.
Whew. That's a lot to pack into one magazine! For me, this was a page turner. I hunkered down on my couch and didn't want to leave until the last sentence was read. This is a very different food magazine from Saveur or Bon Appétit or any of the others. It's irreverent and playful, but I also thought it was extremely well-edited, thoughtful, and smart.
The folks behind Lucky Peach have definitely set the bar high with this first issue. The challenge will be to keep it up over the next three issues - and hopefully beyond. I, for one, eagerly await.
The first issue of Lucky Peach was released to newsstands on June 22, and you can likely find it at your local independent bookstore. It also looks like it's still available to order online through the McSweeney's store:
• Lucky Peach: The New Food Quarterly from Momofuku's David Chang, $28 for a 1-year subscription
• A Sneak Peak at Lucky Peach: Issue One - Ramen
Have you had a chance to read this magazine yet? What did you think?
(Images: Lucky Peach)