28/06/2021

Interview with Maggie Hoffman, Digital Director of Epicurious

Recently Epicurious, one of the world’s leading digital food brands, promoted Maggie Hoffman to the role of  Digital Director after being Senior Editor since the autumn of 2019. In collaboration with several teams, she created The Epicurious Interactive Cocktail Cabinet in 2021. Epicurious was nominated for an ASME Ellie award for General Excellence (Service and Lifestyle Category) in 2021. Before arriving at Epicurious, Maggie was the managing editor of Serious Eats, where she founded the award-winning site’s drinks section in 2011.  We caught up with her to find out more about her background and thoughts on the industry.

Maggie Hoffman Epicurious

How did you first get into food and drinks writing?

When I moved to my first New York City apartment, some 3,000 miles away from my family, I started recording what I was cooking in a little food blog, mostly to share with my mother. I was working in book publishing at the time, and I realized that the blog felt like a bigger and bigger part of my life, a place to tell stories and a reason to try out new recipes. I started pitching freelance stories around that time, and soon had a weekly gig with Serious Eats, mostly writing about beer and then wine, too.

Eventually I convinced Serious Eats to launch a dedicated drinks section, and I stayed there full-time until 2016, when I started reviewing San Francisco bars and writing cocktail books—Batch Cocktails and The One-Bottle Cocktail, which focused on drinks you can make with just a single spirit and whatever fresh ingredients are in your house. I found my way back to New York, and back to the world of food websites—I’ve been at Epicurious since fall 2019.

What do you think of the movement to low/no alcohol in drinks? Is it a trend or is it here to stay?

I love that the drinks scene seems to be ever-more welcoming, and that there are more and more options for, as my friend Julia Bainbridge, author of Good Drinks says, people who aren’t drinking for whatever reason. Part of being welcoming—to a friend who’s at your house, or a customer in a bar—is having options for them, and no need to justify why they might be looking for something lower-ABV or completely without alcohol. And there are a lot of new products—including sparkling nonalcoholic wines like Leitz Eins Zwei Zero—out there that make making lower-ABV or no-ABV drinks much easier and more delicious.

Have you found being a woman a help or a hindrance in the drinks industry (or food – if you feel it’s been particularly different)?

There will always be folks who are surprised to see women becoming experts in any field that’s historically male-dominated, like the world of spirits. But we’re lucky to be in a moment where folks of all genders in drinks and food are more and more visible and respected—and I hope that celebrating bartenders and chefs and food writers from all backgrounds and perspectives is the new normal.

Who are some of your food and drinks heroes?

My friend Stephen Satterfield, who runs Whetstone Media and recently starred in High on the Hog on Netflix. He’s been such a force, paving his own way, starting something new—from scratch—in the media landscape. Everyone who cares about food or American history should watch High on the Hog.

How did your new role come about? What’s been the most challenging part of the move?

Since 2019, I’ve been working to develop Epicurious as a destination for longer reads: the deep dives on how to make the best iced chai or English muffins—or the best gin and tonic. I love that our readers have been willing to get nerdy with us, learning how baking soda really works and why your pasta dough needs to rest. So when my former boss, David Tamarkin, took a new role elsewhere, I was really excited to take the reins.

The ongoing challenge with Epicurious—and all food websites—is making sure that you’re offering what people want to read, right at that moment. In the height of the pandemic, the service we could offer was clear: everyone needed easy recipes that used pantry ingredients, they wanted info on whether you really had to discard your sourdough starter. We all needed to figure out how to keep cooking dinner, regardless of our level of kitchen burnout. Right now, we know that people are getting back into entertaining, and it’s an opportunity to think about whether we want a new way of throwing dinner parties.

Illustration by Aless Mc.

What led to the decision to not publish beef recipes and what sort of reaction did you get from the public?

When Epi develops new recipes to share, we’re looking to inspire cooks at home. And so, a few years back, we really started thinking about the impact that we have—and what kind of inspiration we wanted to offer. Given the huge environmental impact of the huge quantity of beef that most Americans purchase, we realized that we wanted to focus on more climate-friendly options each month. Maybe cooks will be inspired to try a new recipe, and maybe it’s a falafel burger or a pulled mushroom taco or this amazing ramen.

Do you see a role for TikTok in Epicurious’ future?

Absolutely!

Are there any exciting plans for Epicurious that you can tell us about?

Fany Gerson video

We’re launching a big collection of stories celebrating masa—the core ingredient in tortillas, tamales, and more—and I’m so excited I can hardly stand it. Chef Fany Gerson did a series of videos and how-to articles, and Javier Cabral looks into why there’s been such a boom in the availability of great masa in the US, and Andrea Aliseda wrote a beautiful article on the history and culture of nixtamalization. There’s a guide to where to buy masa, and some new recipes, too.

What are you most proud of with your time at Conde Nast so far?

For years, I’ve been dreaming of building an interactive liquor cabinet—where you could click on a bottle or two, or something you have in your fridge, and get cocktail recipe ideas. And we made it happen on Epicurious! Now I’m dreaming of the holiday edition.

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