Have you ever seen an Armenian pumpkin dish on the cover of a magazine? Or stumble upon BYO wine tips for a Mongolian restaurant chain? Have you browsed for recipes like a Venezuelan snack that translates to “breaking the mattress” or native falafel made with Warrigal vegetables? It’s the diverse content you’ll find in the independent Australian food magazines that have emerged during the pandemic, from long-time journalists tired of predictable publication formats to industry outsiders and hospitality staff who don’t feel not represented by what they see in mainstream food media.
“I wanted to do a magazine for my friends and I guess my friends didn’t really fit the demographics [of wine mags]says Moira Tirtha, editor-in-chief of Veraison, which launched its first edition last year. Instead of devoting pages to overpriced wines, Tirtha is inspired by buddies who drink alcohol from plastic cups in parks and liken wine to “smoking a cigarette in the bath after eating date pudding. sticky”.
Tirtha studied wine and was recently a sommelier at Melbourne’s famous Mauritian wine bar, Manzé, but this playful approach seemed right on target. Veraison. “It was silly and unserious, which made so much sense to me because we were always drinking in these informal social settings, so I wanted to do something where learning about wine would feel the same way.”
Veraison is inclusive: more likely to cover the wine to bring to a hot pot than an expensive French restaurant. It documents industry racism (like being asked what wine goes well with the dog) and the reality of suffering from Asian blushing when participating in Australia’s drinking culture. “Having other QPOCs [queer people of colour] reaching out and saying they felt seen, were happy to have a space to vent their anger and call for action was really something,” says Tirtha. Veraison hopes to work with First Nations artists to then cover the wine regions.
With Colornaire magazine, Rushani Epa wanted to change the way the media covered food. “There was a lack of representation,” she says. As a trilingual Sri Lankan Australian, it was frustrating to see Indian restaurants featured only in ‘cheap eat’ stories, or banh mi’s rated purely for price. ColornaireThe pages go beyond typical pasta and pavlova recipes, with ghapama (an Armenian pumpkin dish) featured on its front cover. The dish is so revered in Armenian culture that a well-known song claims that 100 people will show up when you cook it.
As an independent publisher, Epa can showcase underrepresented cuisines and not worry that a Creole dish with Nigerian roots isn’t “trendy” enough to warrant coverage. “The main goal is to diversify the food media industry,” she says.
Many independent food magazines are written by people who have worked in the media – from Edible (by old foodie traveler staff, Liz Elton and Lisa Featherby) at Tart (by Sasha Aarons and Sasha Gattermayr, who met at The Design Files) – and ColornaireThe first printed issue of appeared while Epa was editor in Melbourne Free time.
“I am truly grateful for my experience at Free time, because I needed that experience,” she says. “[It] also taught me that this is not how I want Colornaire to exploit – simply because it’s very trend-based, it’s all about clicks. You could put your heart and soul into a room, but if it doesn’t work, then that’s “bad,” isn’t it?
Disillusionment with mainstream media also inspired Myffy Rigby’s approach to Waste magazine, which she edits for Swillhouse, the hotel group behind Shady Pines Saloon and Restaurant Hubert in Sydney. When she announced her involvement on Instagram in February, she claimed the title would have “no trends, no hype, no reviews.”
His approach draws on nearly two decades of media experience, including seven years as a masthead Good food guide editor. After stepping down from that role, Anton Forte of Swillhouse called to enlist him for his Waste magazine with artist Allie Webb, who is his wife. “Between all of us, we bring something different to the table,” says Rigby.
Their debut issue, released in October, is hard to categorize. It features artist Plum Cloutman (who makes postcard-sized paintings that feature food), recipes using invasive pests, and a profile on the septuagenarian restaurateur behind Melbourne’s France-Soir restaurant. Instead of quick reviews, Rigby dives into stories with a large 3000 word count. “We have a story that takes place in Jumbo’s Clown Room in Los Angeles, which is probably the last rock and roll bikini bar in the world,” says Rigby. “David Lynch wrote blue velvet there.” She jokingly calls it “slow journalism,” the editorial equivalent of “slow food.”
Maybe she’s onto something? Independent cooking magazines, with their sprawling stories that eschew trends, contrast with the short attention span of TikTok, where bite-sized clips about producing mashed potatoes from Pringles crisps go viral.
“I think we all feel a bit diabetic with the snack content, don’t we? I think we all need whole foods, chickpeas and brown rice, in our journalistic diets,” she says. WasteThe cover of , for example, is a linocut of a Webb table scene that could easily have appeared in a museum centuries ago. “There’s nothing newsagent about it,” says Rigby. “If there was ever an opportunity to change the conversation with independent magazines, I think it’s now.”
Someone who has done this is chef Rosheen Kaul, who started self-publishing The Isol Cookbook (Asian) zines in early 2020 with illustrator friend Joanna Hu when COVID-19 shutdowns left them unemployed. “I was on a mission to teach the basics of Chinese cooking,” she says. Kaul relied on his heritage and experience in Chinese restaurants. She also reacted to cookbooks by white authors.
“Seeing the phrase ‘simplified’ on a cookbook with watered down recipes from a dynamic kitchen, I find it very upsetting. Ethnic cuisines don’t need to be “simplified”; they are rich, vibrant and delicious just as they are, and a window into a culture. You can create something for beginners without erasing its cultural heritage. You can also mirror changing eating habits – as she did with her Bunnings Warehouse-inspired Szechuan Sausage Sandwiches.
“We speculated if we would print maybe 20 copies of the first Isol (Asian) book, so the response in its entirety was extremely memorable and overwhelming,” Hu says. It featured prominently in local and foreign press, garnering them readers from Ireland to Malaysia and was also nominated for an award.
“When we were asked to submit a copy to the National e-Deposit for safekeeping, we thought, ‘This is it. We succeeded. But when Murdoch’s current publishing director, Jane Morrow, contacted us to turn our zines into a 200-page hardcover [book]well, that was the real highlight,” Kaul says.
Browse their new post, Chinese-ishand you’ll see how Hu’s drawing style became more confident and intricate – although she performed them in the same dress code as The Isol Cookbook (Asian). “I still did most of the artwork in pajamas on a musical theater and crime procedural soundtrack.”
Producing a professionally published cookbook (“legendary photographer Armelle Habib and stylist Lee Blaylock”) means Kaul no longer had to rely on his quarantine-era iPhone solo efforts. – like balancing a Sichuan sausage sandwich with one hand and bringing it into focus with the other. “The spirit and dynamism of The Isol Cookbook (Asian) remains, on better paper of course, with MUCH better photography and style,” she says. “What was particularly exciting was that a few international publishers bought the rights to our book. The Dutch and American copies arrived at my doorstep a few days ago.
Lee Tran Lam is a writer, podcaster and editor of New voices on food.
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