Hopkins alumna talks career as food journalist

Courtesy of KATE DWYER With a Writing Seminars degree, Polis now writes for BonAppetit.

Courtesy of Carey Polis
With a Writing Seminars degree, Polis is now the Digital Editor in Chief for Bon Appétit.

For The News-Letter

While Hopkins may have a reputation for being primarily focused on the sciences, there are plenty of alumni making strides in the fields of media and entertainment. Carey Polis, who graduated in 2007, is the Editor of BonAppetit.com — the digital side of the premier food publication. The News-Letter caught up with Polis to talk about food, writing, Bon Appétit and how she ended up in her position.

The News-Letter: What kinds of features do you currently include on the site? What do you hope to bring to it in the future?
Carey Polis: I look at pretty much everything that goes up. That’s anything from cooking tips to restaurant trends to any way that food intersects with culture. I think one of the things I’m hoping to do is bring bigger stuff to the fold — bigger features, bigger rollouts, bigger projects, just really making this a living, breathing site.

N-L: What does your typical day look like?

CP: I start my day pretty early, around 7 a.m. I do about an hour of work from home before I get to the office at 9:30 a.m. Everyday at 10:30, we have our web ideas meeting, where we all toss around ideas that we’re thinking about, even if they’re small kernels. I go to a lot of meetings, which range from discussion about video strategy to social strategy, ways to better integrate print and digital, development and tech work on the site and everything in between. Between meetings I’m editing and working with the digital team and freelance writers to get all sorts of fun content on the site and make sure everything feels like it’s part of the Bon Appétit voice and something people would want to read. I’ve never been bored at this job, because it’s definitely for someone who enjoys multitasking.

N-L: What was your journey from Hopkins to Bon Appétit?

CP: I was a Writing Sems major. I really enjoyed writing fiction; I haven’t written any fiction since I graduated in 2007. Like so many other Sems majors, I had a dream to be some sort of magazine writer or some kind of famous novelist. In 2006, going into my senior year, I got an internship at Condé Nast (the publisher of Bon Appétit), but I wasn’t working for Bon Appétit, I was at Supermarket News, a business-to-business publication that’s no longer published. The great thing about that opportunity was that I got a bunch of bylines that summer, and the big complaint from my editor when I finished up was that I kept writing for the consumer instead of for the business side. A lightbulb went off, and I thought, “Oh my gosh, I love writing about food for the consumer; It’s so fun!” So my senior year of Hopkins, I did an independent study in food writing, and I just consumed every book about food that I could… From there I got a job after I graduated at a food website. It was interesting timing because it was right on the cusp of when everything was changing and going digital. In 2010 I moved to Italy for a year, and got a master’s in Food Culture and Communications. Then I came back and worked at The Huffington Post for three years before I got hired at Bon Appétit by another Hopkins alum.

N-L: You mentioned the Bon Appétit voice—how would you characterize that?

CP: We want to be authoritative on what we’re talking about, but welcoming to anyone that has any sort of curiosity about food and cooking. We would never be snarky and we never want to alienate people. We want to help people improve their offline life while looking at us online, so we’re happy to make jokes and be a little nerdy and fun, but we want to provide real service and real quality information to both beginner cooks and really accomplished cooks.   

N-L: Do you have a test kitchen?

CP: Yes, every recipe that appears on the site is tested by our test kitchen, and that’s something that really separates us from other food websites—these recipes are incredibly rigorously tested and tweaked and craft tested and edited by our recipe editor. It’s a really intense process that makes us stand by our recipes, and guarantee that they work.

N-L: What do you wish you could tell your college self?

CP: Always be curious. It really helps to have a passion for your subject area, and the more you want to learn about it, the more successful you’re setting yourself up to be.

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