Secrets of Writing Recipes for Big Food Magazines

Kristine Kidd, former food editor at Bon Appetit magazine, ran the test kitchen for 20 years.

Guest Post by Kristine Kidd

When Kristine Kidd was food editor of Bon Appetit magazine, her staff tested recipes from writers and recipe developers, and she decided which ones would run.

A 20-year veteran of the magazine, Kidd is now self-employed and the author of several cookbooks, most recently Weeknight Gluten Free. Here are 14 insider tips. — DJ

At Bon Appetit, we tested hundreds of recipes every month. The ones we published were the ones that worked best in the test kitchen.

We rarely gave a new writer another chance if the recipes did not test well or if we had too much trouble with them. Editorial schedules are jammed and [Read more…]

Four Culinary Trends for Recipe Writers

Kristine Kidd, former food editor of Bon Appetit magazine

Who better than Kristine Kidd, former food editor at Bon Appétit magazine for 20 years, to tell us what’s hot in the culinary world?

As the former food trends expert at the magazine, she collaborated with celebrity chefs and food writers including Thomas Keller, Suzanne Goin, and Nigella Lawson, helping them shape stories and recipes for the magazine. The dishes she created often appeared on the cover.

Now self-employed and a blogger, Kidd is putting the finishing touches on her sixth cookbook, Williams-Sonoma’s Weeknight Fresh and Fast, available in January at W-S stores, everywhere in March.

On a recent teleconference call through the International Association of Culinary Professionals, Kidd told us first how she keeps up with trends, then detailed what she sees.

To keep up, she’s an exhaustive researcher. She reads:

  • Magazines on food, including those from England, Australia and New Zealand
  • Food sections of major American newspapers
  • The business and lifestyles sections of newspapers and newsweeklies
  • And newsletters from Jessica’s Biscuit, cooking stores, and those from supermarkets and food industries.

Then she leaves her computer and desk. She goes to the cookbook table at her local Barnes & Noble; persuses what’s hot on Amazon; talks to food-obsessed friends; and shops at regular and specialty food markets, cooking stores, and farmers’ markets. She also goes to industry conferences.

She compiles all her notes, printouts, and clippings in a letter-size file box on her desk to spark ideas for new projects.

The barometer for what’s going on with cooking and food, she said, is yourself. As food writers, she said we face the same challenges as other cooks. Here are the four [Read more…]

What it Takes to be a Recipe Developer for Bon Appetit

Sara Kate Gillingham-Ryan

If you read my recent post on recipe writing that generated dozens of comments, you’ll see that commenter Victoria von Biel, executive editor of Bon Appetit, named a blogger who’s a killer recipe developer — the only food blogger who works for her. I’m going to tell you why.

First, let’s identify the golden girl. She’s Sara Kate Gillingham-Ryan, 35, founding editor of an Apartment Therapy sub-site, The Kitchn. (Her husband, Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan, founded Apartment Therapy.)

And why does Gillingham-Ryan qualify? Here’s what von Biel told me during an interview at the recent International Food Blogger Conference: She wants someone who understands “international flavor combinations that are fresh and unusual.” Someone to whom she can say, “Do a casual Spanish dinner party for six people” and the writer will give her four complete menu ideas that contain “ideas significantly different from each other.”

When I asked Gillingham-Ryan why she succeeds with von Biel, she said it’s because “My guess is it’s because I give it to her straight, in as few words as possible, and I give her lots of choices.” For example, if von Biel asks for one savory and one sweet, Gillingham-Ryan will give her five recipe ideas for each.

Gillingham-Ryan had help on the way to the top. She had a mentor and teacher in her mother, a former staff writer for the Los Angeles Times food section, a home economist who later quit to become self-employed as a writer, recipe developer and food stylist. “I was around. I saw how it worked,” said Gillingham-Ryan.

When she wanted to become a writer, her mother introduced her to an editor friend of the family at Tribune Media Services, where Gillingham-Ryan wrote food features. “A lot of it was just luck,” she admitted. Later Gillingham-Ryan took the short course at the French Culinary Institute.

How a Recipe Developer Thinks

I asked Gillingham-Ryan how she comes up with recipe ideas. “I draw on my experience as a cook and eater and reader of Bon Appetit,” she began. “I think, ‘What have I eaten recently that’s really amazing?'” She will try to recreate it in her mind. She tries to remember what she thought at the time, such as “This would be better with orange peel, or with chicken thighs instead of lamb.” Using her memory as a starting point, she heads into the kitchen to improve upon or change the dish, accessing a taste library of which flavors work together best. She tries to stay away from fads (“Not doing a ton of cardamom right now. It’s been done.”).

When she’s brainstorming a recipe, she’ll turn to books as a reference to see how people she respects think, such as reading Shirley Corrhier or Harold McGee on how baking soda and powder work together. At this stage, she’s not tinkering with measurements yet, and she’s up on what’s already been done in the magazine. If she looks at similar recipes to dishes she’s imagining, it’s to decide what she would do differently to put a personal stamp on it. “I know the basic formula for most foods,” said Gillingham-Ryan. “A lot of that came from culinary school and the cooking afterwards.”

What is her advice for food bloggers and other food writers who want to build expertise as recipe developers? “People think they can just call themselves (recipe developers) and start doing it, but it just takes time to develop a craft.” She also recognizes what worked for her. Find people who will “take you in and show you the ropes.”

Of Course Food is Just like Fashion

bacon-cupcakesTut-tutting erupted earlier this week when the soon-to-be publisher of Bon Appetit told an interviewer she didn’t see much difference between food and fashion.

In an interview in Women’s Wear Daily, Carol Smith, senior vice president and chief brand officer of Elle Group, said she was lured from her current job while having a drink with future boss Thomas A. Florio, Condé Nast’s senior vice president and publishing director:

“He said, ‘Could you ever see yourself doing for food what you did for fashion with Elle?’” Smith recalled. “I had never even thought about it….Then I started to think, you know, what’s the difference between [Read more…]

Help! My Gourmet is Now Bon Appetit

march_10_cover_vThe postcard inside the plastic-wrapped package advised “…we will be sending you Bon Appetit for the duration of your remaining Gourmet subscription term.”

And there it was, my non-Gourmet. First I got sad about Gourmet’s passing all over again. I like the way Elissa Altman summed up its demise: “Gourmet folded because it had a direct competitor under the same roof in the same genre geared to more practical and commercial endeavors, it made more money, and one of them had to go…End of discussion.”

Once I got over the fact that it was not Gourmet, I was curious to see how Bon Appetit was different. Content, for one thing. Bon Appetit is all about entertaining. Tone, for another. It’s all about ease: world-class dining made simple.

Yet most of the recipes didn’t look that easy. In fact, I got the biggest laugh from [Read more…]