Chowhound closes after 25 years of food obsession, wisdom and debate

Chowhoundthe website that started 25 years ago as a digital gathering place for obsessive foodies, will shut down on March 21 the advertised site Monday.

“This incredibly difficult decision is due to the limitations in capacity and resources needed to maintain the site on an ongoing basis,” its moderators said. Red Ventures, the media company that owns Chowhound, declined to comment further.

Chowhound was founded in 1997 by Jim Leff, a jazz trombonist and writer whose day jobs funded his fervent pursuit of deliciousness, along with a rather quiet partner, Bob Okumura.

In its heady beginnings, it was a space to find recommendations for the best Albanian barbecues, arepas or bureks in New York, alongside heated rants and incessant arguments about kimchi, lengua tacos and lahmacun.

“Chowhound wasn’t just about food, it was by and for extremist people who have tried every quesadilla in Sunset Park,” Mr. Leff said Wednesday.

The ’90s were thrilling years for foodie New Yorkers. A small pack of gourmet writers prowled the alleys of the five boroughs, applying to restaurants of all kinds the lessons learned from national writers like Calvin Triline and Jane and Michael Sternwhose mouth-watering odes to burgoo, chess pie and brain sandwiches (a St. Louis specialty) have reignited interest in regional American cuisine

Among them were Robert Sietsema, who wrote a newsletter, “Down the Hatch,” before joining The Village Voice and eventually Eater New York; and Sylvia Carter, who wrote an excellent column for the New York Newsday before it closed in 1995. I joined that group in early 1992, starting the $25 and Under column for the New York Times.

Perhaps the most obsessive of all was Mr. Leff, who when I first met him in 1993 was writing a restaurant column for the New York Press, an alternative newspaper full of interesting writing.

Mr. Leff, it seemed, always found the biggest dish of Fujian noodles imaginable in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, cooked by a woman who appeared on a street corner, but only on Thursdays, unless it was raining. , in which case she would come. Tuesday between 12 p.m. and 1 p.m.

It was also the early days of the Internet, when laborious telephone modems could short-circuit brains with their connection cries. Chowhound was the fusion of these two worlds, a neighborhood meeting place for food adventurers – chowhounds, Mr. Leff called them, distinguishing them from dilettante foodies – to indulge their dogged obsessions within a community sharing the same ideas.

The site, while giving Mr. Leff a great immediate forum, was simple and no frills, made on the cheap, like the Naugahyde seats taped to Mr. Leff’s favorite restaurants. But for those of us who cared, it was an oasis where the city’s multitude of cultures—the magnificent mosaic, in former Mayor David N. Dinkins’ memorable phrase—showed in vivid detail. delectable.

The discussions inspired imagination and an insatiable appetite. I was not an avid participant. I qualified as more of a lurker. For those of us prowling the restaurant, Chowhound was like a daily tip service. Phoneless barbecue near Kennedy International Airport? A jerk shop on Gun Hill Road in the Bronx? Noodles in Flushing? I am on my way.

Chowhound quickly expanded beyond New York to other cities. Fighting humans being what they are, animosities and rivalries flourished and dissident sites formed, such as egullet.com (also now closed) and bitesfood.com. None quite captured the unpleasant compulsion that drove Chowhound in his early years.

Tired of running the site on a shoestring, in 2006 Mr. Leff and Mr. Okumura sold Chowhound to CNET, which was acquired by Red Ventures in 2020. By then, the internet and the food world had changed. First blogs and then social media had given anyone the means to bypass village gathering places like Chowhound.

I started writing about wine full time in 2004 and lost track of Chowhound. But others don’t. In recent days, Twitter has been full of memories about the inspirations, disputes and friendships born on this remarkable site.

I asked Mr. Leff if a site like Chowhound was still needed.

“Nowadays there are myriad places to discuss food, and everyone has an opinion, but it will never be economically feasible to limit ambition and aim for a limited, expert crowd,” he said. -he declares. “But one day another true believer will be able to try his luck, not for fame or profit, but simply for usefulness.”

Website or not, Mr. Leff is still doing what he’s always done.

“Before writing about food, I was making discoveries and nobody cared,” he said. “Then I became a writer, and people cared. Then Chowhound, and they cared a lot. Now I keep making great finds and nobody cares. From my point of view, everything has been a comfortable straight.I am a chowound in my heart.

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