But she listened politely as I made my pitch. Brimming with energy, enthusiasm, and all the naïve earnestness of a young writer, I cried, "Thai food is going to be the next big thing."
"But our readers"—her voice was cool and distant—"have no interest in the next big thing. Other publications attempt to be timely; here at Gourmet we like to think of ourselves as timeless."
"That can't be true!" I replied. "I've learned everything I know about the food of other countries from the pages of your magazine. Gourmet has taken me to Mexico, China, India....Now you need to take your readers to Thailand."
She regarded me with what I can only call pity. "We ran a story about food in Thailand a few years ago," she said.
"But you only wrote about Bangkok!" I protested. I did not point out that the article had been written by an expat surrounded by servants and living in regal splendor. Instead, I temporized. "It's a big country, and the food varies enormously from region to region."
The editor remained unmoved. "Thank you for taking the time to visit," she said.
I had been dismissed. Utterly crushed, I left the office.
Other magazines proved more enthusiastic, and I sold enough stories to be able to spend a month in Thailand pursuing unfamiliar flavors in the far corners of the country. I wished the articles were for Gourmet, but now when I picked up the magazine I saw that the adventurous spirit that had thrilled me as a child was gone. We had grown apart. I belonged to the rock-and-roll generation, thrilled by the changes in the American way of eating. Gourmet was a stately grande dame, looking admiringly across the ocean and wistfully back to the past.
The recipes were still reliable, but the tone had changed. Instead of stories about men rowing out for midnight lobster raids, there were prissy pieces about pricey restaurants and fancy resorts. I moved on to younger magazines, and although I continued to follow a few favorite writers (Laurie Colwin, Madhur Jaffrey, Joseph Wechsberg), for the next twenty-five years I rarely gave the magazine a thought.
THE PHONE WAS RINGING AS I fumbled for my keys, arms filled with mistletoe and fir. I dropped the branches on the floor, pushed the door open, dashed into the apartment, and sprinted down the hall.
"Is this the restaurant critic of The New York Times?" The voice on the other end of the line had a British accent. "I am James Truman."
"Yes?" The name meant nothing to me.
"Editorial director of Condé Nast? I'd like to talk to you about Gourmet."
"I am hoping," he went on, "that you will be willing to meet me for tea at the Algonquin. I'd ask you to the office, but we don't want the press to know we've been talking."
"The press?" What could that possibly mean?