Lucky Peach is probably my personal favorite magazine ever – it perfects the art of balancing intelligence and humor and always has stellar artwork. Not to mention big names in the food world – Anthony Bourdain, Wylie Dufresne, and Michael Pollan have all contributed to the quarterly publication. I guess that makes Chris Ying, Lucky Peach‘s editor-in-chief, one of my favorite people. After meeting him at a reading for Luck Peach‘s Apocalypse issue a few weeks ago, he agreed to let me pick his brain a bit about how he got to where he is today and what exactly happens to produce Lucky Peach.
inconnu: Was working in the editing and publishing world always your career goal? If so, did you study journalism or communications in school?
Chris Ying: Vaguely. My interests shifted and mutated constantly throughout college. I considered majoring in integrative biology, computer science, and Spanish before landing on English literature. And even then, it was largely because after two years of college, I’d already completed most of the requirements of an English major. The fact that I now work in a field even tangentially related to my major is as much luck as anything else.
inconnu: You’ve worked in the publishing and editing world for years before Lucky Peach even existed, why a food centered journal? Where did the idea come from?
Chris Ying: I worked as a cook throughout college and during my first couple years interning and working at McSweeney’s. I purposely kept my interest in food from mingling with my work in publishing. I thought that serious people didn’t write about food. But as I read more work by writers who cared deeply about food, and met more cooks and chefs whose interests extended beyond the kitchen, I found that the space in between different interests was thick with opportunity. Around that time I met Dave Chang and Peter Meehan and the seeds for Lucky Peach were planted.
inconnu: We’ve all heard that print is dying, so why put Lucky Peach in print and not just online?
CY: I think people have been declaring that print is dying almost as long as it’s been around. Every art form dies if it doesn’t adapt and evolve. I think print has as much a role in today’s media landscape as ever—Lucky Peach is our attempt to identify that role and embrace it.
inconnu: Lucky Peach is published quarterly, are you working on it all year long or does it come in phases?
CY: It’s an all-year, all-day project, punctuated with periods when it is an all-consuming monster.
inconnu: Are the themes something you usually sit down to discuss with David and Peter? Or do they typically come about more organically, much like the story behind the Apocalypse issue? Do you have a favorite theme that you’ve done?
CY: At this point, they come up rather organically, and then we discuss them. Dave likes the doom and gloom. I like the cheerful stuff. I was quite proud of Chinatown as a theme, and as an issue.
inconnu: You’ve been sent to start a new human colony on a far away planet and can only bring five foods with you, what do you bring?
CY: Um, I don’t know. I guess if this is a survivalist question, then water? Hardtack? Salt pork and Peeps? If it’s more of a you’re-going-to-be-killed-very-quickly situation, then I guess champagne and caviar and rice and my dad’s curry? Are my fellow colonists really attractive? Do we need to procreate to survive? I guess champagne and caviar again.
inconnu: Has there been anyone in particular (both within or outside of the staff) that you’ve particularly enjoyed working with on Lucky Peach?
CY: My whole staff—Peter and Rachel Khong and Walter Green and Gabriele Stabile and Jon Heindemause. Outside the staff, I get a real ego boost from editing Philip Gourevitch or David Simon, and having them thank me for my edits.
inconnu: Could you tell us one inconnu or “unknown” thing about yourself?
CY: I am vegan before 6 am.
inconnu: Each time I read Lucky Peach I get an overwhelmingly friendly feeling. Between the diversity of articles and simply the way the magazine is physically presented with all of the stunning artwork, it really feels like each issue you’ve just grabbed a bunch of buddies and really had fun creating. Would that be an accurate portrayal?
CY: Sure—except it’s more like kidnapping our buddies and locking them in a basement with us, and saying “Nobody leaves until we assemble this 250,000-piece jigsaw puzzle. In the dark.”
Art by Sayada.
Check out the Lucky Peach site here!