Journalist Q&A: Maile Carpenter, Food Network Magazine (Extended)

Maile Carpenter, editor-in-chief of Food Network Magazine, discusses finding success in a challenging marketplace, industry trends, and the day firemen came to dinner.

Name: Maile Carpenter
Title: Editor-in-chief
Outlet: Food Network Magazine
Preferred contact:

Maile Carpenter, editor-in-chief of Food Network Magazine, speaks to Danielle Drolet about finding success in a challenging marketplace, industry trends, and the day firemen came to dinner.

Food Network Magazine has been a bright spot in the print publishing industry. In its launch year, it passed the 1 million circulation mark a year ahead of schedule and currently has an average monthly circulation of 1.5 million. Why do you think that is?
We came out at a time when people really were cooking at home more. This was when the economy was tanking. Food is a way to get together with people and it doesn't have to be extravagant. It was a way to save money. It's comforting.

On top of that, Food Network is an incredibly strong brand and people had been waiting for this in a way. The print version filled this gap for them. Television is fleeting. This was something they could hold in their hands and take into the kitchen and really connect.

What are the opportunities and challenges ahead for a two-year-old food-focused magazine?
Our challenge is to always have the element of surprise. It's hard to keep surprising people, but we really want to do that. We want to stay fresh and interesting without changing in a dramatic way because we have so many loyal readers now. You have to put them first, above your own desire to try something crazy.

We're flexible. That's the upside and opportunity of being a young magazine and one, such as ours, with a pretty small staff. We've built the magazine so it could change very quickly based on what readers like. And because we are tied to Food Network, we must be able to change as they do.

What's the interaction between the magazine's team and the TV network?
We are really watching Food Network as viewers. It's brilliant in a way because we're not embedded at the network. [Editor's note: The magazine's editorial team is based in New York City's Hearst Tower, while the network and test kitchens are located downtown.]

Editorially, everything originates here. We work really closely with the kitchens, talking with them multiple times a day. They know what it means to be a Food Network recipe, and they protect that.

What came first for you – journalism or food?
Food was always a passion, but journalism was my first priority career-wise – it always has been. I'm not a food person who wound up in journalism. I'm a journalist who specialized in food. My first job was covering film and television. I did that at two different papers, and even before that I worked for a summer covering news. I was on the news track at school. I was always planning to do news and features, and food was just a fun thing on the side. I did some cooking at home, and then I realized I could combine them both.

What's the best way for PR pros to pitch you?
The best pitches come from people who really understand and read the magazine. It sounds very simple and obvious, but you wouldn't believe how many pitches we get from people who clearly don't read the magazine and understand what we're all about. I'm always impressed when someone not only has a new product to pitch, but says this would be perfect in this section and for this reason. They get what we do.

It's a tall order because I understand that's asking them to read everything on the market. But just spending a quick minute to understand the spirit of the magazine helps a lot.

What makes a good interview?
The best interviews are ones where there is a level of trust. I would always respect someone's request to keep something off the record, but it's so helpful when someone opens up to the extent that you understand the full picture before you write the story. When people come into an interview with a wall up, it's really difficult to break through.

I've also found that interviews are great over food and drink. At a newspaper when you are on daily deadlines, you tend to do things on the phone, but it's great when you are there in person. You get a sense for what the person is like, what their world is like. It's a different level of interaction. If you put in the time to meet someone somewhere, or even better, meet them for a meal or a drink, you end up with a personal connection.

What are some upcoming food trends?
We'll start seeing a lot of really interesting ice-cream sandwiches on the market. This is my prediction, but maybe it's just my dream.

In addition, flavor combinations are what we talked about with our publisher when I put together a recent food trend report. The salty, smoky, sweet thing going on – candy bacon, salted caramels, and other things that fit into that flavor profile.

Asian flavors are really big right now. People are interested in wasabi and green tea-flavored things. Green tea ice- cream sandwiches, sriracha, Asian chilies – those ingredients are becoming much more mainstream.

What was the most disastrous meal you've ever cooked?
Right after I finished cooking school, my brother-in-law and I decided to cook my cousin's wedding rehearsal dinner for 50 family members. We were searing dozens of chicken cutlets on little portable burners in the kitchen of an old church. We set off the fire alarms and ended up with a bunch of firemen in the kitchen. Nobody remembers the meal now. All anyone talks about is that the fire department came to the dinner.

Share a favorite story you've covered in your career?
I interviewed my now husband [chef Wylie Dufresne] when he was building his restaurant, wd-50. I'd have to say that one because that led to all of it – our kid, our life, our everything.

I was working at Time Out New York and I always followed his career. The story was for a fall preview and we were divvying up the stories to do. I volunteered for that one because I was interested in him as a chef. It was over breakfast, biscuits, and gravy at Clinton Street Baking Co. & Restaurant. He was telling all these stories about crazy things he wanted to make. I went back to work and I was like, “I think I just met the guy.”

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