Bon Appetit is 50 years old, and Barbara Fairchild, the magazine’s editor in chief, is celebrating. She’ll be playing hostess this weekend at a splashy series of events called the Bon Appetit Culinary and Wine Focus Beverly Hills. There will be a rooftop dinner on Friday night at Raffles L’Ermitage hotel (Thomas Keller, Charlie Trotter, Todd English and Cat Cora each will cook a course); a grand tasting of dishes from 50 chefs including Lee Hefter, Sherry Yard, Govind Armstrong and Jean Francois Meteigner at the Beverly Hilton on Saturday night; plus wine and cheese tastings and a poolside cocktail party at the Avalon Hotel. You get the picture: a busy weekend.
But Fairchild seems even more excited about the imminent publication of “The Bon Appetit Cookbook,” the magazine’s first cookbook available in retail stores, and the first book that Fairchild, who has been at the magazine for 28 years, has ever authored.
She’s brought a copy along to lunch at Lucques, where we sit on the shady back patio (Lucques chef Suzanne Goin will be participating in the Saturday night grand tasting too.) She can’t wait to show me. “Isn’t it beautiful?” she says.
It doesn’t take Fairchild long to make up her mind about what to order as a starter: heirloom tomato salad with burrata. “I have to have that wherever I see it,” she says. Goin sends out a glorious one, with slices of red, purple, orange and green tomatoes. When I had asked Fairchild where she’d like to have lunch, she chose Lucques, not just because she loves Goin’s cooking, but because she loves the fact that women chefs and restaurateurs are so strong in L.A. “I think the West Coast really leads in that regard,” she says.
A young woman dining with her 4-year-old daughter leans over from the next table. “I’m sorry to bother you, but are you with Bon Appetit?” she asks. Something tells me this happens to Fairchild everywhere she goes. The woman introduces herself as a chef from Portland, Ore.; Bon Appetit, it turns out, will feature her restaurant in an upcoming issue.
The main course comes: striped bass with dancing demon plums. The unusual plums, with their deep, bright flavor and emerald color, gets Fairchild talking about ingredients. And about cooking. And about the magazine. About what America likes to eat and how that’s changed in the past 50 years. The magazine’s anniversary issue in October, a 244-page tome, takes a look back at that half century. As part of it, various chefs are featured with dishes that update the ideas of each decade from the 1950s to the present.
Goin, she tells me, will be interpreting the ‘90s, with a Moroccan spread called “It’s a Med Med Med Med World.” “The ‘90s were really about that area of the world,” says Fairchild, “and the latest stop is Morocco. The photos are gorgeous, she said modestly.”
What’s your favorite?
Fairchild has lived in Los Angeles since she was 8 years old, when her character-actor father moved the family out from New York. Well, she divides her time between L.A. and New York, where Bon Appetit has a satellite office at Conde Nast. Well, make that between L.A., New York and Washington, D.C. Her partner of 15 years, Paul Nagle, works for a consulting firm, BearingPoint, that’s based there. “We’re tri-coastal,” she says.
But she seems to be an L.A. girl at heart, so it’s no surprise that she has show business connections. Ah, here comes one now: It’s Ron Bernstein, taking his seat with two other diners at the table just to Fairchild’s right. Kisses ensue, then Bernstein, a literary agent at International Creative Management who handles film rights, brings up the cookbook and when it will be published.
She proudly hands him the copy she’s brought, and he starts flipping through it.
“Coconut tofu?” he says. “Baked grits with Parmesan and black pepper? Barbara, you’re not cooking for me, honey!”
“This is a big deal for Bon Appetit, right? I’m not eating peach grunt with caramel sauce!”
But Ron, baby, there are more than 1,200 recipes in the book beside those! They were culled from the staff’s favorite recipes from the past 50 years of the magazine -- the majority of Bon Appetit’s test kitchen staff, Fairchild says, has been at the magazine 20 years or more. And supplemented too, here and there, with new recipes where needed.
So what are readers most likely to turn to first? Desserts, if the magazine’s RSVP column, where readers write in requesting recipes from restaurants, is any indication. “We can’t run enough flourless chocolate cake,” says Fairchild. “And cheesecake. Any [type of] cheesecake has consistently been the favorite dessert of Bon Appetit readers for 50 years.” There are no fewer than 13 cheesecake recipes in the book.
But Fairchild has chosen, as one of her three favorite recipes (along with grilled steak salad with green beans and blue cheese, and spicy roast chicken breasts with tomatoes and marjoram), giant chocolate-toffee cookies. “They combine my two favorite flavors,” she says, “chocolate and caramel. And they’re big, so you can eat half one day and the other the next -- if you have the willpower.”
They are big. And rich. And gooey. And very Bon Appetit.