A Food and Cooking Editor Sets the Menu

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Since Emily Weinstein began her role as The Times’s Food and Cooking editor in December 2021, she has overseen her share of ambitious projects and popular recipes. Whether with an investigation into why food prices have skyrocketed or a collection of Thanksgiving dinner favorites, the team strives to reach people who are seasoned foodies or just beginning their journeys into the kitchen.

Even before stepping into her current post, Ms. Weinstein was contributing to the work of The Times’s Food and Cooking team. She started in 2007, as a freelancer working on the newspaper’s restaurant database.

In a recent conversation, she talked about staying focused on the interests of the readers and what’s next for Food and Cooking. This interview has been edited.

When did you first learn to think about food as a journalist?

I learned at The New York Times; it has been an amazing education for me. I arrived years ago as a freelancer and worked on what was our restaurant database at the time. That was a fact-checking job. As much as I loved food — and I really do love food and reading about it — it never clicked for me that it might be what I wanted to do as an editor and a reporter. Then I came to The Times and I kept thinking about it.

I also love to cook, but I don’t consider myself a professionally trained cook. One of the great strengths of NYT Cooking is that we do have culinary professionals, but we also have a lot of expert editors who are home cooks and just really love food. It’s the marriage of those two skill sets and sensibilities that produces NYT Cooking.

What’s on your mind for your coverage right now, aside from Thanksgiving?

I want to be writing about restaurants the way people who love restaurants talk about them. We publish soaring restaurant criticism, but I also want to make sure we’re telling you where to go on any given Tuesday night. We launched a restaurant newsletter this year, the Where to Eat newsletter. That is a big part of that overall effort. And I want to keep growing and thinking about that.

For Cooking, we’re excited about our video team and operation in our studio in Manhattan. As far as recipes go, we’re always thinking about our readers: What are their needs? How do we help you make your day easier? How can recipes help you do that?

You’ve written that ice cream is your favorite food. Is there something about it that captures a universal idea of good food?

There’s an art and science to exceptional ice cream. But at bottom, it is purely pleasurable. Ice cream can show up in the most luxurious context imaginable; it can also be a thing you eat at a snack bar on a boardwalk. But it really is just purely about bliss. Nothing slays like ice cream. It’s so happy-making.

Food is endlessly interesting. But I feel our recipes should make you hungry. They should deliver some sort of baseline level of satisfaction. And ice cream does that.

You also write the Five Weeknight Dishes newsletter. Are the muscles you use when putting that together different from those you rely on when you’re editing?

It’s really nice to have that moment every week when I’m on the writing treadmill. But I see it as very much part of my work as an editor. It keeps me close to readers and what they need and what they want.

My newsletter is very specific. It’s weeknight cooking, a relatively short ingredient list, not a lot of pots and pans, designed for busy people who still want something good to eat at the end of the day.

A lot of people use cooking as a way to learn about the world. So the weeknight recipes should be interesting, or readers should learn a new technique. But mostly they should be delicious and they shouldn’t be so much work.

I think it helps me as an assigning editor and it helps me as the person who’s ultimately responsible for setting the editorial vision for Cooking.

A year into this job, what have you learned, and what do you hope to do next with the desk?

I want to cover restaurants and restaurant culture even more voraciously; I want to make our restaurant criticism and coverage even more useful. We have our national restaurant list — Covid crystallized how much people love restaurants and how important restaurants are in public life, especially in cities. I want to go bigger on that coverage.

We’ve expanded our staff significantly, and the biggest joy of the last year has been seeing all of those hires settling in and doing great work. The dynamics of our Covid world shifted this year and our team is getting out more, and it does feel like something has clicked. We did amazing work in 2021, but this year I’m looking at everything our team is doing, and I’m inspired.

The next step is to keep the overall mission focused on great food journalism, and on great recipes that help people and bring them together.

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