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Adam Rapoport Dishes on Bon Appétit

With his first issue set to debut, the editor in chief talks about his vision for the magazine.

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Cover of Bon Appetit.

Photo By Courtesy Photo

Magazine editors, especially at big companies like Condé Nast, are always balancing demographics and being mindful of who the reader is while trying to expand and attract new eyes. Right now, that reader (who is overwhelmingly female) has a median age of 49 with a household income of nearly $100,000. Rapoport’s unspoken mandate is to broaden that audience and he wants to draw more men and readers from the food blogs, as well as from its newly redesigned Web site.

“We need to tap into popular culture and have a buzziness,” he said. “I don’t want to get away from the foundation of it all — time-tested cooking advice — but we need to have a relevance for right now.”

He mentions an exclusive excerpt in the May issue with Prune restaurant owner Gabrielle Hamilton, who’s written a book that many consider the next “Eat, Pray, Love,” as well as a first look at David Chang’s new iPad app. Tapping into his fashion roots (before Bon Ap, he was the style editor of GQ), he also has a piece about cooking at home with the Missoni family.

Everything is more service-driven and the GQ voice is there on a layout reminiscent of New York magazine. Headlines are punchy and fun. “How to drink like an Italian,” and “The real baconator,” for a story about bacon cheeseburgers. Colors for this, the “Italy issue,” are minty green, peachy orange and lemon yellow, the colors observed during an afternoon spent in Portofino. The back page now asks a celebrity a food-related question that must be answered on a cocktail napkin. For May, comedian Aziz Ansari wrote in red Sharpie about how Los Angeles needs to expand its food truck scene to food trains. “Maybe the people at Keste or Grimaldi’s in NYC can figure that out,” he joked.

Rapoport has eschewed the traditional editor’s letter photo (which he sat for, but hated) for an old black-and-white profile shot taken during a trip to Italy by GQ’s Fred Woodward. For future issues, Rapoport has more photographers traveling to locations to shoot stories and he’s hired a few notable ones, such as Carter Smith, Peggy Sirota and Marcus Nilsson. “If you want to be competitive you can’t just shoot everything in a studio. You can’t fake Corsica or Sicily,” he said.

In terms of the business, you also can’t fake advertising and the May issue has some heft. New publisher Pamela Drucker Mann’s first Bon Appétit is up 25 percent, with new business from Maybelline, Pellegrino and Kraft Foods. The June issue is up more than 40 percent.

Prior to the May issue coming out, Rapoport and Mann have been trying to build buzz, from closing down Rao’s for a private party last month (a first for the famously hard-to-get-into East Harlem establishment) to holding Rapoport’s debut party next week at glitterati bistro Minetta Tavern. He’s invited a small group of foodies and bold faced names but he declined to reveal the guest list.

He’s getting ready to celebrate May but, in reality, he’s already closing June and working on July. “I’m always guessing, second guessing,” he admitted. “I’m more or less happy with it [the May issue]. Actually, I’m thrilled with it. Superexcited and love the way it turned out. Monthly magazines take a while for things to come together.”

And he’s certainly under some pressure. He recalls a recent e-mail exchange with Condé Nast editorial director Tom Wallace seeking Wallace’s thoughts on a cover choice. While Wallace stressed Rapoport was firmly in charge and could do with Bon Appétit what he wished, he added a warning: “If you ask for opinions you will get them and if you screw it up you will have to answer to that, too.”

 

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