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 email@example.com. Include at least two recipes.
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