Adam Rapoport is a special kind of food editor. With a past that includes GQ, Time Out New York and The James Beard Foundation, he seems to thrive in every industry – not just the one his magazine (Bon Appétit, where he is now Editor-in-Chief) covers. This is the first year Bon Appétit is publishing its list of must-have kitchen ingredients selected by the editors of the magazine – i.e. the Bon Appétit Seal of Approval (appearing in the December 2012 issue). Celebrating the favorite products of the magazine’s editorial team, it’s definitely something to add to your Christmas list. And with an EIC like Rapoport, we’re liking this new rating system. We sat down with him for words on tie bars, tolix stools, and the very best pasta a poor man’s pocket can buy…
Could you take us through your ideal food day? Where would you go? What would you eat?
I’d say breakfast at Buvette in the West Village, which can be bustling and crowded at nighttime, but is calm and relaxing in the morning. They’ve got those great scrambled eggs they make with the steamer wand on the espresso machine, and they come with grilled toast with prosciutto on top. Coffee wise, I’m an espresso on ice guy. I like eating solo in the morning; it’s a chance to get my head together and get a jump on the day. It’s nice to get stuff done before I head into the office.
Then for lunch I’d get the hell out of Times Square – that would be my first directive. This is going to sound indulgent but I’ve had a few suits made at Martin Greenfield in Bushwick. It’s right around the corner from Roberta’s, which I’ve often said – ‘if it’s not the best restaurant in New York it’s certainly the most fun.’ So I’d go to Martin and get fitted, then head around the corner and get a margherita pizza. They have a wonderful romaine salad on the menu with parmesan and candied walnuts. I’d get that as my salad and a can of Budweiser.
For dinner I like being at home. It’s great to be able to come home, mix a couple of cocktails and then hang out in the kitchen with my wife and cook. Sometimes she goes out and shops and gets everything prepped and then I’m the line cook. And somehow in the marriage (and I’m not sure how this arrangement came about) I usually do both the cooking and cleaning. We’d make a nice pasta or pan-roasted steak or chops. We have an old marble kitchen-island countertop. We like having dinner there, the two of us sitting on stools talking and eating.
What’s the process behind creating content for Bon Appétit? How do you determine what’s worth it, and what’s not?
It’s a couple of considerations each month. The biggest thing is: Does it excite us as editors? Whether that’s a travel story, a celebrity Q&A or a recipe – is this something we care about? Is this a dish we’d make? Is it a destination we’d fly to? Is it someone we’d want to meet? It’s what I learned when I worked at GQ under Jim Nelson. If you’re going to commit a page to a story you better be into it and convince readers you’re passionate about it. If not, it shouldn’t be in the magazine.
How has the industry changed since you started? In terms of both food and publishing? Do you find yourself addressing these changes?
Obviously the biggest change in the last ten years is the fact that you’re no longer a magazine editor; you’re a ‘brand manager.’ You’re dealing with a magazine, a website, a tablet app, a cookbook and events that you need to manage closely. Are you doing a TV show? Are you trying to create something that may turn into a movie? It’s a very different world. Someone once described it astutely: ‘It used to be one six lane highway, now it’s six one-lane highways.’ It’s a lot more initiatives that you have to be on top of in order to generate the same amount of revenue you had before with just a magazine. I’m lucky I have a sharp, inventive publisher – Pamela Drucker Mann — and I work well with her and lean heavily on her about what direction to take the brand (as in, what to do beyond the pages of the magazine, how to promote it and how to market it). In a weird way, the editing of the magazine is the easy part (headlines, cool photo shoots and recipes). It’s everything else that becomes challenging in terms of how to make it cohesive and have all the elements fit together.
Are there certain chefs or restaurateurs whose career you’ve always followed? Who?
I was at The James Beard Foundation from ’94 to ’97, and Time Out New York from ’97 to 2000 and I’ve always been a huge fan of Keith McNally’s. I just think that he’s remarkably gifted and creative, and his attention to detail is astounding. With Balthazar – from the mosaic-tiled floor and the zinc bar to the lighting – everything is thought out and perfectly executed. This concept extends to magazines and everything else. Effort is evident. People can tell when you’ve worked hard at something. If talented people push themselves, it’s amazing what they can do.
In that sense, Keith has always been someone so good at creating a world, an atmosphere and an ambiance unparalleled in the restaurant business. It’s interesting how many restaurants now can be traced back to Pastis and Balthazar. Everyone now has all the elements he was already doing fifteen years ago. In general, it’s amazing the quality of restaurants across the board now – how well-designed they are, how clever they are and how good the food is. It’s impressive compared to what it was when I was a kid growing up.