When Maile Carpenter became the Food Network Magazine’s founding editor-in-chief, “foodiesm” was still on the rise. Those fast-lapse food videos weren’t even twinkles in ambitious social-media innovators’ eyes, yet. Ah, yes. The Twitter-is-still-new heyday of 2008.
Now, Food Network Magazine is the best-selling monthly food magazine on the stands; it has 1.75 million subscribers. With print media ever-contracting, this magazine’s uber-success is more than noteworthy. And Carpenter, who got her start as a reporter, is at the helm of that success. We asked her what makes for good food-reading.
She’s coming to the Capital Region on Oct. 6 to headline the Women@Work event “Food Is Big Business,” at Reel Seafood Co. in Albany.
In the meantime, here’s what she had to say about the food scene.
Q: It seems like when it comes to cooking, women dominate home kitchens, while men dominate professional kitchens. Would you say that’s true?
A: I think a lot of that is changing. My nephew once turned to my sister and said, “Mom, can women cook?,” because he had never seen a woman in the kitchen in his life. My brother-in-law would cook and of course my husband is a chef, so … I grew up ina fairly traditional house, where my mom did all the cooking. But I think a lot of those roles are changing and you can see part of that in the breakdown in our magazine demographics. There are many more male subscribers than you would epect. There’s also a cool factor: a lot of man are starting to take interest in it, because cooking is part of being a well-rounded person.
Q: Do you think cooking is cool because of foodie culture?
A: We actually don’t use the term “foodie.” We did some early testing on asking readers and fans. The word would either make people feel excluded or, for people who were truly food lovers, they thought it would sound trite. So we safely avoid it. But I think the food movement for sure has changed things for men and men in the kitchen. It’s part of how our culture is changing, period.
Q: So how much are you taking gender into account when you’re putting together the magazine?
A: I would say food is a neutral space. It’s a comfort zone for everyone. We talked about it very early in the development of the magazine: We had to find a voice. You turn on the Food Network and every show has a voice. We had to think about how to do that in the magazine. You have to think about gender and who you’re talking about.
It’s not age-specific, it’s not gender-specific. We have kids reading the newspaper, toddlers who are just looking at the pictures, up to 85-year-olds, everyone. It’s a nice place to be. I can honestly say I’ve never had a gender issue ever.
Q: Why do you think the perception persists that women can’t hack it in professional kitchens?
A: Well, with restaurants, there is a logistical aspect to working in a restaurant that makes it difficult to stick with it. I know that [my husband, professional chef Wylie Dufresne] has always tried to keep women in the kitchen, because the dynamic is so much stronger. Women bring such a great energy in the kitchen and help with the whole building of a team, so he’s always tried to mentor chefs, women chefs. But the reality is if you look at professional kitchens, women are certainly underrepresented.
Q: Do you ever get exhausted with food as a subject? Like, do you run out of things to write about?
A: Ha! Yeah, when we get to Thankgiving every year we’re like, OK, we’re done. We’ve done everything we can do. But it’s similar to songwriting. You would never say every song has been written; there’s always new songs.
And trends change. Our job, particularly in print, is to be hyper-aware of what people are eating. We take field trips to grocery stores, we eat out not just in NYC restaurants but as often as we can at other places, too, so we can pay attention to what people are talking about.
Q: Was there any time you wrote about something that didn’t go over well?
A: Any time you focus on one food, like when we did the chocolate issue or cheese issue, there are going to be some people who will happily tell you they’re not happy. We got 10 or 15 letters from people who don’t like chocolate.
Q: Do you think you might have influence on food trends?
A: My guess is yes. At this size, we certainly take things that are simmering and focus on them in a big way. Just the basic things, like how people photograph food, that reality factor was missing sometimes in the food space. I think in the past, when people would show food, they’d show it in heavily propped scenarios. Our goal was to show food in a real situation, exactly as it would look when doing it yourself.
Part of doing that is shooting food in focus. That sounds really obvious, but if you look years back there were a lot of food covers with these kinds of dreamy, soft-focus images. It became less about the art of photographing and let’s make sure people see what they’re making.
Food is Big Business Event
What: Hear Maile Carpenter, founding editor-in-chief of Food Network Magazine, talk about the business of food . (Event includes brunch)
When: 8 to 10am Thursday, October 6th
Where: Reel Seafood Co. 195 Wolf Rd. Albany
Cost: $30 for Women@work members; $35 for non members