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.
Do you think Keith McNally is responsible for all that?
Part of it is restaurateurs like Keith McNally, Mario Batali and Danny Meyer – certain guys who pioneered in the industry. And in an Internet age, everything is accessible. If you want to know about cool restaurants, they’re just a click away. The same goes for fashion. If you’re a guy that wants to be cool and fashionable, go to JCrew.com, buy a Barbour jacket, a pair of Wayfarers, Red Wing boots and a vintage-looking Timex and you can be that cool guy wearing a tie bar. Everything’s there for the taking if you want it. Go to cities like Seattle, Portland and Chicago and look at the level of design – everyone has subway tiles, Edison bulbs, and cool Tolix stools at the bar. There’s a sameness but also just a higher level of execution then there was a generation ago. It’s nice to be able to go to most spots in America now and get a great espresso, a cortado, a macchiato or whatever – or maybe a wood fired-oven pizza and great cured meats. We’re in a really good place food-wise as a country.
Do you mean though that there’s a sameness to the aesthetic in restaurants across the country?
I think it goes for both food and aesthetic. I think the level of food and number of chefs out there who know how to cook, know good ingredients and are able to get their hands on them is extremely high. If there is one complaint, there’s less regional cooking and more across the board similarities in terms of what we’re eating. Whether in San Francisco, New York or Chicago, menus can be very similar to each other in terms of what’s trendy and what’s in style. It’s a small world now because of the Internet and the TV – we know what’s going on everywhere all the time. I can’t tell you how many places I can go to get a cutting board with mortadella and prosciutto and speck – and you little bowls of fresh ricotta, arugula, artisanal pizza and little quartinos of wine. Ten years ago, no one knew what a quartino was. Ever since Joe Bastianich and Mario Batali started that, now all modern Italian restaurants do it. If you want to be in the loop, it’s easy to be in the loop. This goes for both fashion and food. Look how many young fashion bloggers out there are as important as magazine editors. It’s crazy. Go out and become a blogger. Look at what you guys are doing – it’s kind of incredible.
What are some restaurants that will never go out of style for you? Why?
At the very high end, La Grenouille in Midtown, partly because it has the best lighting of any restaurant in America. And Charles Masson – the owner – I just think he cares as much as (if not more than) any restaurateur in America. He’s there everyday. There are not a lot of great restaurants anymore where the owner only runs that restaurant. That wasn’t the case back in the day. Andre Soltner at Lutece – he and his wife were there every day. Now if you want to be a successful restaurateur you need nine, ten, eleven restaurants. So I love a place like La Grenouille. On the flip side? I don’t know, maybe In-n-Out Burger. When you’re out west, you’re going there. It doesn’t matter who you are; whoever goes is addicted to it. And there too – the family that runs it are total sticklers for quality, standards and ingredients. Everyone’s super friendly. It so often comes down to the same thing — how much do you care? Are you going to work hard at it? At whatever endeavor you’ve undertaken. If you look at Danny Meyer, Keith McNally, Charles Masson – they care and work really hard at what they do.
Is there anything going on in the industry that’s annoying you?
At a lot of restaurants, the food they serve is less a meal and more food-as-competition. Every dish is the saltiest, crispiest, sweetest or most acidic thing. By the end of the meal, you feel exhausted and beat up. I want to go to dinner; I don’t want to go to a cooking show.
What’s a quick go-to recipe that always works for you?
I think with your basic Cacio e Pepe you can never go wrong. I’ll add a couple glugs of olive oil and four cloves of garlic smashed to a skillet. I like to simmer the garlic just until it takes on color, turn off the heat and let it sit, covered, for five minutes while the pasta is boiling. That way the garlic mellows and becomes caramelized – sweet golden brown and soft. Right when the pasta is done, drain it, but take a cup of pasta water. Throw the pasta into the pan with the garlic and dump the pasta water in. Toss it over heat and add several big chunks of butter till its glossy and saucy. Take it off the heat, take it out of pan, pour it into a serving bowl and then add a lot of Parmesan cheese. You don’t want to add it when it’s in the hot pan cause then it will stick to the pan and get all clumped and gooey. So grate a bunch of Parmesan cheese and mix in a lot of freshly cracked black pepper. Then just serve.
The key is this: Use a lot more pasta water and olive oil than you think you need because that’s basically the sauce. So the pasta water, oil and butter create an emulsion that coats every strand of pasta. It’s the fanciest poor man’s pasta you can buy. And add salt of course because salt is good.
The ingredient that usually wins you over…
Parsley doesn’t get enough love. Flat leafed parsley – I would throw it on that pasta. I put it on sandwiches; I’ll chop it up and put it on everything. It’s also a great ingredient for salsa verde and chimchurri – it does the hard work while other poncey herbs get all the acclaim.
The one that usually doesn’t work for you…
I hate bananas because, well, they’re smelly and mushy. I have a banana-haters club with my travel-writer friend Adam Sachs. And I believe Daniel Boulud also dislikes bananas and I’ve been told Martha Stewart’s not a fan. So we’ll take all comers; we’re recruiting members daily.
What’s a food trend you’re into?
It’s not new but I always like having good salt on the table – like little finger bowls of good sea salt or kosher salt. I always appreciate that and whenever I have to deal with saltshakers I get annoyed. I’m like ‘Really? Doesn’t everyone have the finger bowls?’
What’s not a “thing” in New York food yet, that should be?
I would kill for San Francisco-style taquerias. People have tried to open them in New York but no one’s really succeeded. The closest thing you have really is Chipotle.
What do you always bring to a dinner party? Where do you get it from?
If I’m lucky I’m going with my wife who’s been a florist for many years; she brings fresh cut flowers arranged beautifully and tied up nicely. I just bring her and she brings the good stuff.
What do you always put out when hosting one?
A vintage champagne bucket filled with ice and water and bottles of champagne, rose wine in the summer, and white the rest of the year. I like my wine well-chilled. You need not just ice but water too and it needs to be filled to the top. The bottle needs to be submerged, not sitting on top of ice. I’m a little ice obsessed. I like good ice in my cocktails and a lot in my ice buckets
What are some keys to a successful dinner party?
In addition to being ice-obsessed, I’m also lighting-obsessed. You have to have lights on with dimmers – even little dimmer extension cords from the hardware store. I’m a big fan of votive candles – scattering them about your living room and dining room. Good friends, good lighting and good drinks are the three most important ingredients to a successful dinner party.
You didn’t like X till you had it at X?
Growing up, I never liked blue cheese dressing. Just the worst. But then I had Buffalo wings for the first time (this was after college) and I dipped them in and I was like, ‘Oh, now I get it. This is genius.’ That’s one of those flavor marriages that works beautifully.
And most importantly, how do you feel about new potatoes?
New potatoes. I did an article recently with Eric Ripert from Le Bernardin and he did beautiful baby new potatoes he got at the Farmers Market in Sag Harbor. He boiled them until they were perfectly cooked – not a second overcooked – then he peeled the skin off every one and tossed them in homemade mayonnaise with a mess of freshly chopped herbs. It was one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. I’m a fan of new potatoes if he is cooking them.
*Photo by Danielle Kosann