It only takes one look at the cover of the debut issue of Lucky Peach to realize that this isn’t your typical food ‘zine. No glossy photo of an impeccably styled dish here; instead, there’s a dead chicken being held unceremoniously upside down by its feet, its pale, thin, pocky skin in places taut and wrinkled as it’s being lowered into a stock pot.
The remaining spaces around the chicken are filled in with hand-drawn doodles and chicken scratch teasers for the features inside: “Transmissions from the Desk of Harold McGee in Outre Space,” plus by an illustration of a space ship launching off; “Chicken Soup for Your Loved One,” accompanied by a squiggle of ramen noodles in a heart shape.
Part literary journal, plus serious food geekery, there’s more than a nod to the tradition of the renegade culture ‘zines of the Eighties that were a mash-up of cut-and-paste collage, words and art. The inside cover features a full-page illustration of a cut-away of a stomach by Scott Teplin; it’s filled with objects that appear throughout the issue: eggs, nuts, a take-out container, noodles, bacon, a horn, a Lucha Libre wrestler.
Elsewhere, for a short story called “The Gourmet Club,” Richard Saja has created a stunning embroidered depiction of a dish called butterfly soup: literally, butterflies and flowers layered in a white porcelain bowl, which sits on a woven placemat. There are comics by Tony Millionaire and Matt Volz; a series of black-and-white illustrated Ramen Heroes by Mike Houston. Lucky Peach is gunning hard to be the anti-establishment food magazine and will equally appeal to die hard foodies as those with a love of art, illustration and design.
Which makes sense, given the players involved: The project was conceived by Momofuku’s David Chang and former New York Times writer (and co-author of the Momofuku cookbook) Peter Meehan, and has support from Zero Point Zero Production, the producers of “Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations.” Lucky Peach is published by McSweeny’s, the San Francisco-based house behind such literary titles as McSweeny’s Quarterly Review and The Believer, which characteristically feature illustrations as interludes to long-form essays in interviews.
The McSweeny’s website currently features several photos teasing the pages inside, including a story in which Anthony Bourdain, Wylie Dufresne and David Chang get drunk and have a conversation about the prevalence of mediocrity in American food culture — which is visually styled as photocopied, cut-out heads and hand-written thought bubbles — and a recipe-as-infographic for how to make Eggs Benedict WD-50 style, in which Wylie Dufresne uses techniques of molecular gastronomy to physically transform each component, resulting in an otherworldly dish that somehow still tastes like that brunch staple.
According to the site, Lucky Peach will be distributed quarterly, and there’s an iPad app in the works. Each issue will be devoted to a single subject — for the first issue it’s Ramen — and will feature “a mélange of travelogue, essays, art, photography, interviews, rants, and, of course, recipes.”
From the look of things, Lucky Peach is sure to be a feast.
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In this new weekly column, Hyperallergic contributor Erin Lindholm will examine topics that lie at the intersection of food and art. Check back next week for the second installment in which our writer visits to the rooftop at the Metropolitan Museum of Art to talk cocktails and art.