The WaPo’s Bonnie Benwick: “Send Me a Clever Recipe”

Feb 182014
 
Bonnie Benwick

Recipe Editor Bonnie Benwick at the Washington Post is open to pitches. (Photo courtesy of Deb Lindsey.)

Bonnie Benwick, deputy food editor and recipe editor at the Washington Post, is obsessed with good recipes. She tests and edits a slew of them every week for the paper’s Food Section, and wrote the Post’s first cookbook.

She also manages a crew of 30 testers, sometimes makes dishes at home for the photo shoots, and is not above running around town to find a prop or ingredient for a dish.

We met on e-mail, when she told me she was reading my book, Will Write for Food, while on vacation! More recently she interviewed me on cooking smarter, and after discussing my rant on not specifying the amount of salt in recipes,  she wrote this feature article: ‘Salt to taste,’ taken with a grain of regret. Here are her thoughts on what makes a good recipe for the Washington Post, should you wish to pitch her:

Q. Where does the Washington Post get its recipes ?

A. It’s a mix. I choose some from new cookbooks, some come from regular columnists, and sometimes chefs provide recipes. There is a corporate kitchen on the 9th floor where we can cook with visiting chefs and cookbook authors and watch what they do.

Q. Do you purchase recipes from freelancers?

A. Yes. If we buy a feature story from a freelancer that will include recipes, they get the base price of the piece, plus what we pay per recipe. For original recipes, we generally pay $150. If the recipe was previously published in a book or blog, we negotiate a different rate, or sometimes the author allows us to run the recipe for free.

Q. Are all your recipes connected to a feature, or do you pay for them separately?  

A. I have commissioned an author to write a package of five themed recipes for the holidays with a short intro, but generally, we don’t run a recipe without a story. We try to present some kind of context.

Q. What are you looking for in a pitch?  

A. I’m a fan of clever. I don’t want “here are recipes with lemons.” We don’t celebrate a particular ingredient. I can read a recipe and tell whether it’s good. It has to be compelling, with a good technique. Or one that tells of a shorter better faster more successful foolproof way. Or there’s some kind of revelation. We like healthful components to recipes too.

Q. What are your pet peeves when you read a recipe?

A. An ingredients list is missing something. It seems like a fairly simple thing.  I print out the recipe and check off the ingredients against the method. Or recipes that have a hidden awful surprise of time that you don’t know you need. I will explain in the headnote if readers need to roast the butternut squash before they start, or if there’s a custard they need to make, cool, and let set before they can go ahead with this recipe.

Q. How do you add value as a recipe editor?

A. I tend to overwrite. I edit defensively for a general audience. I used to get emails asking “where do you get this ingredient?” Now I tell readers in the recipe.  I will give the name of a store and a phone number. If a recipe uses a lot of egg whites, I will direct people on what to do with the rest of the yolks, with links to recipes on our site.

Q. So how do readers pitch you on a story with recipes?

A. Send it to food@washpost.com. Include at least two recipes.

* * *

You might also like:

* 100 Verbs for Recipes, from Julia Child

* 10 Ways to Write Clear Recipes

* Secrets of Writing Recipes for Big Food Magazines

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  14 Responses to “The WaPo’s Bonnie Benwick: “Send Me a Clever Recipe””

  1. What a great interview. I’ve been inspired by your discussion on ‘salting to taste’ and Bonnie Benwick’s subsequent response. I’m re-thinking how I write my own recipes now.

    Thanks for including the pitch e-mail. The Washington Post is my home paper (now based in Melbourne, Australia) – what a joy it would be to submit and be selected.

    • Thanks, Yasmeen. Good to know you’re rethinking “salt to taste.” I hope to be winning people over, gradually.

      Yes, please do submit. What do you have to lose?

  2. Never again will I salt (or pepper) to taste. Duly noted. I loved Bonnie’s answers.

  3. How cool is this. I grew up in the DC area and the Post was a mainstay in our home. We would comb thru the home section for fun stuff to make or do. That was a long time ago and I’m sure things have changed.

    What a fun job. Having a kitchen there at the Post is the coolest thing ever. I get the part about running around town for ingredients or something special to display the food. I do that now for the love of it and certainly not on the scale that Bonnie does.

    • She does it all, that woman! She also told me some of the testers make good enough food to shoot, so she organizes that, and also arranges for them to pick up an unusual ingredient that she has sourced from her office.

  4. Thank you for the exciting Post.
    In early December I had the opportunity to meet Tim Carman of WaPo at a food writing class with Monica Bhide in DC so I am especially thrilled to ‘meet’ Bonnie Benwick today through your interview and read the provided links. I loved Bonnie’s Miso-Marinated Scallops on Soba Noodles recipe for last weeks Valentine’s Day Feature.
    On ‘Salt to Taste’, as I shared last week, it was because of your Post that I went back and re-adjusted my recipes on Spiced Peach Blog to include precise salt and pepper measurements, however, using kosher salt only.
    I hope to someday have the opportunity to pitch Bonnie a ‘Clever Recipe’, or two. Thank You again, as always Dianne.

  5. Now I’m craving Chef Judy Roger’s Roasted Chicken! Isn’t it funny how you can start at Point A, and end up at Point C. Very grateful I experienced this meal first hand in 1990, well before it was famous. Great post, Dianne, thanks. And thanks to you also, Bonnie. I enjoyed your WP article. It drives me crazy when recipes say “salt to taste.” Thankful to know I’m not the only one. P.S. Notice I’ve mastered the double “n”, Dianne. ;)

  6. Expected to harm how to save buying viagra a nursing.

    tried your recipe for Creamy Greek Noodle Soup that was in the Post maybe 3 or 4 weeks ago. It was so delicious and so easy to make. Also one of those recipes that you have all the ingredients for and don’t have to run out and buy stuff. I have since tried it using sliced mushrooms and rice and thyme as the seasoning. I used apple cider instead of the lemon. It was very good also. I always enjoy reading your column and checking out your recipes. Just wanted to let you know that this one is a real keeper.

  7. Your recipe for Honeyed Sriracha Cookies: Can these be made ahead of time and frozen?

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