When we visited David Tamarkin at the Epicurious offices, high up in One World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan, he was doing a little bit of everything. Amid constant interruptions, he sat in on a photoshoot for one of his recipes: a spread of chicken tacos he’d developed for his upcoming challenge called #cook90. In #cook90, he (and many of his readers, and even our editorial director) has vowed to cook three meals a day, every day, for the month of January. Sounds simple, right? Especially for self-professed “foodies” like us who love to cook. David, with his extensive career in food—prior to Epicurious he worked as a food writer and editor at Time Out Chicago, coauthored a cookbook with Rick Bayless, and cofounded the indie magazine Middlewest, among other things—admits that when he completed the challenge last year, it was harder than he’d expected. But that didn’t stop him from doing it again. Read on for more information about the challenge, as well as peek into his workday.
As the editor at Epicurious, you seem to have a hand in everything. What's an average day like?
Every day starts with a 9:15am editorial meeting. After that, my day goes off the rails. There are stories to edit and traffic reports to analyze and social media strategies to tweak and PR initiatives to check in on. But I usually only get 10 minutes into any of those tasks before somebody knocks on my office door and wants to have a chat. It took me a while, but eventually I realized that those chats are everything—that's the real work, that's where the ideas happen, that's where I delegate tasks, that's...my job.
How did you come into the role?
Adam Rapoport reached out to me about a job at Bon Appetit. I was living in Chicago at the time, and Adam had just sort of acquired Epicurious as part of his portfolio. So I had a few interviews with some BA folks, and one of them casually mentioned that there was another job available, too—the editor of Epicurious. Almost immediately I lost interest in the BA job, because I couldn't think of anything more exciting than coming to an old, established brand and giving it a new identity. It felt like a launch to me, and I love a launch. But this was in some ways better than an actual launch, because we already had millions and millions of loyal visitors every month. Anyway, it seemed like a job that might actually be worth leaving Chicago and the house I had just bought there and my friends and my car and my boyfriend for. And it was.
Where did the idea for #cook90 come from?
It was a whim, really. At this time last year I was feeling overfed and malnourished and in general like I had eaten too much Hanukkah gelt/coffee cake/beef. (Perhaps everybody everywhere can relate?) I'd also had a little break from work and had been thinking about what I do and do not know about my readers. I thought that if I challenged myself to cook three meals a day, I'd get sort of, I don't know, centered in a way. I'd learn just how hard it is to put food on the table every night, and find ways to make it a little easier. I'd become a better cook, too, because I'd be relying so heavily on my cooking muscles. And I'd be happier, because I'm usually happy and relaxed in front of the stove.
Where do you draw the line for what constitutes as cooking? Does a jar of pasta sauce on spaghetti count? Or a can of soup?
I consider this a philosophical question that deserves a book-length answer. But for the purposes of #cook90, I go with this: if you transform an ingredient, or turn two separate ingredients into something cohesive, you've cooked. So salads, sandwiches, simple pastas, open-faced toasts, even a yogurt parfait—all of that is cooking. But that can of soup is definitely not.
Will you be cooking your final meal of 2016?
Yes, I'll be cooking for my sister and brother-in-law, but I have no idea what I'll make. Whatever I make, there needs to be leftovers, because I need something to scramble into my eggs on #cook90's first morning.
Photos by Steve Viksjo.