Julia: You have a lot of experience in kitchens, how did you become an editor ad Bon Appetit?
Alison: I was a pastry chef in Los Angeles and San Francisco for about seven years before I started at Bon Appetit. I moved to New York five years ago to transition from working in restaurants to publishing, but ended up working for Milk Bar at Momofuku. I was there for about a year and a half when I started to refocus on why I moved here in the first place. Through a friend, I met the old editor of BA; I freelanced for about a year before they hired me full time, and now I’m never leaving (sorry guys)!
JS: Was it a seamless transition to make, from chef to food writer? How did you develop your voice, or did it come naturally?
AR: I tend to write how I speak, and I talk a lot, so writing did come naturally. Ironically, I don’t consider myself a food writer, mostly because the food writers I know are really talented writers with a focus on food; I focus on food and sometimes write about it. I am still developing my recipe writing style. The line tends to blur between a publication with a strong, consistent voice and its writing staff. When I write for others, I have to shake that off and loosen up a bit.
JS: What is the process of developing a recipe? How many times do you make a single dish, how many people have to approve that dish before it is published? Is there a dish you loved but was ultimately vetoed?
AR: The process varies by story. If the recipe is my concept, I have a good sense of how it will look and taste. I cook it through once, make any necessary tweaks or adjustments, then share with our food and executive editors and we discuss how the recipe fits into the issue. Is the recipe compatible with the other dishes in the story; consistent with the with the editorial message; taste good; look good? Can it be improved? Do the ingredients overlap, are they accessible? If the process were as simple as “does it taste good?” then our jobs would be a lot easier!
There are dozens of dishes I loved that haven’t made it to issue. Dishes are cut from stories if we developed more than can be used, if the story undergoes a redesign, if the photos are not as strong. But if the dish is really memorable, we will try bring it back: another story, another time!
JS: Take me through a day at the magazine – is your time split between the desk and kitchen?
AR: Every day is different! Some days I am in my office the whole tome, some totally in the kitchen, but mostly a mix of both, which is part of the appeal of course! Thankfully there are a lot of stairs to climb between the kitchen and office, because I really do eat a lot at work.
JS: You have made a lot of salad recipes for BA, is salad one of your specialties?
AR: When given the option to make a salad, I take it every time. Salads are more challenging and interesting and new – nowadays the definition is much looser.
JS: Do you have recipes or dishes you always return to?
AR: I go through phases where I will eat some variation of the same dish over and over. Right now it’s chickpeas with greens and yogurt. I think there is nothing better than really spicy arugula dressed with a squeeze of lemon and olive oil with crunchy salt. I could eat that every day, forever with everything. That, and radishes with butter.
JS: You are so lucky to get to travel for some BA stories, what are some of the best food related trips you have gone on recently?
AR: Last year, I went to Norway to visit sustainable salmon hatcheries and to learn about cod. The team traveled to a tiny island four hours north of Oslo – we had to take two planes and ferry to get there! An incredible couple who lived on the island made us breakfast, lunch and dinner every day. They smoked their own hams, milked their own cows; every meal featured raw, smoked, poached salmon and salt cod. It was incredible. That island was the most beautiful place with the best air and nicest people, I think about it all the time.
JS: Are people intimidated to cook for you since you work at the most well-respected food magazine developing and perfecting recipes? I was nervous to cook with you for the first time, but you were so easy going and uncritical. Were you just being nice?
AR: Ha! I happen to be fortunate that most of my friends and family are great cooks with adventurous palates and excellent taste. It is so easy for my to enjoy their food because, well, it’s really good!
JS: You are coming out with a Short Stack book on lemons, did you choose this topic? Was it challenging to put together your own cookbook?
AR: I chose it. Lemons are my desert island ingredient.
The biggest challenge of working on this book was to lose the security blanket of BA- I work with such amazing editors and creative people on a daily basis that ultimately make me better at my job, so it was hard not having them to go running to (but Nick and Kaitlyn at Short Stack were more than helpful and supportive, so I was in good hands). It’s also just totally nerve-wracking and scary, right? Like, “Hi world! Here’s this thing I made I hope it’s good and you all like it!”
JS: I read somewhere that you used to have a jam company. Is that true? What were the pleasures and trials of owning and operating a small Brooklyn-based artisinal food business?
AR: It is true! It was called Maiden Preserves. When I worked at Momofuku Milk Bar, we had a table at the Brooklyn Flea and Christina Tosi, who owns Milk Bar, generously allowed us to sell anything of our own concoction. My coworker Eva Scofield and I would stay after work to make marmalades and jams, handwrite tags, and package in Weck jars. It was very Brooklyn. The business felt so easy at first – we were selling at some spots in Brooklyn, got a bit of press – and we were just happy to break even. It was a blast, but ultimately it was not the right time for either of us to dedicate ourselves to a start-up. Eva and I still have a lot of jars.
JS: Do you get special treatment at restaurants if they know where you work? If so, we should stop cooking together and start eating out …
AR: Ha! Sometimes, but only where I’m a regular. I have a list of places to take you …