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A2P Foodist: Lucky Peach — The New Food Mag Hipster Celeb

David Chang. The New York eatery momofuku. Ring any bells? David Chang is the chef and owner of the momofuku restaurants — Noodle Bar, Ssäm Bar, Ko, Milk Bar and Má Pêche. Prior to opening Noodle Bar in 2004, Chang worked in the kitchens of Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Daniel Boulud and Tom Colicchio—kinda like a Babe Ruth slumming with the Sox, before he went to play with the Yanks. Chang has been honored with awards from Food & Wine Magazine and Bon Appétit. he was named one of Time’s 100, GQ man of the year and called one of ‘the most influential people of the 21st century’ by Esquire. He has taken home three James Beard Foundation awards.

David Chang would make any Tiger Mother proud. He’s a multi-talented chef whose restaurants are wildly successful. Now, he’s got Lucky Peach.

Huffington Post broke the news about Lucky Peach: Chang has “teamed up with McSweeney’s, publishers of McSweeney’s Quarterly and The Believer among others, to launch an entirely new publishing property, Lucky Peach, with both a quarterly magazine and an iPad app. The first issue of the magazine, which focuses on ramen, hits newsstands today. (The app is still in development; it’s said to include video.)” Over the past couple of months, mainstream media have picked up the HuffPost’s scoop and made the debut of Lucky Peach (momofuku in Japanese) magazine a sundae with chocolate sauce and lots of sprinkles.

NPR’s piece is titled, “‘Lucky Peach’: An Irreverent Look At Cooking.” The article, staff written, includes this apt riff on the off-kilter content: “Next time you swing by the magazine stand, you might come across something called Lucky Peach. It’s a food magazine. But don’t expect ’20 simple dinners you can make in 20 minutes.’ Instead, there’s poetry, fiction and chefs swearing at each other.”

Who wouldn’t pay to read a magazine whose editorial content includes chefs swearing at each other? The first issue of Lucky Peach, a 174 page behemoth with no paid ads, is devoted to the lowly ramen noodle.

Frank Bruni, of the New York Times, in an August 25, 2011 opinion piece about culinary elitism, writes: “There’s some class-inflected hypocrisy in the food world, where the center seems to be ceding territory to two wings: the self-appointed sophisticates and the supposed rubes.” He goes on to call Lucky Peach a “rarefied journal…a literary quarterly that costs $10 an issue.” Despite the journal’s  culinary rarificaiton, Bruni writes that he prefers it to the Food Network Magazine, whose 1.4 million circulation puts it just 100,000 copies per month behind Bon Appetit. Sharp-tongued chef-writer Anthony Bourdain might say that Jedd Clempett, Jethro, Granny and the gang have infiltrated the Food Club. Bruni writes, “[Food] preferences reflect privileges and don’t entitle me, Bourdain or anyone else who trots the globe and visits ambitious restaurants — the most casual of which can cost $50 a person and entail hourlong waits — to look down on food lovers without the resources, opportunity or inclination for that.”

On July 31, 2011, David Carr reviewed Lucky Peach for the New York Times. Carr writes:

And yet in June we got the first issue of Lucky Peach, named for the English translation of momofuku, a quarterly magazine that weighs in at 174 pages with nary an ad in sight and a price of $10.

It breaks many of the conventions not only of food journalism, but of magazine journalism in general as well. The glamorous star on the cover? It’s a chicken being lowered into a pot with its wrinkly backside depicted squirting out graphic eggs. The so-called front of the book — which in most magazines is filled with infographics and breezy snippets — is filled with a trippy, 9,000-word, rambling eat-a-logue through Japan by Mr. Meehan and Mr. Chang.

Carr goes on to give Lucky Peach five stars. He calls the magazine’s writing “bright and unexpected,” and the graphics “remarkable.” The knitting of images and prose? Carr writes that Lucky Peach does it “with élan….It is a glorious, improbable artifact that sold out its first printing of 40,000 and second of 12,000. It is a pint-size hit among the food-obsessed.”

A few days later, Time magazine weighed in. Writer Josh Ozersky writes that he wanted to hate Lucky Peach. “Because I, like so many of Chang’s and McSweeney’s fans and followers, simultaneously admire and despise them, I wanted to dislike Lucky Peach. Moreover, I had skin in the game: Chang and I have had a laughably public feud over the years, and my desire to see him overreach himself was almost as great as my annoyance at having to admit how great Lucky Peach really is.”

Lucky Peach, Ozersky writes, “is cool” and “a masterpiece of modern-food culture.” As always, the question is whether the magazine can last in print form. It’s almost a form of insanity to launch a print publication at a time when advertising dollars are being shifted toward online vehicles, direct marketing and the myriad of other forms of advertising that are now available to those who still have advertising budgets to spend. While David Carr presumes that the $10 per issue price is a deliberate shift away from a reliance on print advertising to pay the bills, Josh Ozersky writes, “I can’t imagine Chang’s publication will last long, at least not in its present form. Despite two sold-out runs, Lucky Peach doesn’t seem to have a single paid advertisement in its 174 thick, full-color pages.”

The first quarterly issue grossed $520,000, presuming all of the 52,000 copies were sold at the $10 retail price—a virtual impossibility. I have to think Chang and his publisher are eschewing the advertising model for a somewhat cooler, hipper and smarter financing plan. A filthy rich uncle comes to mind, but there are other ways to keep print publications going, and a 30-something guy who owns a peck of restaurants in New York City is bound to have figured out something.

Publisher McSweeney’s web site, where subscriptions to Lucky Peach are already being hawked for 30 percent off the cover price (sigh), is decidedly uncool. I like that in a web site—you land, you click once, you buy. Excellent. No javascript, no Flash performances to wade through. So, if you want to get in on the hip, cool, fun and read some “bright, remarkable” food porn, it’ll cost you $28 for the next four issues. According to the publisher’s web site, “Issue 2 will focus on the Sweet Spot—that brief period of time when meat, fruit, chefs, athletes, and kimchi are at their peak. It’ll wrestle with notions of ripeness and perception, and cover everything from the greatest apricots in the world, to the merits of the Patrick Swayze classic Road House.”

Chefs swearing at each other. Kimchi at its peak. “Trippy, 9,000-word, rambling eat-a-logues.” Hell yes! Where’s my credit card? 

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