Some of the changes were admittedly cosmetic – the new cover font and disappearance of the classic “teardrop” logo, replacing the traditional back page interview with a handwritten response on a cocktail napkin – and probably won’t take long to get used to. Others were subtle but more substantive. BA was already an ad-heavy publication, but the number of ads have jumped significantly over the past few months. (Including, in one issue, a prominent insert-style ad for “organic tobacco.”) The classic RSVP section in the front now also includes editors’ picks instead of just reader letters. Small changes here and there that give a pervasively different feel to the magazine.
But more than anything else, the tone of the new BA just seems… off somehow. It’s not quite right. The Bitten Word posted a good overview last month of Rappoport’s changes to the magazine, and they made this point better than I ever could:
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?” … 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. … 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 guys’ 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.”
Things at BA were feeling different enough already, and then June’s issue came out, featuring a photoshopped photo shoot of Gwyneth Paltrow, looking like she just stepped off the cover of Cosmopolitan. If you’re not a regular reader, the cover is generally a photo of the issue’s featured dish (see right). A lot of times you get the same old strawberries-in-spring, burger-in-summer, turkey-in-November business, but there are often twists, and the focus is almost always about the food. Rappoport explains in a lengthy editor’s letter that he decided to feature Paltrow “because it’s not just ingredients that make great food: It’s people.” And you know, I don’t disagree with him on that point. Ruby Bruiseday had a great post the other day about food as comfort – in a good way! – and I couldn’t agree more. For many of us, food is culture, food is family, food is love and happiness. From the farmer to the chef to your mouth, food wouldn’t be the same without the hands that prepare it. And BA has a long history of featuring people within the pages of the magazine, from the celebrity interview on the last page to hip restaurants and the chefs who run them to just your average, ordinary people.
In fairness to Rappoport, this is not the first time that Bon Appétit has put a person on the cover of the magazine. That honor went to the fierce and amazing Julia Child. A famous chef or two would sometimes appear on the cover (once with Mickey Mouse), or a food critic on a couple of occasions. The restaurant issue in 2001 focused heavily on some well-known and less well-known chefs who specialize in ethnic food of different varieties. These people all have strong ties to the food community and reflect the kind of tone and values that permeate a foodie magazine like BA.
But there’s something about the decision to put Gwyneth Paltrow specifically on the cover. She’s relatively controversial when it comes to food. (She used to aggressively push a macrobiotic diet as a “cure” for cancer, among other things.) And despite the upcoming publication of her first cookbook full of simple, homey recipes, she doesn’t have the same kind of place in the food world that the other faces did. Gwyneth is certainly no Julia Child. If I wanted “easy summer recipes,” I’d pick up a copy of Taste of Home. Don’t get me wrong; some of the staples in my rotation (including that brownie recipe) originally came from Taste of Home. And if I wanted celebrities + recipes, I’d go to Ladies’ Home Journal. But those are not the kind of things I’m looking for when I turn to Bon Appétit.
With all of this being said, not all of the changes to BA have been negative. For example, I like that the staff writers and chefs from the test kitchen are getting a shout out in the new bylines. But when I sat down to read this month’s Bon Appétit after a long, hard day, it felt like an entirely different magazine than the one I know and love. I read BA for the complicated recipes that encourage me to try them anyway and make me feel like rock star when I succeed. I read it for the absurd photos that are gorgeous and aspirational and not like anything I could make in my own kitchen. I read BA precisely because it didn’t try to be relatable. I don’t want the hipster neighbor kids in glasses reminiscent of my fourth grade class photo, trying so hard to be painfully, averagely, ironically cool so they can fit in.
Images courtesy Bon Appétit magazine/Condé Nast Publishing