Lucky Peach Issue 1 Paperback – May 16 2011
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About the Author
Chris Ying worked as designer, editor, and publisher of McSweeney's before becoming editor in chief of Lucky Peach. He is the coauthor of Ivan Ramen and a founder of the nonprofit organization ZeroFoodprint. He lives in San Francisco with his wife, Jami.
Peter Meehan is a food writer and former "New York Times" restaurant columnist. His most recent book is "Momofuku", co-authored with the chef David Chang.
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The Summer 2011 issue focuses on ramen, and the level of detail and research into the subject is impressive. I particularly enjoyed the map of Japan annotated with the different types of ramen that can be found in various regions. I was motivated to search my own city (Houston) for some good ramen choices after learning so much about a dish I previously associated only with mediocre dehydrated, microwavable meals.
There are some well-known writers featured in this debut issue of Lucky Peach. For example, Anthony Bourdain discusses David Chang's culinary influences, and Ruth Reichl rates instant raman brands. Even better are some of the essays by lesser-known names. I particularly enjoyed Todd Kliman's piece on the authenticity of food. This isn't a magazine that's loaded with hundreds of recipes. There are only twenty or so, and many of them are quite complicated (homemade gnocchi using crushed ramen noodles?). One recipe (corn with miso butter) takes the form of several haikus. I'm tempted to try it just to see if it works out, but I expect I'll be reading my Lucky Peach more often than cooking from it. I do like how the recipes are presented in a unique graphical way--almost like flow charts.
Overall, this debut issue of Lucky Peach is a success. It's unlike any other food magazine being published right now. It offers high-quality food writing and gorgeous art in abundance, detailed recipes with tips and photographs, and lots of attitude.
A word of warning: there's some cursing in here. It didn't bother me overly much (though some of it did seem gratuitious), but you might want to exercise discretion about leaving this magazine lying about for your young children (or prudish grandmother) to discover.
I must admit that I rarely buy magazines about food. To many ads. The diet isn't my own. Too much hearts and flowers. I wished for something with GUTS -- preferably not hanging out of anyone's belly, of course. So imagine my surprise when my peripheral vision keyed in on the strangest title in the teeny cooking section at my local grocery story... LUCKY PEACH.
The graphic art hooked me. I didn't need to thumb though the rest. Okay, the cover stating that this was a Ramen issue grabbed me, too. So I bought it... I think I'll have to buy another one because I've been dragging around this copy everywhere with me on errands.
Talk about foodie mag mating with an engineering journal. I couldn't believe the flow-charts for the recipes!! I loved the history surrounding the instant ramen -- reminds me of Spam!!
I shall DEFINITELY be subscribing to this Quarterly. And if you are totally bored with food critic snobs who don't cook or the flakey-headed chefs who use up every pan in the house when making a meal, check this out!!!!!
ADDENDUM 24 November 2013:
I guess I'm lucky I bought 2 copies of this issue at the beginning -- one to read and one to really mess up because it's the kitchen copy.
To those of you who think you'll make money... I would NOT pay $100 for a copy. In fact, I would urge the copyright holders to re-issue this first issue because no one should even consider cashing in on my fellow foodies. Like those taking advantage of a war just to make money. Sounds like... a few politicians I know. Reprehensible.
Apart from the corrections, the magazine is a highly variable mix of interesting writing by such authors as John Edge, Harold McGee, and Ruth Reichel, and lazy page-fillers seemingly re-purposed from an initial attempt at a TV show. For example, the 9-page conversation with Bourdain, Chang, and Dufrense on "Mediocrity" is itself, truly mediocre. I hope that as the authors run out of TV footage, they will find their stride with this magazine, because some sections are truly inspired-- the chopstick wrappers alone are deeply amusing. Only subsequent issues will tell if the authors can get over themselves sufficiently to make this venture a real peach.
What I'm trying to say, is that the publisher behind this is quixotic, whimsical, driven, literary. And their products reflect that.
And then, to fully understand what you're getting into with Lucky Peach, you need to have some exposure to David Chang-- the foul-mouthed, caffeine-fueled food genius behind the Momofuku empire. It's best if you've perched on a stool and slurped a bowl of his ramen, but reading the Momofuku cookbook is a good runner-up.
This is not a staid food journal with perfectly-posed food. This quarterly is riddled with cartoons, expletives, recipes, fiction, history, photography, and dialogues. It's raw. It'll make you think. And even if it's not to your taste, well-- give it to someone. Consider it this way: the money you spend on this magazine is going to people who are trying to push the envelope. In art, in cooking, in literacy. Maybe they don't hit a homerun for you. But they're sure as heck *trying*.
And there aren't any annoying ads, or perfumed cards to fall out and attack everyone around you. Personally, I thought this issue was awesome, and I can't wait for the next one.
From the lucky peach website:
ISSUE ONE RECIPE CORRECTIONS
In the chicken soup recipe, we neglect to mention that you should cover the vegetable nage ingredients with water before simmering. Don't try to simmer without any water. Also, you only need 8 C of water for the broth, not 10.
And apologies to Harold McGee and to all of you who tried to make alkaline noodles with 4 tablespoons of baked soda. Please only use 4 teaspoons. [...]
Finally, as an act of contrition, we've written a new recipe for chicken soup for you. Just email us. No hard feelings, right?
The writing and artwork are straight out of the hipster 'zine genre. Just picture Robot -- only a lot more cynical and written by that gang of rogue NY chefs who are trying to be the new rock stars -- and you get the drift. You won't find the usual fare. No "30 Money Saving Recipes," no "Dinner at the Top of the World...the Glory of the Katmandu Four Seasons." And don't look to Lucky Peach for the traditional Food Porn. No stylists at work here. The chicken on the cover is one sad specimen. With those skinny splayed wings and saggy skin, it looks more like a warning from Vegan Times than anything that will ever appear in Every Day! With Rachel Raye.
Make no mistake, this is a serious food magazine. David Chang of Momofuku (which supposedly means 'lucky peach') is one of the creators. He is abetted by the team that produces Tony Bourdain's snarky "No Reservations" show. And you can hear that Bourdain-style hipper than thou (and still climbing) voice loud and clear on every page.
Even so, the writing is good, if a tad self-conscious. An in-depth, straight-faced and straightforward feature that tells you everything anyone could possibly want to know about Ramen is worth the price of admission. Sure they are working the cool angle, but mostly is works. It's hip. Uber Hip. Hipper Than Hip. But also compelling, interesting and fun. Issues 2 and 3 were even better. They didn't seem to be trying quite as hard and dumped a little of the adolescent bravado.
If you like food and enjoy reading about it, this is fun, new and different. If nothing else, the magazines are apparently becoming collector's items and the best investment you can make in a lousy economy. My 3 issues are now worth more than my IRA!