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Food Magazines Redefined With Former Time Out Editor's 'Middlewest'

 Middlewest, a deconstructed food magazine, is the brainchild of former Time Out Chicago's David Tamarkin and Erica Gannett.
Middlewest, a deconstructed food magazine, is the brainchild of former Time Out Chicago's David Tamarkin and Erica Gannett.
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Erica Gannett

NORTH CENTER — Time Out Chicago has decided the future of magazines is online, but its former food editor, David Tamarkin, is still betting on print.

In April, Tamarkin and photographer/art director Erica Gannett debuted the first issue of Middlewest, a food magazine that aims to reinvent the medium.

The unbound publication comes "deconstructed" — with an envelope of recipe cards and an accompanying literary supplement — and is intended to be both beautiful and functional. It's a stylistic choice that was random and purposeful at the same time.

"In my head, I thought I'd be doing this at Kinko's. I couldn't think of a way to bind it that would look good," Tamarkin said.

It was Gannett who recognized his pages resembled recipe cards, a concept Tamarkin quickly embraced.

"Our goal is a big one, it's a lofty one. We're trying to push the medium, what magazines look like, what food magazines look like. We're also trying to deconstruct some of the thinking behind the making of food magazines," he said.

Though a fan of periodicals such as Bon Appetit, for which he occasionally freelances, Tamarkin thinks a sameness has settled into the design of food publications.

"There's a certain en vogue look to food photography. I think it's time for a change. I'm tired of looking at food magazines and not knowing what magazine I'm looking at," he said.

Initially, Tamarkin conceived of Middlewest as a side project to his work at Time Out. His original plan was to anonymously print a mere 100 copies.

"I was very scared. It's very intimidating to do something on your own," he said. "We don't have anyone else to blame if it goes wrong or it's not good."

In the time it took to plan and raise funds for Middlewest's launch — Tamarkin reluctantly turned to Kickstarter, asking for donations of $18 that essentially served as a pre-order of the magazine — Time Out shuttered its Chicago print edition and fired 80 percent of its staff.

Middlewest helped soften the blow for Tamarkin.

"It gives me a magazine to work on. It's kind of a relief — I still have this creative outlet," he said. "If I continue to work in print, I'm going to have to create my own opportunities."

Working with Sonnenzimmer, a Chicago-based design team, Tamarkin and Gannett spent a full year producing the premiere spring issue of Middlewest.

The emphasis is on seasonality — "what people are excited about cooking now" — with recipes for carrot-cumin soup, pea pate and spaghetti with asparagus-pistachio pesto included in the mix.

Tamarkin will be serving up variations of the magazine's dishes May 30 at Blue Sky Bakery & Cafe (purchase tickets here), altering the recipes to showcase their versatility while taking advantage of available ingredients.

"The food's going to be very of the moment," he said. "There's no point in doing a seasonal dinner if you're not really cooking in the season."

The dinner is, in part, a recognition that many people who purchase cookbooks or food magazines rarely, if ever, produce any of the dishes.

"We'll do this for you," Tamarkin said. "It'll be really fun for me to see people eat these foods, to see how people react."

Response to the magazine itself has been of the glowing variety.

Saveur called Middlewest  "our new favorite indie food magazine," saying, "this magazine feels like no other."

The folks at Zagat were equally enthusiastic: "Together, the ten cards feel like a dinner party — inviting and captivating."

With Middlewest's fall issue already in the works, Tamarkin scarcely has had time to rest on his laurels. He teased that the next edition would feature recipes from a single chef.

"The cool thing about this is that there are no rules. We can change everything for the next issue," he said. "It could be anything. That's really exciting and fun."

Copies of Middlewest are available through the magazine's website and can also be purchased at Publican Quality Meats and Blue Sky.