Things We Love: "The Art of Eating" Magazine

We talk to Ed Behr--founder, editor and James Beard honoree

The andouillette de troyes is a misshapen little French sausage made of rolled chitterlings and smelling strongly of the inside of a pig.

It is, as they say, an acquired taste. A writer pitching a story about it to the discerning editorial gatekeepers of a mainstream food magazine would be laughed out of the room.

Ed Behr, founder and editor of the culinary journal The Art of Eating, dedicated an entire issue of his elegantly minimal print magazine to the lowly sausage, quoting along the way a former prime minister of France who observed: "Politics is like an andouillette: It should smell a little of sh-t but not too much."

Behr's cult status as a passionate explorer of everything that tastes good and incorruptible publisher of a print magazine that has survived 28 years without running a single advertisement got some mainstream recognition this week when he was inducted into the James Beard Foundation's "Who's Who of Food & Beverage in America" list. 

Looking snazzy in black tie at the annual food-nerd prom that is Beard gala on Monday, Behr took the stage with co-honorees David Chang, John Besh and Paul Kahan. Here's hoping the Beard nod pulls in new readers as it really is a wonderful publication: casually obsessive, erudite but never didactic, well-written and always a pleasure to read and re-read.

We checked in with Behr by phone from his home in St. Johnsbury, VT, where he was back working on the next issue.

Tasting Table: Congrats, Ed. How's it feel?

Ed Behr: It feels like a form of recognition. I'm up here in Vermont, not in New York or San Francisco or somewhere big, and I enjoyed a kind of freedom–or the illusion of freedom–that I could do what I want to and be critical of whatever because I didn't know anybody so no personal offense could be taken. In time naturally you get more plugged in, but I guess I didn't realize how much over the years people were aware of me and the magazine. It's the culmination of a process that's taken almost 30 years.

TT: For new readers, what's the AoE about?

EB: It's really about taste. It's always been a personal quest to teach myself about good food that I was sharing with my readers. These days food writing is beyond normal. But there were no bloggers [when we started]. I'm a glutton for information and I began as soon as I could to travel, to taste and interview producers and sometimes chefs. I had a lot of questions that I wanted answers for, so they turned into personal in-depth pieces.

TT: How did you decide to start a food magazine?

EB: I had no idea what I was doing. I was a back-to-the-land carpenter, a house builder, a two-time college dropout. But I felt that understanding good food was part of what being a civilized person was about, and I realized, "Gee I really don't know that much."

TT: Not many magazines would devote a whole issues to andouillettes. Was there a moment when you thought, "Okay, we're going to do the stories in a style and depth that nobody else will do"?

EB: Yeah [laughing]. The andouillette piece was probably not the way to sell a lot of copies. One of the early pieces is almost more extreme than anything I've done since. It was 15,000 words on unobtainable raw milk Provençal goat cheeses. I always had in mind that those typical little disc-shaped goats milk cheese were one of the important foods, and we should really understand what they were. So I dug in.

TT: How does AoE stand out in the crowded food-media landscape?

EB: I think what we're really doing still is teaching connoisseurship. It's for people who really like to read and really care about food. Our readership is probably 10 percent or fewer professionals and really just committed amateurs in the classic, best sense of the word, of people who love food and wine. I probably should feel a sense of competition with Lucky Peach, but they're friends, and we're mutually supportive. And they have some pieces I'd have been happy to have published.

TT: Are there still great foods to discover and write about out there?

EB: When I first began to do The Art of Eating, my mother said, "Aren't you going to run out of things to write about?" But there are so many kinds of cheese! There are still types of bread I haven't covered. There's still a lot to say about beef.

TT: One place you're excited to try?

EB: Ahh, I suppose it's somewhere in China but I hesitate to pick a single destination. There are just too many.