After months of internal chaos, shake-ups, and a reckoning over racism and pay inequality at Bon Appétit, parent company Conde Nast has named Dawn Davis as the food publication’s new editor-in-chief. Davis, a prolific executive in the publishing industry, and one of few Black executives at a major publishing house, will join the publication on November 2, CNN Business reports.
Davis is a vice president at Simon & Schuster, where she founded and now leads 37 Ink, an imprint dedicated to sharing stories from marginalized communities. In her role at Simon & Schuster, Davis launched Inkwell Book Club, a national online book club celebrating Black authors. Davis was previously the publisher of HarperCollins imprint Amistad Press, which is “devoted to multicultural voices.” There she oversaw the publication of successful works including the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Known World, by Edward P. Jones.
Bon Appétit’s previous editor-in-chief, Adam Rapoport, stepped down in early June, after writer Tammie Teclemariam took to Twitter to share a 2013 photo of Rappaport and his wife (the photo was a screenshot from her Instagram) mocking Puerto Ricans at a Halloween party. (Though accused otherwise, Rapoport denies that he was in brownface in the photo.) Since Rapoport’s resignation, which many of Bon Appétit’s most prominent staff endorsed, the food publication has faced a near-constant stream of resignations and call-outs from current staff. It quickly became clear that racism, pay inequality, and varying degrees of toxicity penetrated deep into the company’s culture. Rapoport was just the tip of the iceberg.
An early allegation came from editor and beloved Bon Appétit YouTube star Sohla El-Waylly, who took to her Instagram Stories to share that she, unlike many of her white coworkers, was not compensated for her appearances in the brand’s wildly popular test kitchen videos. Since El-Waylly came forward, the everything-is-perfect facade of the famous test kitchen has crumbled. On August 12, after months of unsuccessful negotiations with Condé Nast, Priya Krishna, Rick Martinez, and El-Waylly all took to Instagram to share that they would no longer appear in the brand’s test kitchen videos. Martinez shared in his Instagram stories that while he’d hoped Rapoport’s resignation would lead to meaningful change, the five weeks of contract negotiations were “torturous and dehumanizing,” and ultimately did not result in a fair pay rate.
In total, six test kitchen stars have now announced they won’t be producing any more videos for the Bon Appétit YouTube channel, which boasts almost six million subscribers. It’s a huge loss for a brand which has built its success on these videos popularity. In recent weeks, Bon Appétit’s only two Black editorial staff resigned, citing the publication’s failure to recognize or properly value their numerous contributions.
The hiring of Davis — as well as Eater’s Sonia Chopra as executive editor — comes two months after an apology was posted to Bon Appétit’s website, pledging the brand was “prioritizing people of color for the editor in chief candidate pool, implementing anti-racism training for our staff, and resolving any pay inequities that are found across all departments.” Davis tells CNN that in her new role as editor-in-chief, she is “hoping to tap into my particular asset, which is a Rolodex over 25 years of working with writers, some from marginalized communities, and elevating those voices and those experiences.”
Davis, whose responsibilities will include overseeing the magazine’s print and digital output, as well as its social media and video presence, didn’t tell CNN whether she intended to invite the channel’s existing stars back to the negotiating table. It’s not clear how many of the test kitchen stars would want to return to negotiations, if they were asked.
Though Davis comes to the publication with an enormous amount of experience in publishing, she has few connections to the world of food media — something Condé Nast executives may see as a strength, as they attempt to reshape the publication. Though she might not be a food media veteran, Davis isn’t entirely new to the world of cookbooks or home cooking: She’s the author of If You Can Stand the Heat: Tales from Chefs and Restaurateurs, a 1999 book featuring interviews with such acclaimed chefs as Anthony Bourdain.
“I want this to be a cultural magazine where the primary culture is food, but not something that’s in a vacuum, and I hope it’s fun,” Davis tells CNN. There’s no telling whether Davis, like Rapoport, will make regular appearances in test kitchen videos, but if she does, fans can expect to see her cooking up soup and fish, her two favorite types of dishes, according to her CNN interview.