It was one of the few recent magazines that gave hope to writers who still lusted after–nay, got a hard-on over–the idea of their work in print. Ironically, when Lucky Peach first materialized back in 2011, it was envisioned as an app for iPads by its creator, David Chang–best known for being the culinary mind behind Momofuku. Some of his app/TV show ideas for the concept pronged off into The Mind of a Chef on PBS, leaving room for the magazine to materialize as its own thing. Who could have foreseen that, a mere six years after its first issue (centered on the theme “Ramen”) was birthed into the world, it would end up selling as a novelty item for $175?
With a thematic concept that only a rich person could execute (thanks to some additional backing and influence from McSweeney’s), Lucky Peach espoused “a mélange of travelogue, essays, art, photography, and rants in a full-color, meticulously designed format.” With such a bold mission statement, it’s no wonder their issues were allowed the sort of freedom that only someone with the financial naïveté of editorial director Peter Meehan would allow to be executed. Case in point, Issue #8: Gender. Granted, food is rife with many a gender connotation (eggplant immediately comes to mind), but still, no one could have anticipated a description of the magazine as follows: “Peter Meehan investigates castration in cooking. You’ll find essays about gay cooking in America, the lasting cultural impact of Three’s Company’s Jack Tripper, and the food of bachelor mountain ascents. Plus: original art exploring the intersection of food and sex, curated by the creators of Thickness, the erotic comics anthology.”
While, on the one hand, a reader (and writer) has to admire this sort of innovation in the print world, he or she also can’t help but feel a tinge of skepticism at the level of self-aware pretentiousness Lucky Peach so flagrantly touts. Then again, it’s this same flagrancy that has won the publication nine James Beard awards–that, and thumbing its nose (is that a synecdoche?) at Bon Appetit for Issue #16, appropriately called “Fantasy.”
In spite of its cult status, even Lucky Peach’s cachet hasn’t managed to save it from the very likely possibility that it’s about to be donezo (no word on whether it’s due to creative clashes between Chang and Meehan or not). The twenty-third issue, called “Suburbs” (does this mean a review of every P.F. Chang’s in California?), is still scheduled for a May release–so eat it up while you can.