When Martina Liverani, writer and founder of Italian food magazine Dispensa (which means pantry in English) created the bi-annual publication in 2013, little did she know that it would eventually reach a global albeit niche audience.
“It was only in 2015 during the Milan Expo that we came up with the idea to have a bilingual publication and today this is unique in that it brings many of Italy’s beautiful stories to a wider audience,” Martina told Food and Wine Gazette.
In an age where food has become ubiquitous both online and on TV, it takes courage to go counter-current and launch a paper ‘bookazine’ as Dispensa is called. Martina explains that she has always been anti-conformist. “That is the reason why I wanted to create a magazine. We are living in a golden age for paper. Paper is showing that it can still compete with digital and inspire people even when people though that it was dead.’
“The main difference between paper and digital is that people want to touch paper, they want to read and be inspired by the visuals. Something that is printed is timeless and can be collected and placed on a bookshelf. We also use a special paper which is created from food waste.”
Dispensa is a bookazine which is published every six months. Each edition centres around a theme. How does Martina come up with the theme? “So far it has been mainly me thinking and then discussing with our team of writers. They come with ideas and from here, the bookazine is born. We do not just focus on food but also on art, design, the kitchen and use exclusive photos.”
“Our content is different. We are not there to be first but rather to be different. We look for the detail which you do not normally find online,” she said.
The magazine is also different and contrarian because unlike commercial magazines it does not have any advertising. “It is for this reason that we really invest in content. There are no recipes in the magazine and you do not always see the same chefs that you normally see in the commercial publications. We are lucky because there are so many stories about food that still need to be told,” Martina said.
So what does she think of the demise of Lucky Peach, the US magazine that created a niche for a type of food writing. “Lucky Peach was like a guiding light for Dispensa. It is no secret that I got my inspiration from this magazine and it was the reason why Dispensa was born. I hope this is a transitionary period for them but it is sad to see that it will no longer be published,” she said.
Although Dispensa’s business model to date focuses on a small niche of very loyal readers, Martina does not discard the possibility that she will use a hybrid advertising model in future. “As the magazine grows, I would not exclude the possibility. Our core values are now established and so is our independence so we may consider this approach in future,” she said.
Dispensa does not ignore the online reality though. “We try to blend the content from the magazine also on our website because there is also a limit to the space one has on paper. Some stories that do not make it into the print edition end up on the website.
Dispensa was recently listed by Monocle as an example of an Italian magazine that had found a new niche. “Dispensa has shown that in the Italian market, there will always be a place for food journalism and photography provided they’re done with heart and soul.”
In the latest publication of Dispensa, there is an article about a nine year old girl who is taken to dinner to Massimo Bottura’s Osteria Francescana. How did the idea for such a story come about, I ask Martina?
“I was on the beach in summer thinking about what to write when I heard two boys speaking. One was from Rome, the other from Modena. The boy from Rome was telling the other that in Rome they had the Colosseum and many other historic monuments. The boy from Modena said that they had the restaurant where people ate the best food in the world,” she said.
“From there, I started a reflection about how children perceive food. For them it is not about being the best restaurant in the world but rather about the one which serves the ‘best’ food. And what does this means exactly.”
She tells me that she phoned Massimo and asked him whether he would like to take part in such a reportage. “He immediately accepted and also played ball. He came out to speak to the child, explaining each dish and asking her to tell him what she thought about each dish.”
The child was the daughter of friends of mine and she was fascinated with the food that was served. It was not a menu that was adapted for children but rather what is normally served at Osteria Francescana including for example the Fois Gras lollipop. “She ate everything. It was really an eye opening and interesting experience,” Martina said.
As a journalist who focuses on Italian cuisine I ask her about the state of Italian gastronomy. “In Italy you eat very well. There is Massimo Bottura who leads the pack but there are others at the top who are also putting Italy on the world map. Italy is going through a very positive face. There is a big buzz at the moment and I think we are ready to write a new chapter. Massimo is the leader of this renaissance. He is combining culture with our cuisine bringing the best of both worlds because culture is also what Italy is renowned for.”
And food is also playing a very important part when it comes to tourism. “Today, tourists come to Italy to visit the Colosseum and Florence but they also go to eat in our restaurants,” she said.
You can find more details about how to buy Dispensa here.