In the first fully redesigned issue of Bon Appetit with its new editor-in-chief, Adam Rapoport, at the helm, Gwyneth Paltrow is on the cover; Fergus Henderson and his wife, Margot, and The Franks—Castronovo and Falcinelli—all get feature space. It's a departure from the food mag playbook, to be sure.
Of his covergirl—whom he first met at white hot Torrisi Italian Specialties (get the full story in the Q&A below)—Rapoport said to The Feast, "She's one of those persons that a lot of people love, and a lot of people have issues with. People sometimes perceive Gwyneth as being almost too perfect. I guess if that's the worst thing that people can say about you, you're doing alright. In terms of food people, there will be a lot of 'Well, what does she know about cooking?' and 'Why should I take my cooking [advice] from her?' Read her book. It's a very, very well done cookbook."
And the plot thickens from there. The Franks curate "The Navigator" with a tour of Copenhagen, and "The Takeaway" features an abbreviated "The Foodist" column—in July it will have more real estate. "People wanted to see 'The Foodist' return, so we are going to bring that back into a full page format," Rapoport says. "It's sort of from the mind and the belly of [restaurant editor] Andrew Knowlton."
There's also The Hendersons' take on a traditional Sunday Roast—which for them happens on Saturday, "because that way you can go on," says Fergus. And it wouldn't be a June issue without some summery cooking tips—there's a list of 21, whittled down from an initial 30. Rapoport describes the editing process thusly, "Like Coco Chanel said, 'Take off one piece of jewelry before you leave the house.'"
But first! A Q&A with Rapoport. The Feast sat down with him for an exclusive interview while at the Uncork'd Event in Las Vegas last week.
How would you characterize the public's reaction to the May issue?
It's been an education (laughs). We've received so many letters—many handwritten, even—and emails and comments from people who love the new look and feel that it's been reinvented and brought into 2011. And then you know, you've got a lot of longtime readers who were either [confused] by the new layout, or frustrated by it. I think the reality of it is that people say they like change, but they do not like change. We don't like when things are changed without being consulted or given a heads up. And I get that 110 percent.
What specific criticism did you receive?
There have been critiques that have been very valid in terms of 'Some pages are too busy,' or 'Fonts were hard to read,' or 'Why is point size and type size as small as it is?' on certain pages. Recipes [were] harder to follow than they should have been. So we've made a lot of adjustments from the May issue to the June issue. We've bumped up the point size on the recipe headers; made the wording more easy to read and follow. That's very important to us.
This just reflects how old I am, but go back and watch the first season of Seinfeld. Those characters are all unrecognizable. Kramer is some weird caricature of himself, George is just not George yet—it's almost like that first issue. It's like the pilot or the first episode. We're just getting started and heading down this road.
What were some of the biggest changes?
A lot of it is the importance of how: is it a magazine that people use, as much as they read? I would like to make it more of a read, but if people are using this magazine for the recipes then those recipes have to work—they have to be easy to navigate and they have to be easy to read. If they're not then [the magazine] is not doing its job. It's one thing if you have beautiful spreads and photographs and great headlines, but if you can't follow the recipes and you can't find the recipes, then what's the point?
Can you walk us through the website changes?
If you look at it before and after, it's a whole new layout. The blog is really much better, and then you still have the recipe index. It's a leaner, cleaner website. Before there was too much going on and not enough voice and not enough point of view. We should be chiming in on the news, giving our take on it, whether it's Andrew [Knowlton], or Christine [Muhlke], or Hugh [Garvey] in LA—they are tapped into what's going on.
In about a year we will have full autonomy to run our own site, and design it—right now [we] still have to go through Conde Nast people. Hopefully it will be very easy to run and make the way [we] want to make it. We're halfway there.
Did Gwyneth Paltrow approach you for the cover?
What happened is that I was out to dinner one night at Torrisi, and [at a table] about six inches over was Mario Batali and Gwyneth Paltrow. They had about six bottles of wine on their table—they were tasting a bunch of them. Mario likes good wines. So we chatted a bit, and I said hi to Mario. They finished up their meal and left. And then two days later I was with [someone] from GQ at Osteria Morini, Michael White's restaurant on Lafayette, and sitting there is Gwyneth Paltrow, and Jake Gyllenhaal and some friend.
And she was like, "Oh my god! What are you doing here? Yada yada yada." So then we were just talking and I said, "You know what, hey, we should talk," because she had a cookbook coming out. The cookbook is good. It's a good home-cook book, and it's beautifully shot, and the recipes work. So I said, "We should talk about getting you in the magazine. Should I email Steven, who is her publicist, and she said 'Email Mario, he's got my email.'" It was just a very organic, casual thing.
She's a relative newcomer on the food scene, and she's the first personality you're putting on the cover. Are there any reactions you're anticipating?
She's one of those persons that a lot of people love, and a lot of people have issues with. People sometimes perceive Gwyneth as being almost too perfect. I guess if that's the worst thing that people can say about you, you're doing alright. There will be a lot of "Well, what does she know about cooking?" and "Why should I take my cooking [advice] from her?" Read her book. It's a very, very well done cookbook. What I like about it is that all the recipes have a story behind the recipe. There's a reason behind them. And she's someone who does constantly cook for her friends, cook for her kids, her husband... she throws dinner parties. And honestly—you'd be better off taking recipes from a home cook than from a professional chef.
Your main feature in May was with Gabrielle Hamilton, so that’s a shift.
Yeah, Gabrielle is a badass. But ultimately, it's one of those things where if it starts a debate, if it starts a conversation, then that's a good thing. Bon Appétit needs to be in the conversation. And that's kind of my take on it—let's get it back out there. Let's get people talking about it. It's a very succesful magazine—it has a million and a half readers—but I do want it to be more vital. And I think this will help. And ultimately, I think, while she's on the cover, there's so much more going on in the issue.
You mentioned that you want to make BA more of a read. How do you plan on doing that?
I've always felt that a good read is more about quality than quantity—you can have a great 600 word essay on a page, and as long as it's pointed and has a strong point of view someone will enjoy it. It doesn't have to be a 10,000-word profile or exposé. There are different ways to make the magazine a great read, and we are going to figure that out month to month. The challenge with a magazine like this is you have to give a lot of real estate to recipes, and a lot of real estate to photographs.
In this issue you feature "The Franks," Fergus Henderson and Gwyneth Paltrow. To you, who or what makes the perfect BA storyteller?
If you look at the Gwyneth piece and you look at the Fergus Henderson piece, there is something relatable about these people—you understand how these people, celebrities, live their normal, everyday lives. You get some very candid, funny, interesting quotes from each of them. They are certainly very different people and the lives they lead are very different. In both these cases we are in their homes, in their kitchens. It's very different if you are interviewing a personality in a hotel lobby for 45 minutes. I think that's a big deal—gaining access into these people's lives and seeing how they relax and enjoy themselves.
What can we expect to see going forward?
There is no one [not a person] on the cover in July (laughs). There are a lot of strong food recipe stories, and we’re presenting them in a unique and vibrant sort of way I am excited about. What's great about doing a food magazine nowadays is that the potential is limitless in terms of the kind of stories, people, and restaurants you want to get into it. The world of food is so massive these days. You could say [Bon Appétit] is a single subject magazine, but I don't see it that way. There is so much that goes into a food magazine now.