… Almost as much as bad journalism.
For some time, I’ve looked askance at Bon Appetit magazine’s monthly shout-out to what it deems “top” restaurants and to the provenance of those and the other restaurants/chefs that it prominently features. At first I thought it was envy: I don’t hail from the trendy part of the country, and my hometown – both where I live now and where I grew up – is never part of the in crowd.
But month after month, I’ve been struck by the magazine’s seeming propensity to cite restaurants in the same cities and states over and over again. Was I imagining it? I decided to find out.
Before we go any further, Bon Appetit, here’s a kiss for you: I fell in love with your magazine in the late 1980s. I lapped up your content during the William Garry golden years; beared with you as Barbara Fairchild turned you into a shill for the Food Network; and applauded your revamped design and re-energized direction when Adam Rapoport took over as editor. Many of the recipes I make and/or adapt hail from your pages. I have your yearly cookbooks going back to 2000. I have your special publications and your great big recipe compilations. I look forward to your arrival every month in my mailbox.
But, yo, guys! You are sorely lacking when it comes to comprehensive, national coverage of the restaurant industry. You are hyper-focused on a few markets, and you ignore what’s happening in food around this country. For a national magazine, that’s just lazy.
For my informal analysis, I looked at 14 months of BA issues: from January 2012 to February 2013. I plugged into an Excel spreadsheet the cities and states of restaurants that were:
- highlighted as the places to eat now;
- appeared in “Best” lists; and
- those whose chefs were prominently featured in content like “3 Chefs 1 Ingredient” or highlighted in pullout quotes (for example, January 2013’s “How To Cook” issue). I did not include reader shout-outs from the monthly “RSVP” column or restaurants highlighted for their alcoholic drinks.
Here’s what I found:
- California and New York eateries lead the pack when it comes to mentions. That makes sense … both are large, trendsetting states with huge populations.
- San Francisco restaurants lead California with 10 mentions; Los Angeles comes in next with seven. Oakland, Venice and Santa Monica get one highlight each during the time in question.
- New York City and Brooklyn are almost even in the NY restaurants that get BA attention: NYC has 10 mentions over the course of the 14 months I looked at (12 months, really, since November 2012 and December 2012 had no restaurant coverage); Brooklyn has nine.
But here’s where things get interesting:
- Seattle, WA, comes in No. 3 in the valentine that BA sends restaurants, with 12 mentions over the 14 (well, 12) months. Its eateries get highlighted twice in March 2012 (for waffles and coffee); once in April for bagels; twice in June (as part of “The Takeaway” feature and for ice cream); in July’s “Foodist” column; in September’s restaurant-themed issue (for coffee again); in the featured quotes of January 2013’s “How to Cook”; and in a February 2013 focus on the Pacific Northwest (which highlights four city restaurants.)
- Portland, OR, is just one mention behind Seattle. Its 11 love letters include four shout-outs in March 2012 (one restaurant for waffles, one for coffee and two – two! – for chocolates); one in May’s “3 Chefs 1 Ingredient” column; two mentions in June (in “The Takeaway” feature and for ice cream); two mentions in the September restaurant issue (one eatery in the Hot 10; another featured in a regional highlight); a featured chef quote among January 2013’s “How To Cook” pages; and – as if we haven’t been pummeled by Portland enough – part of February 2013’s focus on the Pacific Northwest!
- Chicago is the next most mentioned city and other than Minneapolis (three mentions), the only consistent representative of the Midwest. (Springfield, MO, and Madison, WI, got mentioned once during the months I looked at. Kansas City, St. Louis, Omaha, Des Moines – as far as BA is concerned, there’s nothing in your restaurant scenes worth squat.)
- Charleston, SC, is quite the gilded Southern lily. It gets five shout-outs: In February 2012’s Southern food-themed issue; for waffles a month later; in September 2012’s “Fast Easy Fresh” column; in January 2013’s “Restaurants To Watch” feature; and as a featured quote in that issue’s “How To Cook” pages. New Orleans, by comparison, gets mentioned once during the 14 months. And poor Mississippi – your restaurateurs get nothin.’
- Austin is the rose of Texas. It’s mentioned five times, compared with two hails for Houston and a snub for Dallas. (Fort Worth is mentioned once; perhaps that city stands in for Dallas.)
Many cities were cited one time in these 14 issues, and they weren’t all big markets. Restaurants in Chattanooga, TN; Thomaston, ME; and Spruce Pine, NC, all got mentions. February 2012’s issue on Southern food highlighted seven restaurants in Asheville, NC; six in Birmingham, AL; and six in Little Rock, AR.
But only three mentions for restaurants in Florida? (Miami, 2; Orlando, 1.) Three in DC? Just one restaurant of note in New Orleans? And nothing – nothing! – from Albuquerque or Santa Fe? Phoenix or Dayton or Indianapolis? Connecticut, New Jersey or Pittsburgh?
Here’s my point. If you claim to report on the newest restaurants, then spread your net to include all 48 contiguous states. (Thirty are mentioned.) Chefs in all size markets – in all size states – are cooking in innovative ways, embracing farm-to-table philosophies and introducing their diners to organic and free-range entrees. The corner restaurant in my tiny town (which newcomers have referred to as Bum-f$#* Maryland) has taken a former Italian joint and now offers a locally sourced, sustainable menu. The chef there is serving awesome food and educating patrons at the same time.
It’s not hard to find these hidden gems. More and more media outlets are reporting on local food, local chefs and the politics of food. (In Florida alone, check out the Tampa Tribune’s irreverent foodie, Jeff Houck – full disclosure, he’s a friend and former colleague – or the broadcasts from Elizabeth Dougherty’s Food Nation Radio.)
My March 2013 issue of your magazine arrived yesterday. I decided to continue my study and leafed through the pages looking for restaurant raves. I was thrilled – thrilled!! – to find Colby Garrelts’ new restaurant, Rye, in Leawood, KS, mentioned. Garrelts is my favorite Midwestern chef, and my husband and I go to his Bluestem every time we’re in Kansas City. (Bluestem was mentioned in your pages several years ago, but from my perspective it has only improved with age.) There were restaurants from Rockland, ME; from Napa and Los Gatos, CA; and a new one from New Orleans.
But in the “20 Most Important Restaurants” feature? Five hail from New York City. Three are from Chicago. Two from San Francisco. Two from Austin (plus a regional focus!). And one each comes from …
… And yes. Portland.
Oooooohhh. Bad food pisses me off.