Bon Appetit's leading lady: Barbara Fairchild
From her first innovative experiments in the kitchen as a youngster to her longtime role as editor in chief of the magazine, it's been one sweet ride for the hard-working New York native.
Bon Appetit's editor in chief Barbara Fairchild visits the magazine's test kitchen in Los Angeles. (Ann Johansson / For The Times)
Like so many people, Fairchild can count on her family to remind her of her roots. One of her early specialties was a frankfurter pizza, something her sister always seems to reminisce about when they're at a table with the likes of Wolfgang Puck.
"As much of a foodie as she is and the high circles she runs in, she also is very much a food lover of all kinds," says Stephen Tao, an executive producer in TV and a decade-long friend.
He describes her as even-keeled, interested in movies and politics, passionate about food but not a snob. She likes the $1.50 hot dog and soda deal at Costco as well as haute cuisine.
And over three decades at Bon Appétit, as she became executive editor in 1985 and editor in chief in 2000, she has witnessed a revolution.
She was initiated in the days when new gadgets such as microwaves and food processors were getting attention, when recipes carried "asterisk after asterisk" telling adventurous readers to "go to this market, go to that neighborhood," Fairchild says. She recalls spending an entire Saturday making a Julia Child bread recipe, most of it gone in a flash.
The new dynamic
While some readers still want to spend Saturdays that way, they no longer have to spend all day searching for recipes and ingredients. The Internet has changed the way people approach shopping and deciding what and how to cook.
At bonappetit.com, for example, readers can take a short survey about their Thanksgiving plans and get menu suggestions, watch a slide show of appetizers to buy or, if they register, have access to a calendar of food holidays and events. But it's the magazine that remains the centerpiece, she says.
"Going through the pages of a magazine is still a very lush experience," says Fairchild, who enthusiastically leafs through the December issue a few days before it's out, pointing to features -- even ads -- she's proud of, like the Latino Hanukkah menu or a Christmas cookie layout "unlike any story you have seen anywhere."
In the magazine test kitchen, six editors sit around a set table, a routine that's repeated twice a day, three days a week. It's church-silent as they read recipes and taste from small white plates. Fairchild speaks first, praising the chicken and romesco sauce with Serrano ham cracklings. Everyone agrees, and the recipes are ready to go.
She's a single-minded booster for Bon Appétit, but it took more than that to get and keep one of the top jobs in the food world.
"I worked veeery hard," she says, drawing out the word. "And I have the ability to think about and worry about the magazine 24 hours a day."
Fairchild championed the back-page celebrity Q&A, in place since 1987, starting with Morgan Fairchild (no relation). There were plenty of skeptics, but she felt certain a convergence of the worlds of cuisine and Hollywood would last. After all, it worked for her.