New website Gilt Taste: High-end items for foodies

May 19, 2011 - 2:00 PM
Food Gilt Taste

This screen shot made on Wednesday, May 18, 2011 shows part of Gilttaste.com featuring an image of Ruth Reichl. Gilttaste.com, a no-membership site of the members-only luxury marketplace Gilt Groupe, went live Tuesday night with a blend of saucy editorial content and a selection of meats, seafood, cheeses, oils, grains and sweets Reichl had a hand in, too. (AP Photo/Gilttaste.com)

NEW YORK (AP) — Heads up, foodies, there's a new culinary kid online promising nothing short of died-and-gone-to-heaven.

If you're in need of a fascinating way to cook asparagus (cure it in salt and sugar), or a product so exclusive only top chefs were previously deemed worthy, then Gilttaste.com should have you drooling. Oh, and you get a dash of Ruth Reichl for a saucy blend of high-profile editorial content and high-end commerce.

The idea, Reichl said in an interview Wednesday, is to make Gilt Taste the whole delicious package.

"The onus is on us to make sure that it's all great, that what we're selling is really great in addition to the content that we're putting up around it," said the former editor-in-chief of Gourmet magazine. "For somebody like me, who comes from a traditional print background, that's really new."

The site went live Tuesday night and already had nearly 350,000 page views by the following afternoon. Was it the high-def photos of water-kissed tomatoes, the fiddlehead fern and spicy-sweet wild ramp set for $35.95? How about the recipes from Melissa Clark or Barry Estabrook's expose on fracking and the food supply?

Success, said Food & Wine magazine editor-in-chief Dana Cowin, will be in the mix.

"Gilt Taste has put together a group of some of the smartest people in the foodie intelligentsia," she said. "I expect high quality, tremendous thoughtfulness and extreme deliciousness from them."

Critical, she said, will be offering "really special things that nobody else has. "Hopefully they can teach people about those products and how to cook and the world of food in general. That's a great opportunity to have."

The no-membership site from the typically members-only luxury marketplace Gilt Groupe was conceived by company programmers tossing around ideas for new ventures and deciding "let's do food," Reichl said.

Exclusives include gold label Wagyu grass-fed beef from Snake River Farm, a dozen cheeses from Murray's Cheese Shop and cookies from Cake Monkey, along with fancy kitchen equipment and cans of black winter truffle oil for $112. And it's all splashed alongside stories like the one by Dirt Candy's vegetarian visionary Amanda Cohen, who writes of cooking from the compost bin. The site's lead buyer, James Nickerson, promises "Six Things We'll Never Sell," including fancy hand-carved ice, spiky durian fruit and bananas, because, "for the most part, a banana is a banana."

Gilt Taste, said Reichl, isn't looking to take on the crowded field of food magazines and breathless bloggers. Neither is it looking to compete with Omaha Steaks or Costco.

"This is a different animal," said the former restaurant critic for The New York Times, "but if we don't sell good product, we're dead, no matter how great our editorial is. It's important to me that these products be extraordinary." That, she said, makes Gilt Taste a new breed, currently without a handy label.

Specifically, she's talking about Snake River beef, which until now was available only to the highest level chefs. Two 8-ounce New York strips sell on Gilt Taste for $179. Will Wagyu lovers be pleased for the nibble of "intensely meaty and lushly marbled" beef offering astonishing balance of flavor and tenderness from grass-fed cattle in eastern Idaho?

Reichl is thinking yes, especially those who not only love to eat the stuff in restaurants, but care about cooking it themselves.

Not everybody lives around the corner from a Murray's Cheese Shop and its Stracapra, a creamy goat cheese exclusive to Gilt Taste from the popular purveyor. The Napa Valley foragers at Wine Forest offer dried grey morels, and a medley of porcini, black trumpet and lobster mushrooms for use separately or together in, say, a savory bread pudding.

"The idea that you can get mushrooms from them is really thrilling," Reichl said.

The site is still growing. Soon to come are chickens raised by a 16-year-old in the Midwest and pork from curly haired Mangalitsa pigs.

"They were these wonderful pigs from Hungary and they were a dying breed. There were only 50 left in the world when somebody in Hungary brought them back," Reichl said. "They're prized for their fat, which is an amazing fat. It's a very sweet, clean-tasting pork."

The selections are mostly American, from a new generation of farmers, cheese makers, bakers and other producers with a newfound respect for fresh, organic food, sustainability and craftsmanship.

Samir Husni, director of the Magazine Innovation Center at the University of Mississippi School of Journalism, has heard it before.

"Everybody is trying to put on a new twist when they come up with a new product," he said.

"The food magazines themselves are going that route, the merging of commerce and content and being a utility for everything food. Everybody is now jumping into the swimming pool called digital, and it barely has any water in it."

But magazines can't sell what every home chef needs with a click, said Reichl. Gilt Taste, she said, isn't looking to compete with Food Network Magazine, Fine Cooking or Cook's Illustrated.

"We're really trying to give people the entire feast," she said.

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Lifestyles writer Leanne Italie can be reached at http://twitter.com/litalie