Saveur’s 25th Anniversary: Memories and Stories from Former Staff
Colman Andrews, our founding executive editor, recalls the beginnings of Saveur—plus more tales from the past 25 years.
This story is part of our 25th Anniversary extravaganza, a celebration of the magazine’s first quarter century.
What’s happened here since 1994? A whole heckuva lot, from Jacques Pépin wielding his “asbestos fingers” to Frances McDormand fan-girling in our test kitchen. Throughout the next few weeks, we’ll be sharing a few stories from former Saveur editors and staffers to discover how this brand was born, evolved, and ultimately achieved silver anniversary-status. (Or pick up the issue, on newsstands now, to check out the full package.) The key to our success? That’s you, dear reader.
Founding executive editor Colman Andrews on Saveur’s origins
In early November 1993, I was eking out a living as a freelance writer in Santa Monica when I received a call from Dorothy Kalins, who’d given me lots of work during her tenure editing Metropolitan Home. “I’ve found us a new magazine,” Dorothy announced.
This magazine doesn’t exist yet, she said. We’d need to invent it. Whole cloth. In Manhattan. Eventually, and more than a little wrenchingly, I would have to leave Los Angeles, the only city I’d ever considered home, and move my wife and two very young daughters to the East Coast. That move changed my life, as did the magazine, which was to become Saveur.
I’d been an editor, in some sense, since launching a mimeographed school paper in the eighth grade, but I didn’t learn how magazines were made until working (often through the night) to get Saveur to the printer on time.
More importantly, collaborating with Dorothy and our fellow cofounders, Christopher Hirsheimer and Michael Grossman—as well as with the other top-notch editors and writers Saveur was able to attract—confirmed something I’d long suspected: that food is the most important subject in the world, and not just because we need to eat to survive.
Food influences, or is influenced by, virtually every other human concern. It’s inextricably interwoven with history, geography, race, religion, politics, power, sex, all of the arts, and most of the sciences. Food touches everything.
So when we published a recipe for gougères or Sri Lankan fish curry, when we covered Oaxaca’s Tlacolula market or Argentina’s Mendoza Valley, or when we went on about a soft-ripe cheese from California’s Cowgirl Creamery, we were ultimately attempting to express who we are and how we all connect to each other.
I believe that those of us who helped create, or simply consumed, Saveur over the past quarter century spoke this same shared language. I believe it’s why we’re still talking today.
Colman Andrews, who also served as this magazine’s Editor-in-chief, stuck around until 2006.
Former test kitchen director Hunter Lewis on Jacques Pépin
Saveur was the most real food magazine from the get-go. We simply cooked everything, then shot everything. I didn’t know food stylists existed until I went to Bon Appétit, where everybody had an assistant. Was Saveur’s corporate culture sustainable? Or even functional? Maybe not, but what an education!
Where else would Jacques Pépin waltz into the test kitchen and start baking his mother’s apple tart? The legend arrived that day, in 2010, wearing crisp chef whites and acting a bit sheepish. He may have, by his own admission, enjoyed too much Champagne with friends the night before. I was fixated on his hands the entire time. You could blindfold this guy, and he could still cook. Pépin pulled the tart from our oven and held it up to the camera for the shot above. Assuming the baking dish couldn’t have been that hot, I picked it up after he set it down—and immediately dropped the thing on the counter. I’m telling you, Jacques Pépin has asbestos fingers, oven mitts for hands.
Hunter Lewis, who worked here from 2008 to 2011, is now the editor-in-chief of Food & Wine.
Founding editor-in-chief Dorothy Kalins on how the food world (and whole wide world) has changed
When a handful of us shut ourselves in a room to birth a new food magazine, we had no idea what Saveur would be, but we were damned well sure what it would not be. Instead of dumbing down, we’d go deep. Instead of “Six Ways with Pork Chops,” we’d connect recipes to their cultural roots. In a world of low-fat cassoulet, we’d be the publication to actually visit Castelnaudary, where the dish was born… read more.
Former managing editor Ann McCarthy on the perfect cover
The moment I realized this magazine was going to break all the rules came during a meeting about the March 1997 cover. There were stunning photos from a piece on Michelin-starred French chef Jacques Maximin, as well as a beautiful Greek Easter story. We also had a gutsy steak feature, shot at a Colorado ranch. It was amazing to watch the editorial team wrestle the options down to an in-your-face image of raw meat alongside a big, old knife—a decision that led to much hand-wringing and hall-pacing on the business side. Instead of some pretty, crowd-pleasing Easter picture, Saveur’s editors went with blood and beef. I pledged allegiance to them right then and there.
Ann McCarthy began her stint at Saveur in 1996 as Dorothy Kalins’ assistant, and also held the assistant managing editor and travel editor positions before leaving in 2004.
Kelly Alexander, our first new-media editor, on the dawn of the digital age
“Have you seen Saveur ? it’s the coolest food magazine.” So declared a fellow intern in the American Society of Magazine Editors’ 1994 summer session, upon learning that I’d been assigned to Food & Wine. When I reported to my (obviously less cool) gig, I spied Saveur’s debut issue atop the boss’s desk… read more.
Saveur: best benefits ever (just no matching 401k)
Not long after I’d written about Argentine beef for Saveur, I was invited to speak on the subject aboard a cruise ship traveling down the coast of South America. While waiting for my guide outside a hotel in northern Chile, I struck up a conversation with the only other person there, a man from Santiago, who offered suggestions for where to eat and what to do near the place I’d be staying when I reached his hometown.
A few days later, as I’m settling into my Santiago hotel room, the phone rings. The voice on the other end, which I don’t recognize, is asking what I’d seen thus far, and what my plans were while in the city. I kept him talking, hoping I’d figure out who he was. I didn’t and eventually had to ask. It was that guy! He’d tracked me down. We decided to meet for dinner and, within six months, I’d moved to Chile. Today? We’re still together, and the proud parents of a 17-year-old daughter and a 14-year-old son.
—Connie McCabe, former associate editor and senior associate editor, 1996–1999
Colman Andrews on the late, great Johnny Apple
Among Saveur’s more prolific and erudite contributors was R.W. “Johnny” Apple Jr. During his 40-plus years as a foreign correspondent for The New York Times, Johnny filed reports from more than 100 countries, and served as the paper’s bureau chief in Saigon, Lagos, Nairobi, London, Moscow, and Washington, D.C. But his true passion was food and wine…read more.
Former senior associate editor Alex Testere on a night to remember
The evening began with a lactofermented cherry tomato, plump with fizzy brine, the skin so taut, it burst upon reaching my lips. It ended with Frances McDormand in our test kitchen’s pantry. The middle remains a blur.
I attended this particular Saveur Supper, in 2015, as a guest, without the obligation of snapping pics for social media. According to office rumor, filmmaker Joel Coen—friendly with the evening’s chef, Olia Hercules—might make an appearance. Food celebrities routinely showed up at these things, but never Academy Award winners.
I met Joel, quite awkwardly, when both of us were abandoned by our companions at the same moment. Terrified of bringing up his movies, I instead talked about myself—until he introduced me to his wife, Frances, who, thankfully, acted as starstruck by the Saveur test kitchen as I was by her. Above all, she seemed thrilled to find a jar of Skippy peanut butter, the brand she used at home, in our pantry. Stars, I thought, they really are just like us.
Alex Testere, with Saveur from 2015 to 2019, is now an illustrator.
Former deputy editor Beth Kracklauer on the rewards of risk-taking
James Oseland hadn’t been at the helm of Saveur very long when he brought me aboard. It would be embarrassing to carry the nautical metaphor further, and yet, honestly, there was a real sense of swashbuckling adventure to the enterprise. I’d met Jim for coffee several times. We talked about post-punk bands, Shirley Jackson. Food too. The world. But I was never sure if these meetings were interviews or merely interesting conversations. Then he sent me some articles to “look at” and asked if I might “drop in” on a staff meeting—at which point managing editor Lily Binns pulled me aside and asked, “You realize you’re being offered a job, right?”
In his singular way, Jim assembled a staff with personalities and skill sets so uncannily complementary that I rely on those people to this day. The mutual trust we built at Saveur came out of some truly seat-of-the-pants operations. One day, photographer Ariana Lindquist mentions that the mushroom harvest is about to happen in China’s Yunnan Province; a week later, I’m there with her, crashing through pine boughs to find secret mountainside foraging spots.
This magazine definitely broke me of the habit of over-planning trips. “Just go,” Jim would say. “Be open to what you find there.” It was a visceral, sometimes nerve-racking approach to story making that entailed plenty of tearing apart and starting over vertiginously close to press dates. It also made anything seem possible. When I returned from interviewing author Diana Kennedy in Michoacán, one enthusiastic conversation with Jim led him to say, “Yeah. We’re doing a Mexico issue.” Mere months later, that issue hit newsstands, full of vivid writing and photography, a cookbook’s worth of recipes, and tremendous heart. I’m as proud of it as of anything I’ve worked on in my career.
Beth Kracklauer, now the food and Drinks editor of the “Off Duty” Section at The Wall Street Journal, was an editor at Saveur from 2007 to 2012.
Former assistant editor Catherine Tillman Whalen on the highs and lows of a Saveur apprenticeship
Saveur in the mid-1990s. It could be a bit of a roller coaster for anyone low on the totem pole (me). Yes, I looked on as Paula Wolfert made couscous on our conference room floor. And I did indeed share a car home from the James Beard House with Jacques Pépin. I also put my Cordon Bleu education to work fetching lunches, filing contracts, and accepting many a mission impossible… read more.
Founding creative director Michael Grossman on Saveur’s design
How would you expect a magazine born during the 1990s digital explosion to look? I’d been creative director of Entertainment Weekly, the first weekly produced on desktop computers. My co-founders worked at Metropolitan Home. At our previous jobs, we’d all pushed—hell, redesigned—the envelope, striving to be new and now and almost “webby.” Journalism had yet to succumb to the thrall of search-engine optimization, or devolve into clickbait, but we were picking up speed near the top of that slick slope.
And still, I felt strongly that Saveur should appear as if it had been around for 100 years, as if it weren’t a publication we were inventing and, instead, one whose legacy we merely sought to uphold—the kind a worldly great aunt might save in slipcases.
As Paul Roelofs, Jill Armus, Toby Fox, Susan Goldberger, and Maria Millán (to name too few) helped me hone this magazine’s visual vocabulary, we discovered opportunities for artful anachronisms: the hand-painted maps that accompanied travel guides, the body copy’s centuries-old Garamond font, and the display types Della Robbia and Bernhard Gothic—one reminiscent of Rea Irvin’s The New Yorker, the other evoking fin-de-siècle Parisian signage.
The (heirloom) cherry on top? A wax seal stamped with a rabbit and perched above the logo. We whispered that it had a scandalous origin story, and although Bunny was our editor-in-chief’s high-school nickname, the seal was just a last-minute stock-art find, dimensionalized by designer Dany Drennan. The rabbit traveled inside the magazine too, as the end-slug signaling a story was over. That the first issue contained a recipe for Lapin du Pauvre Homme (poor man’s rabbit) was only a coincidence, albeit an incredibly delicious one.
Michael Grossman remained Saveur’s creative director until 2001.