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Bon Appétit needs to change. The new editor-in-chief is ready for the challenge



This friend, a restaurant owner, suggested that Davis discard her name, but the head of the book publishing house hesitated.

“And I thought, ‘Of course,’ thinking, ‘Well, that’s not going to work because I don’t have experience in magazines.’ It just won’t work, “Davis told CNN Business in a phone interview earlier this month.

“Dawn thinks 30,000 feet. You’ll see it through the content,” Samuelson told CNN Business. “It’s going to change drastically. It’s going to be dramatically more inclusive and it’s going to affect the industry and it’s going to force our competitors to look at this space. It̵

7;s necessary.”

The food media industry has long been accused of promoting a “white aesthetic” that helps white chefs and personalities, as Navneet Alang writes for Eater. This summer’s reliance on racial injustice has led many to explore and invoke complicity and bias in their own industries. Those in the food media saw Rapoport apologizing for his “failures,” and Los Angeles Times critic Peter Meehan lost his job over allegations of toxic or discriminatory behavior. Mihan apologized, but also said a number of allegations against him were untrue. Shortly before the summer, the New York Times released columnist Alison Roman after criticizing Marie Condo and Chrissy Teigen, two successful women of color. Roman apologized and said she was “deeply embarrassed” by the comments she made.

Davis joined Bon Appétit as a somewhat outsider – not only because she was the magazine’s first editor-in-chief, but also because she came from the world of book publishing, where she worked for 25 years. But Davis is not a food neophyte. She has written and edited food books, and as an avid home cook, she is known to be on the side of “living to eat,” not “eating to live.” Will this be enough to restore trust – from employees, advertisers and readers – in Bon Appétit?

“If you can’t see it …”

After graduating from Stanford, Davis began his career on Wall Street. Her job as an investment bank analyst was demanding, not what Davis thought was “soul-satisfying.” Despite the long hours, Davis found time to relax by taking cooking lessons at the French Culinary Institute.

“Everyone was on the runway at Harvard Business School and everyone was going to – and went on – have these successful Wall Street jobs. I just had to follow that passion to learn to cook and play in the kitchen, and I did,” Davis said.

Dawn Davis attends

In 1989, she won a scholarship to study literature in Nigeria. Davis said she loved reading books at an early age, but did not know it was possible to have a career in the book industry until that flight to Nigeria, where she sat next to a book publisher on the plane.

“They say, ‘If you can’t see it, you don’t know you can be that,'” Davis said. “I just never met anyone who actually published books.”

But the move from Wall Street to book publishing was financially risky. Davis said the career change meant halving her salary. She made the leap, though, even after her friends and family questioned her decision. But she loved the job so much that at one point she thought, “When they find out how much fun I have, they’ll cut my salary.”

“I lived to see my monument”

Davis rose to the ranks and worked in some of the world’s most famous publishers, including Random House, HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster. Although new to the field, she quickly gained confidence in her ability as an editor.

“I knew I could be a lawyer, a great defender of any book I was excited about,” Davis said. “I never doubted that an author would have someone who was more passionate, who would put more I points and cross more T than me, and just edit it to the Nth degree.”

In the 1990s, while working at Random House, Davis met Jonathan Carp, the CEO, who would later appoint her to Simon & Schuster, where he would later become CEO.

“We both share a deep interest in cultural works of scientific literature,” Karp told CNN Business. “Dawn has a great presence. I liked her the moment I met her.”

He recalled that they tried to buy Eric Schlosser’s “Fast Food” together, but did not get it.

Since then, Davis has edited Pulitzer Prize-winning books such as Edward P. Jones’s The Famous World and Chris Gardner’s The Pursuit of Happiness, which has been turned into a film starring Will Smith. She is praised for promoting black authors and reinforcing the stories of marginalized people, which has become the focus of 37 Ink, her own imprint in Simon & Schuster.

“I think a lot of people would say she’s probably the leading black woman in the editorial world of publishing. But there are other black editors, and I don’t want to ignore them in any way, but Dawn is high,” Carp added.

(LR) Dawn Davis, Michaela Angela Davis, Tatyana Ali, Eunique Jones Gibson, Jazmine Sullivan and Beverly Bond on stage for Black Girl Magic panel during BGR!  Fest - Day 2 at the Kennedy Center on March 9, 2019 in Washington, DC.
Carp said he saw her success as “remarkable” and hoped she would continue the rest of her career at Simon & Schuster. But in August, Davis shared the news of his departure with his boss, colleagues and authors.

“I feel like I’ve lived to see my monument,” Davis said. “I’ve heard this more than once: ‘It’s great for you personally and for Condé Nast and the magazines. But it’s a loss to publish books. ” I have long been a champion of black voices and colored people in general and just quality publishing. ”

But the editor-in-chief of Bon Appétit was a role she could not refuse.

“We always talk about food”

Davis’ early memories of food revolve around the family. She remembered going to the Marie Calendar in Los Angeles with her family, a weekly ritual that meant her mother and aunt could take a break from cooking. She loved Christmas Eve, when her aunt made gumbo, inviting not only family but also neighbors and friends to enjoy.

“The joy and selflessness that my aunt Stella gave to cooking for other people,” Davis said. “I connect food and community and celebration and just be together.”

Later, living and working in New York, Davis was exposed to a lively restaurant scene. She became a regular customer at the Scandinavian hotspot Aquavit, where she began a lifelong friendship with chef Marcus Samuelson.

“She wasn’t just a regular customer,” Samuelson said. “She was like, ‘Why are you doing this?’ What’s in the food here? “She had questions about food.”

Editor-in-Chief of Bon Appétit Dawn Davis at home in her kitchen.

Davis said her husband annoyed her because she remembered the specific details of the meal – but not what they discussed while eating it. “I will say, ‘Oh my God, yes. You had pork chops with sage and bubbles of green beans, and I had … In the meantime, I won’t be able to remember anything super, super important. This is a fun idea of ​​how I prioritize food. “

Although Bon Appétit is Davis’ first job in magazines, it will not be her first experience in food journalism. She interviewed famous chefs, including Edna Lewis and Bobby Flay, for her 1999 book, If You Can Take the Heat: Tales from Chefs and Restaurateurs. Carp said he was unaware of Davis’s love of food, but “he could guess,” as she had recently acquired a cookbook for the publisher.

“No preliminary ideas”

Davis is not the only recent addition to the Bon Appétit team. In addition to serving as a consultant, Samuelson hired Sonia Chopra, former director of Vox Media’s Eater’s editorial strategy, as executive editor. Chopra’s announcement of hiring came the same day as the resignation of three colorful journalists from Bon Appetit’s videos for Trial Kitchen.

Chopra said Davis, whom she had not met but heard, was a welcome choice.

Screenshot of a video where Bon Appétit editor-in-chief Dawn Davis talks to Bon Appétit executive editor Sonia Chopra and chef Marcus Samuelson, who is also an advisor to the Bon Appétit global brand.

“I think the media is an industry that can be very insular,” Chopra said. “Dawn – someone who was such a leader and such a power in publishing – comes into the industry with really clear eyes, with no preconceived notions about how the magazine should be charged or what the front of the book is. I think you will become so refreshing. ”

Davis was on tour to listen to her new job, asking questions and comments about the culture and attitude towards people at Condé Nast.

“Some of the people I talked to were colorful people who felt heard, respected, that there was obviously work to be done,” Davis said. “But these challenges didn’t scare me out of this opportunity. Honestly, most American companies of a certain size and with a certain duration of existence have this job.”


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