In episode 1 of the Edible Potluck podcast we talk to Jennifer Reichardt of Raft Wines in Sonoma and to the Washington Post’s Bonnie Benwick about the best selling cookbook in 2018.
Recommended Recipe: Grapefruit Rosemary Shrub.
After growing up in the food business in Northern California, Jennifer Reichardt decided to branch out, become a winemaker, and start her own boutique label, Raft Wines. Though she’s only been in the wine biz since 2016, her food-friendly bottles are earning praise, including in the pages of Edible San Francisco.
We love cookbooks at Edible Communities, so Bonnie Benwick’s recent Washington Post article Why did the food media ignore the best-selling cookbook of 2018? certainly grabbed our attention. I was surprised to learn that I had never even heard of last year’s top-selling cookbook, Magnolia Table by Joanna Gaines. Bonnie’s article examines this cookbook in light of its runaway success while asking questions about what really drives cookbook sales and media coverage. Bonnie is the Deputy Food Editor and Recipe Editor at the Washington Post, where she writes the weekly Dinner in Minutes column.
Make the Grapefruit Rosemary Shurb
Learn more about Raft Wines at raftwines.com
Follow Jennifer Reichardt on Instagram @duckdaughterjj
Bonnie Benwick on Instagram @bbenwick
Bonnie Benwick on Twitter @bonniebenwick
Joy: I’m your host, Joy Manning, and this is Edible Potluck, a podcast that gives food lovers a taste of Edible Communities magazines.
Joy: Today, we’re visiting California wine country for a talk with Jennifer Reichardt of Raft Wine. Then, we’re headed to DC to talk to Bonnie Benwick, deputy food editor and recipe editor at The Washington Post. We’ll have a conversation about last year’s surprising bestselling cookbook.
Recipe: Grapefruit Rosemary Shrub
Joy: But before that, let’s have a drink, why don’t we? These days, I am all about the shrub. If you’ve never heard of a shrub, it’s a traditional vinegar syrup and it’s typically made by combining one part fruit to one part vinegar to one part sugar.
Joy: Edible San Diego published a handful of recipe for shrubs, including one I mixed up right after I read it, grapefruit rosemary shrub. To make it, first you’ll peel the zest from a grapefruit and remove and discard the white pith. You don’t want that. You combine the zest with one cup of sugar, mashing it up with a wooden spoon or a potato masher to release the fragrant oils in the zest. Then you add the flesh of the grapefruit, you cover the container, and you refrigerate for 24 hours, at least overnight. After that, you strain out the syrup and you mix it with one cup apple cider vinegar and a sprig of rosemary. I also like to add a little pinch of salt to my shrubs. That’s not in the recipe, but I feel like it gives them a more complex flavor. You use it or follow the recipe.
Joy: So, you let it sit another 24 hours for flavor to really develop, and then it’s ready to go. This particular shrub is really complex because of the bitterness of the grapefruit peel and the aromatic herbal notes from the rosemary really give it something special. I like it just mixed with plain old sparkling water or atomic water. It’s also a bartender’s friend if you’re trying to do something like a craft cocktail at home without breaking out too many ingredients. As always, I’ll share the link for this recipe at ediblecommunities.com/podcast so you can mix it up for yourself.
Wine with Jennifer Reichardt
Joy: After growing up in the food business in northern California, Jennifer Reichardt decided to branch out, becoming a winemaker and starting her own label, Raft Wines. Though she’s only been in the wine business since 2016, her food-friendly bottles are earning high praise, including in the pages of Edible San Francisco, which is how I was first introduced to her. Today, she’s here to tell us more about her journey into the wine world. Welcome, Jennifer. Thank you for joining us.
Jennifer: Thanks for having me.
Joy: So you grew up in a family food business raising ducks for Bay Area restaurants. How did that impact the kind of work you wanted to do with your life?
Jennifer: I grew up always in and around food and wine, and so while I didn’t realize from the very beginning that that was what my path was going to be, it just was sort of natural to always be around it and to think about it and to talk about it. We always had dinner together as a family, and I always knew from a very young age that I wasn’t going to be working an office job, that I wanted to be doing and making and be outside and not just be sitting at a computer all day. I think that one-
Joy: Were you outside with the ducks a lot? Is that an outdoor business?
Jennifer: Well, the ducks are in open air barns in West Petaluma, so they’re definitely outside, but it was more just that my dad and my mom, they were at the duck farm. They were driving deliveries around. They were at the restaurants. It was kind of dynamic. The day to day was never the same, and that’s something that I really grasped onto. I knew that whatever I was going to end up doing, it was gonna be something where you never know what the day is going to bring, and then the wine just fell into place with all of that.
Joy: So how did you get interested in making wine?
Jennifer: I always was around wineries. We always did events in wineries. We would cook duck and share it with wineries with their wine club members or for educational experiences, but it wasn’t until 2011 that I actually jumped into the wine on a slower basis. I worked my first harvest in 2011 and then after that, kept going back and forth between working at the duck farm and then working in the wine industry and then getting my sommelier exam done and then working back at the duck farm and back in the wine internship. So it was always back and forth until 2016, and then I launched Raft in 2016, and now I just split my time between Liberty Ducks and Raft Wines.
Joy: I’ve got two questions about that.
Joy: I’m not a wine expert. When you said when you work the harvest, what does that mean? Are you picking the grapes?
Jennifer: I have picked the grapes in the past. Most harvest internships are more in the cellar or in the lab, so sampling the fermenting tanks or working on the fermenting tanks, so the pump overs and punch down during primary fermentation and then barreling down once primary fermentation is over, and then all my wine internships involved some vineyard aspect as well, whether it was dropping fruit for quality or sampling the sugar levels, the brix to determine ripeness. So, each one was a little bit different, but not as many picking grapes. I’m not a very fast picker.
Joy: So you were mostly learning the nuts and bolts of making wine and a little bit of the science behind making wine in those jobs.
Joy: Gotcha. My other question was, you mentioned the som exam. Were you studying to be a sommelier, like you find in a restaurant?
Jennifer: Yeah. In between my first and my second wine harvest internships and then my third and my fourth, I did my level one and then level two sommelier exams through the Court of Master Sommeliers. I didn’t know if I wanted to be on the restaurant or sales side or on the production side, and so I took the time to really work through both of them and ultimately decided that production was where I wanted to be.
Joy: Did you learn things in those courses that have made you a better winemaker-
Joy: … or contribute to your wine making?
Jennifer: Yeah. I love working harvest ’cause you need to to get that hands on experience. I don’t have a degree in it. My degree is in sociology, so I always joke that I’m making wine for the people who need to know what the people would want. But without that hands on nuts and bolts learning, it would be hard to do what I do now.
Jennifer: But on the flip side, I can’t work a harvest in every country and around the world, and I want to know about all those wines, so taking those exams really opened my mind up to all the different styles of wine and saying, “Hey, they’re doing something really cool over there. Let’s apply that to these grapes that I can get in California and see if it works.”
Joy: Now, to your joke about making wine for the people, I have read that one of your goals is to make really great quality wine at a more affordable price point. Why is that important to you and how do you pull it off?
Jennifer: I think that in California especially, sometimes we can lose sight that wine is and can be a grocery item. You go to Italy and Spain and France and it’s on the table of most often dinner and sometimes even lunch, and it’s just part of the daily culture.
Jennifer: I don’t think that it needs to be like that. I think it should be like that in California. I think we’ve come to a point where a lot of wines are really expensive and hard for people to afford, and I work for some amazing producers and I love their wines, but even I can’t afford them. So my peers were like, “This is great, Jen. We’d love to support you, but we can’t buy those bottles, or we can only buy one and we’re gonna save it for a special occasion.”
Jennifer: I really wanted to make wine that my friends could afford, that I could afford, that my family friends could afford and not feel like they were breaking the bank. So it’s not as easy to do I think in California with the land prices the way that they are. I don’t own any vineyards myself, so I didn’t have the generational help that a lot of producers maybe in France or Italy might have. It’s been passed on and passed on so that land cost isn’t as big of a thing, but just trying to find grapes from maybe a little more unknown Appalachians and unknown varieties to make some good wine.
Joy: Can you give us a ballpark idea of what is an affordable price for a bottle in your mind?
Jennifer: I’m shooting for that 20 to $30 price point. All my wines but one are within that range, and then I have one that’s 35 that’s maybe a little bit more special occasion, but I feel like when me and my fiance are at home, we feel comfortable opening a 20, $25 bottle for a night. We might have a glass out of it that night and then save the rest of the bottle for the next night. I think you can find really decent bottles for $15, even. I think there’s a range depending on what you’re eating and who you’re with, but that greater 15 to $25, I’m pretty comfortable on a Tuesday night, if you will.
Joy: I’m just curious because when we talk about things being expensive or affordable, it really depends sometimes on the person. You said you’re a winemaker, you have a wine label, but you don’t have a vineyard. So where do you get your grapes?
Jennifer: I source fruit from vineyards all over California, which is really fun. I’m born and raised in California. My family is fifth generation Californian on my dad’s side, so I feel very attached to this state.
Jennifer: So I source fruit from all the way down near Yosemite on the southern border and then all the way up to Mendocino County and then as far east as El Dorado, so the Sierra Foothills, and then I have a couple in Sonoma County, as well. So, really hitting a lot of different areas. Oh, and Butte County, too, from vineyards out there too, so even more north.
Jennifer: So it’s fun to see the state in a different way and to travel through the heartland of California to get to some of these vineyards. I get to see a lot of how people live and where people are living and what people are doing, and that’s pretty exciting for me.
Joy: How did you name your label Raft Wine? Raft, what does that mean to you?
Jennifer: A raft is actually a community of waterfowl-like ducks. So, if you see a bunch of ducks or geese or any water bird in a pond, it’s called a raft of ducks. So it was really exciting to me to find something that was both meaningful to my history and my family, but also that was new and fresh. I also like to say that my community has kept me afloat, like a raft, and has led me to this point in my life. Even more fun, my brother is a white water rafting guide, so there are multiple meanings to the word, which makes it pretty special.
Joy: Layers of meaning. I love that. That’s such a nice nod to your family. Speaking of community, I was really intrigued and inspired to see that you’re involved with this project called Rebuild Wine Country.
Jennifer: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Joy: Can you tell me a little bit more about that? What is that project all about?
Jennifer: Yeah. So Rebuild Wine Country came up in direct relation to the Sonoma County and Napa County fires that happened in 2017. A friend of mine, Chris Streeter, is the owner of Senses Wines and he called me and he also grew up in Sonoma County, and he’s like, “What do we do?”
Jennifer: Basically at that point, the fires were nowhere near containment and it was only a couple days in and both of us, luckily, our families and our projects were both spared by the fires, and so you’re just sitting here watching your friends’ homes burn down, feeling really helpless.
Jennifer: So he and his team really quickly banded together and started this project. He wrote to me at the beginning and helped them spread the word. Basically, they partnered with Habitat for Humanity and they’re helping to raise money to rebuild the homes that were lost in Sonoma, Napa, Mendocino, and Solano Counties in those 2017 fires, which is pretty important.
Jennifer: I think we’ve lost a lot of people who have lived here because they just don’t have anywhere to go and their homes haven’t been rebuilt yet and maybe they don’t have the means or the insurance to rebuild them. So, they were trying to find an avenue to help those people out.
Joy: Is that a project that we could link to so people could perhaps make a donation or get involved if they wanted to?
Jennifer: Yeah, absolutely. The website is Rebuild Wine Country, and I would also say to link up with Habitat for Humanity ’cause I think even beyond Sonoma County or beyond Napa County, they’re doing really good work. We see natural disasters happening everywhere right now and they seem to be getting worse and worse, so being involved at a local level with your local Habitat for Humanity is really important right now.
Joy: That’s a good point and a good way to get involved no matter where you are.
Joy: So as I mentioned when I welcomed you to the show, I read about your wines in Edible San Francisco. Specifically, your 2017 Syrah was called out as a favorite of the editors there. So can you just tell me a little bit about what makes that wine special?
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There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground, And swallows circling with their shimmering sound; And frogs in the pools singing at night, And wild plum-trees in tremulous white; Robins will wear their feathery fire Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire; And not one will know of the war, not one Will care at last when it is done. Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree If mankind perished utterly; And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn, Would scarcely know that we were gone. — There Will Come Soft Rains by Sara Tisdale. This poem was first published in the July 1918 issue of Harper’s Magazine and speaks to the natural world reclaiming a battlefield. We thought it paired nicely with the 2017 Raft Syrah, Weed Farms, because this vineyard shares the land with Grape Creek, a tributary of Dry Creek, which feeds into the Russian River. In recent years, endangered coho salmon have returned (or maybe reclaimed is a better description?) to Grape Creek, using it as safe passage for spawning. #raftwines are produced by @duckdaughterjj #syrah #cohosalmon #grapecreek #drycreekvalley #sonoma #healdsburg #redwine #redwine #russianrivervalley #sonomacounty
Jennifer: Yeah. The 2017 Syrah, it’s from Weed Farms, so the proprietor, Sally Weed, it’s her vineyard. There’s a few things special about the wines. One, when I started Raft Wines, those were the first grapes that came onboard. I’ve known Sally for many years and she always said when I was ready to let her know, and hopefully she would have some grapes available and she definitely did in 2017. So it has a special place in my heart for that.
Jennifer: On the other side, she farms it very, very, very sustainably. It’s kind of the coolest part about the whole wine is she has coho salmon that run along the creek in the vineyard, and coho salmon are very endangered in California, and so it’s rare to see them at all, and they actually spawned in this creek, which is incredible. So anything that happens in the vineyard has to positively affect the creek, so therefore it only gets pruned and it gets mowed, but there’s no spraying on the ground, there’s no spraying on the vine. Even if you farm organically, you’re still allowed to spray things in the vineyard and there’s nothing, so I think it’s the most honest expression of terroir there is because it’s just the grapes. There’s nothing else. I craft it in a way to really highlight all of that.
Joy: That’s still priced in the $20 to $30 range?
Jennifer: Yep, 27.
Joy: That’s really inspiring.
Joy: I love that story. Is it a good food pairing for salmon?
Jennifer: It’s a little heavy for salmon. Syrah in general, it’s a darker red wine. It’s not as heavy. It’s not as tannic as Cabernet, but I like to pair it with gamier meats, so duck actually works really well or-
Jennifer: Yeah, or lamb. Both of those will work pretty well with it.
Joy: Well, that’s a good tip.
Joy: Thank you so much for joining us today.
Jennifer: Thank you for having me.
Cookbooks with Bonnie Benwick
Joy: We love cookbooks at Edible Communities, so Bonnie Benwick’s recent Washington Post article, Why Did the Food Media Ignore the Bestselling Cookbook of 2018, certainly grabbed our attention. I was surprised to learn that I’d never even heard of last year’s top selling cookbook, Magnolia Table by Joanna Gaines. Bonnie’s article examines this cookbook in light of its runaway success while asking questions about what really drives cookbook sales and media coverage.
Joy: Bonnie is the deputy food editor and recipe editor at The Washington Post and she’s here to tell us more. Welcome to Edible Potluck, Bonnie. Thank you for joining us.
Bonnie: Hi there.
Joy: First, I have to tell you, I was completely riveted by this article and so was our editor-in-chief at Edible Communities, Molly Watson. We were pinging each other as soon as we read it and we knew we wanted to get you on the podcast to talk about it.
Bonnie: Well, thank you.
Joy: I think what really got us was this feeling that we were clueless about our own industry. I sense that you also were surprised by what you learned. So, I just was wondering, how did you first learn that it was Magnolia Table that was the year’s best selling cookbook, and what was your reaction?
Bonnie: Well, I’m not necessarily an investigative reporter or anything. It didn’t take too much digging, but as I said in the article, when the end of the year lists come out and everybody has gone over what their top cookbooks are, it’s typically the people who get a lot of media coverage, they get on television, on The Today Show, they get covered by the large newspapers across the country. Upfront of course, Magnolia Table had been covered by the food magazines, like, “Here’s a couple recipes from this new cookbook by this very popular sensation, Joanna Gaines.”
Bonnie: It had sat on my desk, to tell you the truth. It came out last April, which is typically a little bit of a downtime. It’s right after a big crush of spring cookbooks, and so it had time to build sales from April up through the typical fall holiday cookbook season, so it had a big running start.
Bonnie: I don’t even know if that was part of their strategy, but they also had another cookbook, the publisher, Harper Collins, had another book by Joanna Gaines coming out, a design book that was gonna get for the holidays. So, I guess they were figuring … This is my conjecture, not confirmed … That the two of those books together would make a nice gift for somebody. So it picked up sales there, too.
Bonnie: Then I went to a site called Eat Your Books, which chronicles things. After the first of the year, people start figuring out what books really sold and where they sold. They’re kind of a champion of independent cookbook sellers, and this cookbook didn’t appear on any of the independent cookbook sellers lists. Nobody walked into an independent Kitchen Arts and Letters and wanted to buy this book. They were not even really aware of it, either, which is kind of surprising ’cause you figure the store would know all cookbooks that came out, whether or not they chose to carry them, right?
Joy: Right. I think a lot of us were just not aware of this. Were you familiar with Chip and Joanna Gaines and their whole HGTV show and everything before this book crossed your desk?
Bonnie: Yeah, and I knew who they were. I know that celebrities write cookbooks and I know that they get people to help them write cookbooks. Like I said, it had sat on my desk for a couple of months. I think I looked through it. This is what I tried to own up to in the article.
Bonnie: I tried to assess for The Washington Post readers. My end of the year list is usually longer than a lot of people’s. I don’t adhere to a top 10. I feel the mood from year to year, so it might have 15 books on it. It might have 21 books on it. These are books that I feel like offer something fresh and new and different, or it could be some sort of tweak or twist on traditional recipes or just really well done. What I saw when I looked through their book was I saw guacamole and I saw chili and I saw biscuits. They were pretty standard recipes. They didn’t have a lot of twist to them.
Bonnie: Once I saw that they had sold as many as they had sold, I went to Publishers Weekly. I contacted the publisher right away and just said, “Hey, I’m kind of interested if you’d tell me what the sales are.” Publishers are these days a little hesitant I would say, and I’m underselling that, to release what their sales figures are. Unless it’s a runaway great hit like Salt Fat Acid Heat was in 2017, and that sold over 300000 copies, but that’s been two years worth.
Bonnie: They don’t really want to tell you exactly what it is. I did notice in the ISBN numbers for Magnolia Table that they had applied for a copy to be included in the Library of Congress, which is basically what that number boils down to. They’d also done separate editions with separate ISBN numbers they’d applied specifically for Costco, for Walmart, for Target. Those were not editions that looked any different but some of them were signed editions, sort of like stamped signed, so that was clear to me where they were selling their book as well as on Amazon and online where it went crazy.
Joy: Now, you said that you were surprised that it was the top selling book of the year. So, before you learned this, what were you expecting to see at the top of the sales pile? Not the best or your favorite, but what would you have guessed was the top selling cookbook?
Bonnie: I think I might have said the Chrissy Teigen book, her sequel, Hungry for More, or Ina Garten. Every two years she comes out with a cookbook and they all do very, very well. I say this in the most generous and well-meaning possible light. She’s a machine. She’s got it down. Her recipes work. She’s got a system. She knows what she wants to do. They have a theme.
Bonnie: Her recipes are accessible. They’re tested dozens of times. People like that. So, I would’ve thought that that would’ve been it, and I was thinking it would be something in the 150000 range.
Joy: Where this was up over a million, right? Over a million copies sold?
Bonnie: Yeah. The publisher told me they had over two million books in print now. As of November, it was almost 1.4 million.
Joy: That’s kind of shocking. Another thing that I took away from your article was an openness to Chrissy Teigen’s book. I had resisted it on the basis of it being a celebrity cookbook. Isn’t her original claim to fame that she’s a model or something? I don’t know. I just had sort of written it off, but you liked it.
Joy: So, I’m actually teaching a food writing class right now at my own local independent bookstore. They don’t specialize in cookbooks, but they are an independent store. I was surprised to see they did have Magnolia Table in stock but they did not have Chrissy Teigen’s first book.
Bonnie: Oh, interesting, interesting.
Joy: When I asked the owner about it, he was like, “What? My wife loves Joanna Gaines,” which I guess explains the whole thing. People are just into her brand.
Bonnie: There’s no question that if you have a face that’s been on television, you get an automatic audience.
Bonnie: You can look at the Pioneer Woman, for example.
Bonnie: But Chrissy Teigen’s book, I mean, there are a couple things going for it for me. One is, the recipe developer … What’s the really good term for … It’s better than a recipe whisperer. I don’t mean to diminish the position at all, but-
Bonnie: But Adeena Sussman, she’s a cookbook author in her own right. To me, she’s the equivalent of that backup singer who was in 20 Feet from Stardom. She could go out on the road at any minute, but she’s chosen to spend a lot of her career consulting and working on other people’s cookbooks, and now she’s doing more of her own, of course, but she moved in to Chrissy Teigen’s house. Chrissy Teigen has struck me … I knew a little bit about her from her show on television, not just that she was a model, but that Lip Sync Battle thing.
Joy: Clearly I need to watch more television because I am out of the loop.
Bonnie: She has a huge Twitter following. I think that really did a lot. She talks about food on Twitter a lot and about what she wants to eat. Sure, she’s gorgeous and seems to have a perfect life, but she also admits to flaws and shortcomings and makes her seem all the more human for it. She just seems pretty genuine to me. I don’t begrudge it, but she cooks. She has a mother in the kitchen who cooks with her.
Bonnie: Adeena came and lived with her for weeks at a time. They went through the whole book over and over again. Adeena told me off the record for this, ’cause I interviewed her for this piece because I couldn’t interview the woman who worked on the recipes with Joanna for Joanna’s book, just sort of a feel of what it’s like, how involved, what kind of power you have in terms of negotiating, “This is a good thing for the book,” and, “This isn’t a good thing for the book,” stuff like that.
Joy: So that brings me to something. Here’s a question you probably don’t know the answer to, but I’m just wondering what you think. Why wouldn’t Joanna Gaines want to talk to you about her book for this article in The Washington Post? I couldn’t imagine. What do you think?
Bonnie: I think she felt like she didn’t need to.
Joy: I guess when you’ve already sold over a million books.
Bonnie: Yeah. Did she need my publicity? Probably not. But maybe she just wanted to move on. One of the things that I’ve found, you were struck by some things you’ve said, but one of the things that I found most interesting was that this book was pretty much done, or definitely in production mode before the restaurant opened.
Bonnie: It’s supposed to be Magnolia Table, the restaurant. There are these little stamps in the bottom of a couple of pages of recipes. I’d say maybe 10, 15% of the book say, “From the kitchen of Magnolia Table,” but as far as I know, that kitchen was being built.
Joy: Not open yet. Right.
Bonnie: Yeah. These are recipes. She makes no bones of the fact that we don’t even discuss the amounts of salt or butter.
Joy: Right, yeah.
Bonnie: To me, it also seemed, and that was one of the reasons why I kept looking at these recipes, like an amazing amount of stuff, and without any kind of acknowledgement that maybe this an indulgence that you should have every now and then.
Joy: I loved in the article, you wrote, it was, “Heyday Paula Deen amounts of butter.”
Joy: I definitely want to talk about the recipes. You mentioned that your team tested 20 recipes from the book, which is way more than you would typically do. So I guess I’m wondering, can you give us an idea of how many recipes from a book you might test typically for coverage and why you wanted to test so many more for this one?
Bonnie: If it’s a cookbook that I’m gonna feature for more than consideration in the end of the year list, I’ll probably test about five. There are a couple things I’ve learned. I’ve been working at The Post for a long time, but I’ve been in the food section for about 15 years. I love cookbooks like you do. I love them. They’re on my bedside table. All the jokes about, “That’s my reading material at night,” it is because I look at them for more than the recipes. But I also feel like I can read a recipe now that I’ve learned to read it and figure out whether or not it’s a good one.
Bonnie: So partially, it’s based on what I’ve seen before, whether or not they’re doing something different with it, whether or not it seems like it’s clear in many aspects. I’m looking at these recipes and I see, for example, that the biscuit recipe calls for three sticks of butter. I mean, I know that you can make biscuits with no butter, and they turn out really nicely. It just seemed like a lot. So it almost seemed like I had to make them. I took a picture for the article I guess, and I can show you, these are all the Post-It notes that I-
Bonnie: … had in the book, ’cause I just wanted to make sure I gave it a fair shot. I admit to coming in skeptical pretty hard, and so I wanted to give it a fair shot. I wanted to make sure that what I was testing, and really I would say the majority of the recipes that we all tested, and it was me, our volunteer testers, and then if they had some sort of minor episode, I would retest what they did just to see if I could create what they did.
Bonnie: I still stand by not putting it on the list, although it’s a very popular book, because I just didn’t think there was a whole lot of stuff that was so great, not like the people on Instagram that I interviewed who are very defensive and very positive about this cookbook.
Joy: Well, you did choose one recipe to include with this story, the chicken tenders wild rice casserole. How did you choose that of all the ones that you tested?
Bonnie: Seriously, it hurt my soul just a little bit, just a little bit.
Joy: To include it?
Bonnie: Yeah, because the tasters, and this was food staff plus other people who come into the food lab for various reasons during the day, I didn’t tell them a whole lot about it but I had it there and just said … After we shoot the food, photograph the food in the lab, we don’t do anything to it that means you can’t eat it. We don’t put mineral oil on it or anything.
Bonnie: So people come by and they taste what it is. People were eating it and they liked it. I had busted it up into portions so they didn’t really see what the casserole itself looked like, which I didn’t think was really all that appetizing.
Joy: You guys really make food look appetizing in the photos generally speaking.
Bonnie: Oh, thank you.
Joy: I don’t think this casserole looked very tasty. I broke my rule of never reading the comments to read what Washington Post readers thought, and I don’t think they thought it looked very appetizing either.
Bonnie: No, they didn’t. We did not go out of our way to make these things look any better than they should. When it came out of the oven, that’s what it looked like. Tasters in the lab said it reminded them of stuff their mother made. When they asked what was in it, I told them and they put their fork down.
Joy: For listeners who maybe haven’t seen this recipe yet, it’s basically like Uncle Ben’s wild rice mixed with cream of something soup and then two pounds of chicken tenders just draped on top and then baked for kind of a long time.
Bonnie: With butter.
Joy: Oh, of course.
Bonnie: With more butter brushed on top of the chicken tenders.
Joy: Oh, and the bacon. It has bacon in the bottom, right?
Bonnie: That’s the thing about it. If I had been testing that recipe and I wanted to put it forth for Post readers, I would have crisped up that bacon and then put it on the bottom. It wouldn’t stay crispy, but it would’ve rendered fat before I put it in. They used uncooked bacon to line the bottom and the sides of the pan.
Joy: So weird.
Bonnie: Yeah, and so there was so much rendered fat that the tester told me she had to pour it off, and when she put it back in and then put the thing with the butter on top, it was spattering all over her oven.
Joy: Yeah, and this was not an isolated incident with the spattering in terms of your testing.
Bonnie: No. No, there was multiple spattering, ’cause this book has a lot of butter in it, salted butter too.
Joy: So interesting. Well, has this whole experience changed the way that you assess cookbooks as they come across your desk? Do you feel like it’s changed your perspective?
Bonnie: I feel like there’s a dual conversation going on with cookbooks. I have to say, even though we do this end of the year list at the Post, for many years I would do cookbook reviews. Other people would do freelance cookbook reviews for us, and then Joe Yonan, the food and dining editor just said, “You know, they don’t really get a lot of traffic and maybe we should put our efforts in other things.” So we just stopped doing them. We didn’t get one person, not one, who wrote in and said, “Hey, what happened to all those reviews?”
Bonnie: So, the end of the year reviews or whether they were gonna give them away really seemed to be all that people needed, which made me wonder where were they getting their information about cookbooks. I asked people on Facebook and on Twitter and they said, “Oh, well, we read Amazon reviews and we get word of mouth from our friends,” and I’m thinking, “Well, you don’t even know who’s writing the Amazon reviews.” So I don’t know how the food media covers cookbooks makes people buy more cookbooks than they would’ve bought anyway. Does that make sense?
Joy: It does. I couldn’t help but think that there’s just multiple segments of the audience that we’re all writing for. Magnolia Table cookbook fans might not necessarily be Edible Communities fans, for example. I think our audience is really into the farmers market and local food, but at the same time, it is one big readership. Clearly, its success means something. I’m not exactly sure what it means but I’m gonna continue to think about it.
Bonnie: Well, I would say that these recipes are somewhat analogous to everything that you can find on AllRecipes.com except you just don’t get the reader comments. So, maybe this is a constituency that likes having a nice book on the shelf. These are people who really trust Joanna and Chip Gaines’ level of taste and they appreciate that kind of cooking that uses … Remember Sandra Lee and Semi-Homemade?
Joy: Yep, I sure do.
Bonnie: Yeah. It’s convenience cooking for a reason. My mother, I did it. I was raised on this casserole. I love tuna casserole. I’m not a non-casserole person, but I think we’ve learned over the years to make it a little healthier. Maybe you can make your own bechamel sauce or something like that.
Joy: Right, right.
Bonnie: Not everybody has the time and not everybody wants to feel guilty about food and not everybody wants to pay what maybe we ought to really be paying for farmers market ingredients and things.
Joy: True, true.
Bonnie: I think the bottom line is for me, the difference is people who like this kind of cooking don’t really rely on people like me at The Washington Post to give them a recipe like that. They can find it lots of places.
Bonnie: What I try to do is try to find recipes that are approachable but maybe offer something a little different or easier than what’s in the book.
Joy: Yeah. Well, this was definitely a perspective that I was not considering, so I really appreciate you bringing it to my attention.
Bonnie: Thank you.
Joy: I feel like it gives me a wider sense of our food culture. So, thank you for that and your tremendously interesting article.
Bonnie: Thank you. Thanks very much.
Joy: That was Bonnie Benwick, deputy food editor and recipe editor at The Washington Post, where she writes the weekly Dinner in Minutes column. We’ll link to her article, Why Did the Food Media Ignore the Bestselling Cookbook of 2018, in the show notes for today’s episode. Follow her on Instagram @bbenwick and Twitter @bonniebenwick.
Joy: Thank you for joining us today on Edible Potluck. Our podcast producer is David Wolf. If you liked this episode, please subscribe on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. Please take a moment to leave us a rating or a review. You know it helps other listeners find the podcast.
Joy: Don’t forget to pick up a copy of your own local Edible Magazine. If you don’t know where to get one, find out at EdibleCommunities.com. You can find links to everything we talked about today in the show notes for this episode at EdibleCommunities.com/podcast. Until next time, remember, eat local.