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Why the Editor's Letter is Really the Best Part of Any Magazine (Especially This One)

Plus, the 8 best cooking and entertaining tips I've learned from Bon Appetit's 'Editor's Letter.'

The first time I met Adam Rapoport, the Editor in Chief of Bon Appetit, was the evening he guest lectured at my graduate program four years ago. He walked up to the lectern, pulled two Bud Light Tall Boys out of his briefcase, then proceeded to open one and plunge the other into a bucket of ice he'd requested. He commanded the room of over-eager, straight-backed journalism students to "Relax!" before taking a sip and delivering one of the the most memorable lectures of the semester. The Bud Lights were his beverage of choice that summer, but also a message that we not take food (or him) too seriously.

Working in the tiny New York food writing world meant running into Adam tens of times after that lecture, each of which I remember with quotable clarity because of his larger-than-life personality and clear passion for food. If you've read one of his 'Editor's Letters' that kick off each issue of Bon Appetit, you know this personality and passion translates to his writing as well, making them so readable and relatable. In preparation for Thanksgiving, I spent a recent Sunday casually flipping through past issues of Bon Appetit for inspiration. But the parts I lingered over were Adam's Letters which, when pieced together, serve as a field guide for enjoying life through food. Here are some of my all-time favorite tips from Bon Appetit's 'Editor's Letter': 

1. Always have a few things on hand for an impromptu gathering. Like Adam's friends Torrey and Steven, I'm a huge fan of the casual "Just come on over!" hang. Unlike Adam's friends, I rarely have all the fixings for margaritas and an effortless, thrown-together meal on hand—but maybe I should. Adam writes, "Margarita fixings had assumed their rightful place on the kitchen counter... A big bowl spilling over with limes, lemons, and avocados sat on the dining room table. Yes, it was more decorative than anything, but its message was clear: This house is about a good time, and you are always welcome." October 2018

2. Don't always follow the recipe. Recipes and sheet music are about as close to alchemy as it gets. All you need to do is follow the words or notes on a page and bam, you have exactly the dish or music someone else created. Magic, right? But following too many recipes can mean you stop trusting yourself and your cooking instincts. When Adam stopped following a recipe to make pastas, he felt freed. "You just have to trust the technique. You have to cook with feel," he writes, which often results in more inventive, delicious dishes. September 2016

3. Carve out time for cocktail hour. Growing up, my mom would shout from her home office "Cocktail hour!" around 7 PM each night. Often, it didn't even involve any alcohol, but was just an indictor that it was time to go upstairs and gather on our back patio or in the kitchen to catch up about our days before she began cooking. In his Letter, Adam writes about his memories of cocktail hour at his parents home in East Chatham, "At the agreed upon time, my mom would pull a little orange wooden table from the porch to the patio. I'd fill a metal cooler with ice and a 12-pack. Snacks would be brought." He continues, "I realize it's at about this point in my letter I'm supposed to talk about food... But it was always that window before I threw anything on the grate that made me the happiest." June - July 2018

4. Embrace the new with the familiar. Thanksgiving is food media's Super Bowl, but it has the specific challenge of maintaining the familiar ("We know very well that if the issue doesn't feature stuffing and mashed potatoes and silky gravy—just like last year, and the year before that—we will hear about it"), while suggesting something readers won't feel bored by ("We try to reinvent what readers don't necessarily know they want reinvented). This year, I'll be taking inspiration by making the gold standards, but with unique touches—maybe dry-brining my turkey or adding a touch of spice to my cranberry sauce. November 2018

5. Aim for balance, not abstinence when it comes to food. I'm no stranger to fits of healthy eating (thanks, L.A. for putting the fear of sugar, gluten, and alcohol in me), but Adam provides the reminder that balance is key. When his friend wrote a piece on abstaining from after-work cocktails, he pointed out that the same friend had mixed a mean Manhattan for him just the other week. He writes of his contributors, "We’re not ascetic. Instead, we think about what we eat, and when and why we eat it. We indulge when the situation arises." December 2015

6. Go off-script for lasting memories. Last winter, severe weather caused a snow day in New York City, leaving Adam with an unexpected free day with his nine-year-old son. "In a city devoid of any real hills (no sledding!), I figured we'd do what we normally do—go eat," he wrote. It turns out, the only restaurant open was actually more of a bar ("Do you know who loves a bar? Kids."). He and his son schlepped to meet his brother there, where they spent the day playing hooky with Shirley Temples and bar food. He writes, "Now I'm not saying we should all take our kids to a bar... But why not go off script now and then?... The fact is, so often it's those unexpected food-and-drink moments that you will remember most." December 2017  

7. Sometimes, simple is best. "The worst meal I ever cooked should have been my best." How's that for a first line? As a student at cooking school, Adam spent two days preparing and cooking a "proper" French meal for his family. In the end the meal was a flop, "pretentious and devoid of any fun or flavor." Often, he concedes, the best meals are those with the fewest number of steps and ingredients. "If you shop smart, buying peak-season produce and quality protein, you don't have to do much at all," he writes. And I have to completely agree—some of my very favorite meals have fewer than five ingredients, like these Brown Butter Tomatoes. Side note: This is also the issue where their food editor recommends pouring a tiny bit of Amaro into a Budweiser for a perfect, refreshing summer cocktail. Favorite magazine tip, everSeptember 2017

8. Cooking like a pro means preparing ahead. When Adam's wife elected his then-assistant Amiel Staniek to help her cook a dinner for her girlfriends, he arrived on the scene with "a stack of plastic quart containers, each neatly labeled and portioned out." He then proceeded to expertly cook and prepare each dish, barely glancing at a recipe. The end result doesn't even need to involve "cooking," per se (one of the dishes he brought was raw carrots), but practicing mise en place will make you feel like a pro—and less stressed-out when cooking for friends, or even yourself. March 2016

I'd love to hear - do you have any Editor's Letter-worthy cooking tips? Share in the comments below!

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