As for the photography: “We are terrible at food styling so we just shoot it the way that it is,” says Dunn. “I’m not drawn to food that looks fake. It is beautiful enough as it is.”
Before Bon Appetit was reinvigorated, it was the middlebrow alternative to Gourmet magazine; both were part of the Conde Nast empire. In 2009, the publisher shut down Gourmet and transferred subscribers to Bon Appetit. Bon Appetit was always a good source of chef-approved, but still practical, recipes. Today’s reinvigorated pages, under Adam Rapoport, a former GQ style editor, focus more on the intersection of where food and lifestyle meet.
In fact, it’s starting to look like its underground counterparts. Food and drinks editor Andrew Knowlton, 38, a 12-year veteran, explains the transformation: “The food culture changed and we lost sight of that. To be honest the magazine got tired and stuffy.”
To that end, Bon Appetit seems to have taken a long, hard look at other publications on the market. It directed its attention away from the overtly commercial, looking more to what Knowlton would consider “grass roots and old school.” But unlike Gather and Kinfolk, Bon Appetit is filled with ads.
While Knowlton admires the fact that Lucky Peach magazine, edited by Momofuku chef David Chang, can do a whole issue on ramen, you’re not about to find cover-to-cover ramen in Bon Appetit. “We could never do that,” says Knowlton. “But we can do a guide to sea urchins or a story with recipes about the Southern-style soul food that [New York Knick] Amar’e Stoudemire eats at home in the West Village.”
Knowlton says the magazine’s ultimate goal is to make beautiful food and to print recipes that work every time. “Young people are getting back into food and entertaining,” says the editor. “There are nouveau potlucks and canning parties. People making stuff with their hands is cool no matter what.”
But he is also a champion of restaurant culture. “Everything trickles down from restaurants,” he says. “It’s like music. I can sit down to play guitar all day long, but eventually I want to go out and see music, to see the best of the best, to be inspired by that and then to go home and pick up the guitar again.”
Since the re-design, Bon Appetit has devoted plenty of ink to up-and-coming eateries in out-of-the-way neighborhoods and rural outposts, coverage that may not interest some readers.
Eighteen years ago, Saveur was already searching far and wide for ordinary cooks in their own settings. Food editor Todd Coleman says that a lot of what’s in the current magazine looks about the same as it did in 1994, when it started.
But one thing did change. “Food is in fashion now,” he says.
Still, Saveur does not depend on invented trends. “There are 40 to 50 recipes per issue, some of them tested 12 times to make sure they are perfect,” says Coleman. “But they all come from real kitchens.”
The staff travels in search of good home cooks and authentic restaurants. “We try to show things the way that they are,” says Coleman. It is this kind of unstaged food reality that keeps the magazine relevant for other professionals. “Chefs already know what other chefs are doing,” he says. “For them it’s interesting to see what grandma is doing or what some home cook in Albania is doing.”
But cooking around the world is expensive, and for Saveur and other mainstream magazines, selling ads is a necessary evil. “People don’t like ads,” says Bon Appetit’s Knowlton. “But that’s what makes the magazine run. We try to get cool advertisers and cool ads.”
Gather and Kinfolk tap into this authenticity by shooting pictures of food that was actually prepared to eat, and by heading out into the fields to photograph where it grows.
In January, Bon Appetit will publish a story on the new food magazines. “I love reading them,” says Knowlton. “They inspire us. It is not a David and Goliath thing in any way. We are all celebrating food.”
Jonathan Levitt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.