the ultimate food high
Newhouse alum and Executive Director of Epicurious, Eric Gillin bounced between publications like Esquire and Cosmopolitan before joining the team he now leads in 2012. As Executive Director he oversaw the publication’s historic redesign that helped shift the brand from a recipe database to a must-have for home cooks. He works with editors to talk about content strategy, helps the social team develop the audience, and assists the product building the site. “I like to tell people I’m a bit like an editor-in-chief who doesn’t actually edit a single word of the publication he runs,” Gillin says.
What does your job of Executive Director of Epicurious entail?
That’s probably the hardest question you’ll ask me. It’s a lot! I like to tell people I’m a bit like an editor-in-chief who doesn’t actually edit a single word of the publication he runs. My role is probably a bit more like a general manager—I’m working with the editors to talk through the content strategy, working with social and audience development to grow the audience, the product teams to build new things that will make our users happy, working to think about what kind of business we should be building toward down the road. I kinda sit between everyone. I make sure sales is selling things we can build and we can build the things that we design, and that we can design things that users will like. And that users will like what we write. I forget who said it, but it’s definitely one of those “conductors don’t play the instruments, conductors play the orchestra” type arrangements.
What are your thoughts on utilizing online platforms and social media in the food industry?
They’re critical to success. The most important thing is to understand that you cannot take a one-size-fits-all approach to content and social media. Certain recipes do really well on Pinterest. Shorter videos work better on Facebook. Longer videos that feature interesting people work better on YouTube. Twitter is where you have a conversation, not necessarily drive traffic to your site. Also, social is really hard and changes everyday. So, all of those things I just said stopped being valid the very second I said them out loud.
What’s the best part about working in food?
The fact that if you’re eating stuff as part of your job, the calories don’t count! I love working. Best. Job. Ever.
What do you think the food trend of 2017 is?
Food is kinda the new rock and roll, ain’t it? I think the fact that people are now defining themselves more by how and what they eat than what music they’re listening to is pretty much the biggest trend. We have food tribes. We have Whole30 plant-forward pseudo Paleo people and unapologetic fast-food convenience store connoisseurs and farm-to-table locavore omnivores and everyone in between, from extra-gluten to gluten-free and back again. Hopefully, the novelty of rainbow-colored food is wearing off, though.
How is technology changing the way we eat food in the future?
In the future, robots will chew our food for us. Um, huge, huge question. There’s a whole riff on food supply chains and organic food and meal delivery kits and food chewing robots, but the first place my mind goes is Instagram and Facebook. You’ve got generations of kids who maybe didn’t know where their food came from. (I mean, Lunchable trees aren’t a thing … yet.) And now they’re seeing all of these pictures of food they have never eaten, followed by videos of how that food comes together. And now cupcakes or pad thai aren’t some mystery that comes from a plastic box — they’re a real thing that can be made at home. The question I ask is what happens when a generation of eight-year-olds is watching people make nam prik and massaman curries on Facebook for fun? What does that do to cuisine going forward? What new foods and tastes and things will emerge from this moment? It’s kinda like when radio happened and people from all over America heard blues for the first time. You got country music. You got R&B. You got rock and roll. You got gangsta rap.
What are your thoughts on food subscription services?
I think there are two types of people in this world: People who like to cook and people who hate it. For people who love to cook, meal delivery kits and food subscriptions need to be as enjoyable as cooking is usually for them. If that kit is like a model airplane and you’re just inserting pre-cut vegetable into oversimplified instructions, that’s not really satisfying. They’re going to try it, hate the food, and cancel. And for people who hate cooking, that kit needs to be easier than picking up the phone and getting a pizza from Sal — or easier than just making friends with someone who loves to cook. Ultimately, not everyone really wants to know how to cook and getting food into the food hole isn’t a super big challenge. I think the more these kits focus on people who love to cook already, the more successful they’ll be, especially when it comes to renewals.
What goes into creating a food app?
Blood, sweat, tears, six months, and about 90,000 lines of code.
Why is it important for a food brand to expand outside of its website?
If you’re going to be a brand—and I don’t care if you’re a food website, or a sports team, or a private university in upstate New York—you cannot just be one thing, like a website, or a team, or a college. To be a brand, you need to actually be able to apply your values to loads of things outside your core offering. So if Epicurious were pots and pans, what would we be? Well, I’m happy to say we’ve solved that and you can find them at Bed Bath and Beyond. They’re approachable, easy to use, durable, and come in really fun colors. Epicurious needs to stand for more than just the platform where we’re found. It’s one reason why we’ve been so successful at video and cookware—we knew who we were and could quickly apply that to loads of things. Hell, three months ago we put out Epicurious wine. It’s amazing.
Do you have any advice for foodies trying to get into the industry?
Yeah. You don’t need my permission to get into this industry. Get on Instagram and practice. Take better photos. Take more videos. Have a real point of view. And understand this: The food media world is a small place and we run in tribes. Everyone knows everyone. So, if you follow us on Instagram and comment and interact, on a long enough timeline we’re gonna know who you are. Do really awesome stuff? We will probably pay attention. But all of that comes from doing. Don’t talk about what you would do if only … go do something with that energy besides talk.