Categories
Features

Bon Voyage, Adam Rapoport

Apparently, there are at least 59 ways to cook an egg. Moreover, over 27 million people are willing to watch some guy present all of them over the course of nearly half an hour. 

That’s what Bon Appétit’s most popular YouTube video looks like. Their other videos cook up recipes with a bit more complexity but haven’t received quite as many viewers, yet. Largely due to its Youtube channel, Bon Appétit has become one of the most recognized food media outlets circulating magazine stands and web browsers around the country. Today, they boast 6.5 million print subscriptions, 7.6 million ‘unique users’ digitally, and 11.4 million followers on social platforms.

As such, Bon Appétit has received recognition for the direction in which it has developed in recent years. Since 2010, the magazine and its offshoots have received 15 nominations and 8 wins for James Beard Awards (often called “the Oscars of the food awards”). In the near 20 years that these awards existed before 2010, Bon Appétit totalled only 4 wins and 8 nominees. 

This is in part due to the numerical expansion of media categories in culinary awards, which followed the incredible proliferation of media forms that are now prevalent in the mainstream; Bon Appétit has successfully taken advantage of such growth. While its print circulation has more or less remained the same, digitally, they’ve made great strides, with over 6 million subscribers on YouTube. Bon Appétit has garnered what other magazines strive for in terms of a digital following. 

Previous Bon Appétit editor-in-chief, Adam Rapoport

Perhaps more importantly, this growth largely occurred while Adam Rapoport held the title of editor-in-chief. Condé Nast—the global mass media company that parents publications from Vogue and GQ to Wired and The New Yorker—has been home to Rapoport for decades: before Bon Appétit, he was the style editor of GQ. Prior to his adoption into the Condé Nast family, though, he had food writing experience for a number of other publications, including the James Beard Foundation and Time Out New York.

Before Rapoport took over, Bon Appétit was, as a 2010 New York Times article about the switch in editorial leadership stated, “accessible, highly professional, and in the business of providing recipes, recipes, and more recipes, largely devoid of text and context.” Formerly based in Los Angeles, not yet in its New York office, it had been run by the same editor-in-chief, Barbara Fairchild, for over 30 years. 

While Rapoport’s leadership brought 10 years of shimmering success, its stardom recently came into question when freelance food writer Tammie Teclemariam tweeted a photo of Rapoport and his wife dressed as Puerto Ricans. The magazine soon received a great deal of scrutiny from the public and received uproarious reactions from contributors, editors, and readers alike. In response, Rapoport stepped down as editor-in-chief.

The photo of him was from 2004, his Instagram post from 2013. To some, this may not seem like a very serious issue—I mean, it was 2004, times were different then, and he’s apologized. No harm, no foul. Right?

The reason that this is such a big moment for Bon Appétit is because it came during an important movement in the United States, and it exposed so much more than one photo. In January of this year, chef and writer Soleil Ho wrote about the race problem in Bon Appétit’s popular Test Kitchen series, which some believe is “the most lucrative thing Condé Nast has.” In 2016, Bon Appétit faced a small but mighty uproar after posting a video in which a white chef explained the ‘right way’ to eat pho, a Vietnamese specialty. While either instance could—and should—have easily sparked the same amplified outrage, the photo of Rapoport came to light at a time when the public was more actively engaged in addressing racial justice. It caused a ripple effect that exposed racial disparities in Bon Appétit and Condé Nast’s office culture.

There’s been a lot of coverage about this moment for Bon Appétit. A plethora of articles feature the experiences of numerous Bon Appétit employees and the marginalization they experienced at Bon Appétit as discussed in interviews, Twitter threads, and Instagram stories. The many articles out there are very easy to find and clearly recount the details and the words that brought Bon Appétit to the place it is now—a place with increased transparency, unpleasant as it may be. Many of these articles describe the release of the photograph causing “a revolt among Condé Nast employees, many of whom described an entrenched culture of racial insensitivity.” 

Assistant food editor Sohla El-Waylly, a familiar face to fans of Bon Appétit’s test kitchen, found that the company’s response to the offense was initially disappointing. In a Sporkful podcast, she recalls the outrage developing slower than it probably should have. During a company-wide Zoom meeting in the immediate aftermath of Teclemariam’s tweet, at which Rapoport issued a brief apology, El-Waylly suggested that he resign. Only a few editors were active in the discussion, until she broke the others’ silence by rebuking it. 

Bon Appétit’s Test Kitchen staff

Recent backlash against Bon Appétit’s racist culture and leadership not only reveals a need for change within the company but also serves as a gateway to observing a similar trend in the food industry and its media coverage. Though it is certainly not a new issue in the culinary community, the lack of diversity in media coverage has lately become a focus of food writers and chefs; in these discussions, more representation is often the most cited suggestion to improve. Chefs love to explore ethnic cuisines, but they have a tendency to take ingredients and elements of recipes from other cultures and whitewash them rather than acknowledge the cultural history that accompanies it. 

At this point, Rick Bayless and his empire of Mexican restaurants have already been brought up a number of times, but representation in kitchens and print is only the beginning. Last year, chef Kwame Onwuachi wrote about the lack of diversity among food critics, which can be seen in nationally recognized awards. James Beard nominees, for example, tend to be male, and they tend to be White. In 2016, 218 of the 341 James Beard nominations were White men. In the last few years, though, the James Beard Foundation has made efforts to address this with changes in representation, accessibility, and transparency. Even so, there’s still work to be done to equalize the playing field for the James Beard Awards. And just think: that’s only one layer of the equality that’s missing in critiques and evaluations of food figures. 

It’s difficult to acknowledge a toxic culture in a publication that is so well-recognized and successful as well as an industry that is loved by many. However, this should be seen as an opportunity for Bon Appétit and the food industry to improve by recognizing where they are flawed, intentionally or unintentionally, and fixing themselves. Chefs like Onwuachi and El-Waylly want other chefs and publications to give recognition where recognition is due, whether that be in recipes, awards, or salaries. Having been reprimanded by their own contributors, writers, editors, and staff for the ways in which they treat their employees, Bon Appétit has an opportunity to lead the way for a change in the food industry. 

So, this is a bit more than just a racist photo from a decade and a half ago; that was just the cherry on top. The food industry and the publications that cover it have been making this sundae for decades. There are layers upon layers of injustices to taste, and it’s about time for us all to dig in—bon appétit.