Every year, Bon Appetit's September issue reveals the editors' picks for America's Best New Restaurants, and accompanying that much-lauded and anticipated list is usually a stunning cover. Last year, it was a single green dumpling held aloft by a pair of chopsticks. Simple, striking, and elegant.
Bon Appétit is known for this kind of out-of-the-box thinking when it comes to its aesthetic (remember that time the cover's only edible element was half a peach?), but the magazine has surpassed expectations for this issue. The cover is weird and wonderful.
What the Hell Is Going on in This Cover? (I Love It.)
The wood grain walls in the background of the image remind me of interior design circa 1970. The yellow seat reminds me of the plastic chairs we sat in during high-school assemblies in the cafeteria. Then there's the food, which is the antithesis of Instagram-worthy dinners that are intended to make people drool in envy: A slice of lox in the shape of a fan is draped over a triangular waffle sitting on top of a plain white plate (a dish featured at one of the restaurants on the list).
To put it bluntly, there's nothing sexy about it. It doesn't make me hungry. It doesn't get me excited about eating at a restaurant, because this doesn't even look like a dish a restaurant would serve. It's one thing for a magazine to make good food accessible to anyone, but it's another to purposefully make that food look unappealing just to prove that the best restaurants in the country shouldn't have to adhere to Michelin Guide standards.
But somehow, despite the fact that I find the cover unpalatable, it draws me in. I want to sit at that table because I feel like I have sat at that table. The setup conjures memories of the family dinners I endured as a kid, but then bam — right there in the middle of the picture is this, at least visually, unappetizing dish. These are not my mom's pork chops. The cover manages to be unnerving and familiar.
In fact, looking at this cover gives me an overwhelming feeling of nostalgia. The warm color palette is what clinches it: The deep-brown paneled walls, which I at first dismissed as old-fashioned, look like they belong in the home of a friend I might have played with as a young girl. Combine that with the pop of sunny yellow and the orange lox, and the comforts of fall and home come to life without a single mention of a pumpkin. Even the steak knife (almost laughably incongruous with the pillowy waffle and slab of lox) looks as though it could have come out of my mother's cutlery drawer.
Bon Appétit Asks Us to Reconsider What Makes Food Magazine-Worthy
Bon Appétit is intentionally bucking the prevailing trends in food photography right now, which prize colorful, fresh ingredients. This isn't your typical idealized, Photoshop-perfect image of a plate of food. We're used to seeing sumptuous chocolate cakes, juicy steaks, burgers with toppings stacked neatly under a luscious bun — the type of meal that is not only complicated to prepare, and even harder to make look tasteful and elegant for a camera, but that we also know is good just by looking at it. Not so on this cover.
With just two simple ingredients, and a backdrop that suggests the comfort foods of home are about to get an upgrade, it seems that Bon Appétit is telling us to forget everything we think we know about what makes a meal magazine-worthy. In a world full of overly styled Instagram photos of food, Bon Appétit knows that the only way to stand out is to go in the opposite direction. The season of ugly food is officially upon us.