Though we write extensively here about recipes from food magazines, we don't often write about the magazines themselves. But the truth is we're actually quite interested in the people and personalities that produce the food magazines we love to read each month. And we get excited when we see changes in the look and editorial of a magazine.
The biggest change that's occurred at a magazine over the past year has been at Bon Appétit. The magazine was moved from Los Angeles to New York City, and the editor, Barbara Fairchild, was out after a decade at the helm. The January issue was the last on Fairchild's watch.
So it was with bated breath that we've been watching the issues since January, knowing that the magazine was going to be "refreshed" under its new editor, Adam Rapoport, who came to Bon App from GQ.
The February, March and April issues were business as usual. The only thing remarkably different was that there was no editor's letter. And then came the May issue, the first "new" issue of Bon App.
So here are some thoughts about the new magazine and its change in direction.
Photos: The pictures of food in the "old" BA were probably the most controversial part of the magazine in the last few years of the Fairchild era. The pics had an aggressive, in-your-face style that often included large-scale photos of extreme close-ups -- an entire page of a zoomed-in shot of, say, roasted potatoes. They were shadowy and looked like a harsh single-point flash had been used. In short, they weren't the kind of "nice" food photos you've come to expect from mass-publication food mags.
Critics said they were garish and unappetizing. And we admit that the photos didn't always inspire us to want to make a dish. But the truth is, we'd grown to appreciate the BA style, maybe even to love it, at least for the willingness to be so bold. You could easily point to a photo and say, "Now, that's a photo from Bon Appétit." The new issue, with its perfectly pleasant shots of pretty food, just doesn't have the same signature feel. The new photos are beautiful -- on par with everything you're accustomed to seeing in a food magazine. But they could be from anywhere.
Italy: We were a little surprised to find that the first "new" issue was The Italy Issue. For one thing, it seems awfully safe and timid. (Honestly, spaghetti on the cover?) It doesn't scream "new" by any means. But then again, though something like The China Issue or The Africa Issue might have been a bold statement, perhaps they would have been too different.
That said, we loved the Italian-focused features in the new Bon App. We think the "Pasta Perfect" "10-Point Guide to the Simplest, Most Luxurious Sauces Imaginable" is fantastic. Plus, we've already made one dish that we loved, which we'll post about soon!
Regular features: The repeating features of the magazine are largely unchanged, even if they have a new look. There's still "R.S.V.P.," featuring restaurant recipes requested by readers (a feature we really enjoy). The front of the book is still called "Starters," and it still features items like drinks and gear and a bit of travel writing.
The "B.A. Foodist" is now just "The Foodist." He's still answering reader questions, but also sharing other information not prompted by a submitted question. (We've never really cared for this column, to be honest. The questions were seldom anything to which we wanted to know the answer, and the new format is a welcome change.) The final page still features a celebrity, but now it's a celeb answering a question on the back of a napkin, rather than in a traditional Q&A format.'
The attitude: Overall, the new editorial style seems a bit more cheeky than we're used to seeing in Bon App. A caption under a photo of three Italian guys in a feature about drinks reads: "Milan, 1964: Do these guys look like they want an Appletini?"
Similarly, a feature on "30 Reasons Why We Love Italy" starts with this item: "Pride in ingredients, craftsmanship, and 'the old ways.' That's just how it is -- not some highfalutin movement that your know-it-all food-obsessed friends like to pontificate about." Item #21 of the same list reads: "You can get a rich, crema-topped espresso just about anywhere. And it doesn't come with a lecture from some tattooed, fedora-wearing barista."
We cringed a bit at these moments when reading the magazine. They seemed to be trying a bit too hard, wanting to be, well, like the old Bon Appétit photography: a little brash, a little in your face. (Plus, does anyone ever really want an Appletini? We have some food-obsessed friends, but they're rarely pontificating about anything. And we've been to our fair share of hipster coffee shops but have yet to overhear any lectures.)
It's just this general smirky, cooler-than-cool attitude that reminds us -- and we swear we would say this even without knowing Rapoport's GQ roots -- of a men's fashion magazine. It's a grating, calculated casualness that has become so familiar in guy's magazines: "Those designer khakis you're wearing? You look like an idiot. Ditch 'em and pick up a pair of these heritage-weave chinos from this design collective in Portland." It's almost like saying, "You should fetishize this, but you shouldn't actually enjoy it."
We're definitely reading way too much into this, and probably projecting some of an attitude that isn't really there. It just grated on us, and the more we read the May Bon App, the more we noticed it and the more it irked us.
The bottom line: We've always liked Bon Appétit. It's a great magazine (even if it's somehow never captured our affections the way Gourmet did). For the most part, we really enjoyed what we see in the new issue and we look forward to seeing more. It's rumored that Gwyneth Paltrow will be on the cover of the June issue. If that's true, it will signal, in our minds anyway, a huge shift in course, and we'll be eagerly reading along.
What about you? Have you read the new Bon Appétit? What do you think of the changes? Let us know in the comments.