Chris Morocco, OC ’03, Bon Appétit Food Editor

Chris Morocco, OC ’03, is a Deputy Food Editor at the lauded Bon Appétit magazine. While at Oberlin, Morocco majored in French and took great interest in photography. Now he is Deputy Food Editor at Bon Appétit, where he develops recipes and appears frequently in their popular cooking videos on YouTube. Morocco spoke with the Review about his time at Oberlin, his experience cooking in a co-op, his career explorations after college, and Bon Appétit’s transition from a print publication to a successful multifaceted brand.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Where did you grow up? 

I grew up in Newton, MA. I took a gap year before going to Oberlin and one of my best friends had started at Oberlin, and I went to visit and had a very good feeling there. I think I had really locked into the kind of Newton mindset of primarily East Coast schools: Just get into the best possible school that you can. I was so happy when I finally found Oberlin. … I felt like this was a little bit of a break, a different part of the country. The vibe of the school was really important to me, to get away from the liberal Northeast pressure cooker of colleges.

Were you at all into cooking at Oberlin? Were you in a co-op?

I was a cook at [Pyle Inn co-op] my [second] year. I had cooked a little bit previously in high school as part of a weekend job but never was really serious about it. I had grown up around food and definitely had a deep appreciation for food. I was probably more of a technically-minded cook than most other college students. But cooking [in Pyle] and doing lunch and dinner one day a week for a hundred some odd people was really my first introduction to the making-it-happen style of cooking where whatever you’re given, whatever challenges are thrown at you, you need to end up with food that can feed a hundred people. That was pretty intense, pretty wild, and pretty fun. One of my really good friends, who’s still a good friend, was a food buyer for the co-op, so we collaborated and we were able to actually do quite a lot. 

What did you do directly out of college and how did you end up working at Bon Appétit?

It was a bit of a winding path. I mean, coming from a liberal arts background, some people have a very clear sense of how they want to begin to choose their careers. I had a few things I was looking into, like advertising and things involving photography. I had always had a dream of working for a magazine. Based solely on [an internship I’d landed] and my ability to make people think that I was relatively competent — which was not super obvious or particularly accurate at the time — I ended up getting a job at Vogue magazine where I basically helped produce photo shoots. I booked models, stylists, hair and makeup artists. … I got to meet a lot of artists and a lot of interesting people and learn about this world of production as it relates to film photography in that case. … It was an interesting education in how it might work and how the various parts come together. 

The thing was that after a few years I realized I was going to hit the wall at a certain point from the simple fact that fashion was not really my thing. I realized I’d like to work for a magazine but I wanted to be in a different content area. I went to culinary school at night the last year [and then] I worked in a couple of professional kitchens pretty briefly before jumping back into magazines, at this time as sort of the lowest person in the test kitchen at Bon Appétit. It was a really exciting time because of Adam Rapoport taking over; the magazine had moved from the West to the East Coast. Because I was very familiar with Condé Nast having worked for Vogue, I knew how everything worked in the building, I knew how a magazine worked, and I knew how to get things done. 

We sometimes joke that we used to only make a magazine and we felt completely busy and overworked all the time — and nowadays we have four websites, a magazine, a podcast, social handles, a YouTube channel — and we’re still very busy. But we kind of marvel: What was it that we were doing the whole time that we were just making a magazine?

What do you make of the rising Internet fame of Bon Appétit? Was that something that was actively cultivated? What has it been like for all of you?

A little bit was deliberate and a lot of it was chance. A number of years ago it became clear that … nobody was going to make it just as a magazine. Unfortunately, there’s been so much upheaval… it’s been a bummer. A lot of test kitchens closed or consolidated. We realized we needed to diversify what we were, and what we were primarily was a brand. 

It became a question: How do you connect with people? If we’re not able to connect with people as well through the magazine, if we’re not able to monetize that as well, then we really need to invest in the website and the podcast. It became clear that the people who are reading the magazine are not necessarily the people who are looking at the website and finding us through an online search, and are not the same people who are necessarily listening to podcasts. It [also] just became clear that you need to have a presence on a lot of these platforms. Obviously some things have worked better than others, but I think one of the cool things in terms of our YouTube audience is when we knew we were going to start doing more videos, I’d sort of imagined it would take more of a traditional route of one chef talking to the camera, in the kitchen, not exactly [filmed on] a laptop but not that far off — that style. 

What evolved, though, was that we noticed at a certain point that the interaction between the test kitchen and the video disrupts the test kitchen. I’m going to be honest, it’s a little inconvenient to have your workspace turned into a five-day-a-week open-air studio. We never really anticipated that people would crave that window into the test kitchen, but I think it ultimately has strengthened our content and our videos to have that kind of organic interaction between the chef and people coming in and out of the kitchen and jumping in on videos. It just feels like us. It took a while to get there, but I think we’re in a good place now where it feels like a comfortable process for the people involved in it on the production side, and I think it makes it that much more fun to watch. 

Do you have a particular dish or food or ingredient right now that you’re excited about working with or eating? 

Honestly, I hope to never live in a world where I would have to choose something. At Bon Appétit, day in and day out we’re working with different cuisines and different ingredients. I think a lot of us have a core repertoire that’s kind of who we are, but I think for better or for worse, I’m one of the more malleable cooks who can work in different “modes.” I think it’s been an asset to me to be very comfortable working with a lot of stuff.

I’ve mostly interacted with Bon Appétit as someone who watches the YouTube channel, and when that’s the main content you’re consuming, it can feel like being in videos is the main job of people who work there. But obviously that’s not true, so I’m curious what you do in your role in a typical day or week at Bon Appétit.

That’s a funny point. I hear this a lot, you know — “Wait, Bon Appétit is a magazine?” When we inherited the space from Gourmet, it was these eight little galley kitchens all kind of conjoined in this airless, windowless space, but we put so much effort into making that the bulk of our job. We were just creating recipes, but we were kind of anonymous in that kitchen. … Over the years, things kind of evolved where individual editors became brands unto themselves or became well-known for having a signature style or approach. Right now the video stuff is one of the most visible aspects of our job, but four out of five days of the week any one of us is not shooting video. We’re creating recipe content, we’re writing, we’re sitting in meetings, we’re engaged in the minutiae of what it means to run a massive food brand. I think we’re all kind of happy to have the opportunity to do fun video stuff, but it’s just one facet of the job. 

A few years ago, that part of our job just flat-out didn’t exist — things are changing so fast and evolving so quickly, I think the nature of what our goals are is suddenly shifting in fast and unpredictable ways. For each of us, depending on how long we’ve been working for a magazine, there’s a lot that’s happened very quickly very recently, and it feels like it’s bringing interesting opportunities.

Do you have a favorite series or segment that Bon Appétit does, or something you’d like to try to move more into?

One thing we’ve talked about as food editors is wanting to spend time in other people’s kitchens and wanting to have a chance to explore, with granular detail, other people’s work. I think [thanks to] a lot of opportunities, we’ve been doing that more. Occasionally, we’ll feature chefs or restaurants that do have a very particular point of view. A great example is Tom Cunanan of Bad Saint in Washington, D.C. Tom’s bringing a little bit of a modern sensibility to very traditional Filipino dishes in a wonderful, complex, vibrant way, and we love telling those stories. But in terms of sharpening our own culinary skills, being able to have [Senior Food Editor] Andy [Baraghani] go out and work with different chefs around [New York City] or different restaurants, communities, [and] backgrounds — that’s really cool. He came in one day and had me try boiled duck heads with chili oil. It was just really eye opening. Despite the fact that we live in New York … we have jobs that don’t necessarily force us outside. It’s been cool to bring some of those stories into the test kitchen in a video, and we’re allowing people to come get a window into a lot of different modes of cooking.