Fire & Knives: Food Quarterly
When we think of food magazines, a large, glossy periodical teaming with recipes and elegantly plated and photographed dishes immediately comes to mind. Something like Bon Appetit or Food & Wine. Yet as gastronomy has assumed its rightful place at the epicenter of popular culture and continues to receive its due, a number of interesting and beautifully designed magazines have emerged that approach food from rather unconventional perspectives. One of our latest finds is the UK-based Fire & Knives, the brainchild of editor and frequent Guardian contributor Tim Hayward, which offers a fascinating glimpse into our cultural obsession with food. Begun in 2009, Fire & Knives releases quarterly issues with a mandate to publish articles about food that would not be printed elsewhere and that celebrate an amateur rather than an expert perspective. While the contributors are often professional food critics, the tone of the pieces are thoughtful and introspective, and offer a more personal approach than what you might expect from conventional food writing.
The latest issue of the food quarterly, its eleventh, offers a series of random, yet fascinating vignettes each thoughtfully laid out on different coloured paper. The writers, a sundry assortment of food critics, bloggers and amateur enthusiasts, contribute pieces as diverse as Anna Berrill’s musings on restaurant bathrooms, Mansour Chow’s declaration of his hatred of pesto, and Karen Barichievy’s account of cooking breakfast for private clients. The writing is infused with humour and caustic wit, and collectively the issue is a quite intriguing read that you’ll easily plow through in one sitting. These long-form pieces afford the contributors an opportunity to consider culinary activities from a variety of angles and theoretical vantages. And unlike most food periodicals there are no recipes in sight.
With art direction by artist and designer Rob Lowe, Fire & Knives manifests an interest in the objectness of the magazine. Its small format and thick matte pages – unusual for a food mag – feel nice in your hands and make the magazine seem akin to an academic journal. The complete lack of advertisements cluttering the pages also contributes to this more serious sensibility, and while we’re unsure how an independent magazine like Fire & Knives can afford to do it, the absence of commercial distractions creates a cohesive reading experience. We’re suckers for good design and while Fire & Knives presents a more whimsical and eclectic approach than our modernist leanings typically embrace, we couldn’t help but be charmed by the playfulness of the magazine’s aesthetic. Even the typeface shifts from article to article between the serif Perpetua and the sans-serif Gill Sans, which would normally drive us crazy but somehow works in this context.
Fire & Knives’ approach to food is refreshing and unique, and readers will often feel like they’re privy to the author’s personal diary, which produces a very absorbing read. There is a hand-made feel to the publication that makes it more of a covetable object than a mass-produced periodical, and it overall has an eccentric ‘zine sensibility that is difficult to resist. While Fire & Knives can be hard to source outside of the U.K., issues can be purchased directly from their website.