Dawn Davis and the Revamping of Bon Appétit

The editor on updating a legacy brand, her love for New York, and how food affects almost everything

My guest on Food with Mark Bittman this week is the incredibly accomplished Dawn Davis, who is the relatively new editor-in-chief of Bon Appétit, which, as we know, has gone through some turmoil.

As you’ll hear during my interview with her, Davis began her career in international relations and worked as an investment banker before landing a scholarship for independent study in Nigeria. When she came back to the States, she moved to New York and began a career in publishing, working at a number of different companies before landing at Simon & Schuster, where she started her own imprint, 37 INK, with a focus on marginalized voices. Since then, Davis has published a number of highly successful books: Edward P. Jones’s Pulitzer-Prize winning The Known World, Chris Gardener’s The Pursuit of Happyness, Wil Haygood’s The Butler, and Issa Rae’s The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl. In 2019, Poets & Writers named Davis “Editor of the Year.”

Some excerpts from my chat with her — and the recipes featured from the episode — are below. Please listen, subscribe, and review! And remember to call us on 833-FOODPOD with all your food-related questions.

Thank you, as always. — Mark

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On the great city of New York:

“At the time that I was growing up, it never occurred to me that I could be a book publisher. But what I did know, after an early trip to New York, where I came with some friends from high school, we stayed at an aunt's house on the Upper West Side, we went to the Diana Ross concert, got rained on, got mugged on the subway, and I came back, and I was like, ‘I have to live in that city.’”

On reshaping the food narrative:

“I'm going to use skills that I've learned in terms of storytelling to show people how food is really connected to family, history, equity, access, farming, community. And we're doing that one issue at a time. And we're doing that in balance because our readers are here for the recipes, we can't change it 100 percent, but I can be additive.”

On some of the changes at Bon Appétit:

“I think we can be more inclusive, not only in terms of culture, which — the magazine, before I got there, had made the pivot; it’s focusing on diversity — but also on the kinds of people we consider chefs and food experts. I met this woman who's a fully trained chef, but she wants to work at a community kitchen. She works in a church kitchen, and her food is amazing.”


Mixed Vegetable Soup

Put a film of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat and add some chopped onion, some minced garlic, a few broccoli florets, a chopped carrot, and a chopped celery stalk; cook until everything begins to soften. Add a few tablespoons of tomato paste and cook, stirring almost constantly, for another minute or so. Add a couple of chopped tomatoes (canned are fine; use the liquid, too), about five cups of water or stock, and some freshly chopped oregano and thyme, with some salt and pepper; bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and add some fresh or frozen peas and a couple of cups of chopped greens, like chard or kale; continue cooking until the greens wilt. Try adding a spoonful of pesto or just really good olive oil right before serving, and serve with crusty bread.

— Recipe from Mark Bittman’s Kitchen Express

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Chicken in Spicy Basil-Coconut Sauce

Season chicken cutlets with half a teaspoon each of ground coriander, ground cinnamon, chili powder, and salt and sear them on both sides in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. Remove from the pan, add more oil if needed, and cook sliced red onion, three minced cloves of garlic, and two-seeded Thai chiles for about four minutes. (If you like more heat, don’t seed one or both of the chiles.) Return the chicken to the pan along with about a cup of coconut milk, a couple of dashes of fish sauce, and a few tablespoons of chopped basil. Cook until the coconut milk begins to bubble; reduce to a steady simmer and continue cooking until the chicken is done. Serve the chicken and sauce over rice with fresh lime wedges, garnished with more basil, or cilantro or mint (or all three).

— Recipe from Mark Bittman’s Kitchen Express

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