The delectable aroma of herbs, spices, and Mexican cooking greeted M.S. in Publishing: Digital and Print Media students as they arrived at the test kitchens of Every Day with Rachael Ray for an industry visit. Naturally, at a food magazine, the test kitchen is key–and the perfect place to start our tour! Christine Guilfoyle, the magazine’s Group Publisher, who graciously set up the student visit, explained that a goal of Every Day with Rachael Ray is to help readers understand the everyday practices of good cooking. The magazine aims to simplify recipe preparation (generally no more than 12 ingredients) and to make sure that the eats and treats it features each month are not only delicious, but food the average reader can whip up in a relatively short amount of time. So, there were no fancy stoves or complicated equipment in the test kitchen. “Most people can’t afford a $25,000 stove, and some that can, don’t use it for cooking,” said Guilfoyle with a smile.
We were then introduced to Tracey Seaman, director of the test kitchen, who presides over multiple cooking areas where staffers and interns were busy testing recipes for the April issue. As the mixers hummed and sautéed vegetables sizzled, Seaman gave students information about the ins and outs of testing recipes at Every Day with Rachael Ray.
Recipes are provided by Rachael Ray herself, as well as chefs and freelancers. Nothing goes in the magazine without passing the sniff and taste tests in the magazine’s kitchen. Even pet recipes get put through the same rigorous tasting regime. All baked goods are made from scratch, and all featured recipes are original to the magazine as opposed to content shared by other Meredith Corporation publications such as Ladies’ Home Journal or Better Homes and Gardens.
Seaman noted that readers are passionate about sending emails and writing actual letters posing recipe questions or concerns. She is very diligent about helping readers with problems, and will even pick up the phone to discuss why a recipe did not work for them and what they might have done wrong. (Note to readers: always include a phone number and you may be hearing from Seaman!)
Next, Seaman and Guilfoyle shared some recipe trials. (After Guilfoyle’s chocolate lab chomped into the terrific brown butter pumpkin layer cake she had made from the November Thanksgiving issue, the nonplussed publisher cut off the offending piece and sliced up the rest for her children and their guests) as well as personal recipe success stories. (Guilfoyle highly recommends the “hot crock chocolate pudding” in the December issue!)
Students were full of questions, and one was about how many readers bring tablets into the kitchen. Guilfoyle responded that there is no specific data on the subject as of yet. Another question was about the amount of enhanced content available on the tablet version. Guilfoyle explained that readers are not overly interested in a slew of enhanced content, and she noted that “Cool isn’t always functional.”
Back in the magazine’s conference room, we met with the team charged with executing Every Day with Rachael Ray. In addition to Guilfoyle, we heard from Lauren Purcell (Editor-in-Chief), Jill Armus (Creative Director), and Dana Bowen (Executive Editor).
As we munched on some goodies, the staff shared insights into their backgrounds and their personal journeys getting to this unique food publication. They even learned new facts about each other. Purcell and Bowen both attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill at separate times. Purcell, an NYU Summer Publishing Institute alumna, majored in anthropology with aspirations of being a lawyer. She ended up pursuing journalism and even wrote a cookbook with her sister. “For me it was always about food,” said Bowen, who received a degree in English. She has worked at a number of publications and has even helped build websites for Dean & Deluca. Armus, who has a degree in drawing from Rutgers University, has worked at a number of publications, including ELLE, Teen PEOPLE, Real Simple, Entertainment Weekly, and Saveur. Guilfoyle, too, had law-school aspirations and wanted to be a public defender, a job she says has some overlap with her ad sales and publishing duties over the years: “Sales is like convincing a jury every day, she joked. Guilfoyle was the launch publisher of Rachael Ray, and returned to the magazine after a stint as publisher of More.
What came through loud and clear during our time with the Rachael Ray top team was an incredible passion for their jobs, for their unique brand, deep respect for the talents of Rachael Ray herself, love of media and optimism about its future. “The whole ‘print is dead’ idea is only relevant if you take it very literally. The business model will have to undergo change,” said Purcell. Guilfoyle added that “the advent of the tablet has saved the print business.” She made it clear that to do well in the magazine business, knowing your brand is key—and the editorial team nodded their heads in agreement. “We understand what the brand is, and Rachael trusts us to expand that brand for her,” said Purcell.
The conversation inevitably shifted to the relevance of social media. One student asked what social media platforms had helped to expand the brand. Purcell acknowledged that being on Facebook and Twitter is enormously important, but that Pinterest has been the most helpful tool to increase readership because the magazine relies heavily on beautiful food photography.
As the visit came to a close, the staff discussed some of the creative challenges associated at working a food magazine. “Comfort food is not always pretty,” joked Purcell about the trials of the photo and art department. “Some recipes are difficult to photograph, especially meat and brown items,” Armus explained, “but we do our best to make all recipes fun, exciting and vibrant.”
In my opinion, this event provided a great opportunity for students to hear from a lively group of magazine professionals and to hear their thoughts on how to keep a brand fresh and relevant—not to mention a great way to spend your days. Said Guilfoyle as we headed home: “It’s a fun, fun business to be in!”
by Alaisha Key