In the fall of 2013, BuzzFeed’s food vertical held a tournament to determine the Internet’s best roast chicken recipe. Martha Stewart’s bird did battle with Judy Rodgers’. Julia Child’s chicken faced off against Thomas Keller’s. To make things fair, then-editor Emily Fleischaker solicited volunteers from BuzzFeed’s office to participate in a blind taste test. When they showed up to BuzzFeed’s kitchen, the volunteers were confused.
“And the volunteers came and were like…are we in your apartment?” Fleischaker recalled.
They were. Although BuzzFeed Food had been around for a year, the section still didn’t have a test kitchen, so staffers gathered in Fleischaker’s apartment to sample the recipes. Neither Fleischaker nor her colleagues on the fledgeling team were trained food stylists — the magicians responsible for making your Big Mac look less gross — so the photos had an authentic quality to them. The first year, Fleischaker said, was about “figuring out what works.”
Things have changed since then. BuzzFeed Food got its test kitchen last August, when the Web giant announced it was cleaving its growing editorial team into three sections: Buzz (covering Web culture), Life (for do-it-yourself and cooking content) and News (self-explanatory). Fleischaker, who was hired in 2012 to launch BuzzFeed Food, was promoted to co-creative director of Buzzfeed Life and helped launch several new sections for the site. Although she had become responsible for a broad swath of BuzzFeed’s content, Fleischaker retained her food editor title, occasionally wrote for the section and oversaw the food vertical.
Until now. Last week, Fleischaker announced that she’d hired Sarah DiGregorio from Food & Wine to take over leadership of BuzzFeed Food. The decision stemmed from a desire to free up Fleischaker’s time to take a thousand-foot view over the Life division with her counterpart, Peggy Wang.
“It was pretty obvious that the food section needed a full-time dedicated leader with new ideas and time and energy to lead a team and take things to the next level,” Fleischaker said. “And my job now is really to help the editors and writers in all of our sections — DIY, Style, Travel, Health — do big original projects, and also guide the even small quick turnaround, off-the-cuff photoshoots and original work we’re doing for distributed and for social platforms.”
Like Fleischaker, who joined BuzzFeed from Bon Appétit in 2012, DiGregorio comes from the world of traditional food media. Before her stint at Food & Wine, DiGregorio was food editor at Parade Magazine and a senior editor at Food Network Magazine. She comes with a James Beard Journalism Award nomination for her work at The Village Voice.
She’s joined by Alison Roman, another transplant from Bon Appetit, who is now senior editor at BuzzFeed Food, associate editor Christine Byrne and food writer and recipe developer Lindsay Hunt.
DiGregorio will be in charge of setting the strategic direction for BuzzFeed Food, which has seen its social media following take off in recent years while its website traffic enjoyed only modest gains. Since its Facebook debut, BuzzFeed Food has become the most popular video publisher on the social network, garnering 390 million views in June, according to Digiday. That’s thanks in part to bite-sized videos instructing viewers how to make 3-Cheese Lasagna Roll-Ups and Caramel Stuffed Cookies but also to its growing fanbase, which at 5.7 million has eclipsed BuzzFeed’s main Facebook page. BuzzFeed Food has also built a following on Instagram and Twitter, though those networks don’t drive as much traffic to BuzzFeed.
Fleischaker says BuzzFeed Food will likely continue its emphasis on creating social media content even as new staffers ramp up the production of content for BuzzFeed’s website.
DiGregorio says she wants to build BuzzFeed Food into an all-purpose destination for gormands and casual diners alike, where readers can find what they’re looking for regardless of their cooking skills or ingredients. That effort, she says, will continue to be supplemented by features, essays and news stories centered on the world of food.
“My dream for BuzzFeed Food is that we are a place where you can go to find a recipe for almost any occasion or hankering that you have,” DiGregorio said.
That ambition will be helped along by BuzzFeed’s social-first, Web first priorities, Fleischaker said. Unlike traditional food magazines, which have to juggle print deadlines and Web publishing, BuzzFeed Food is free to release its content on a more flexible schedule.
“Having worked at Bon Appetit, I can tell you it’s really difficult to balance between having a print magazine and a staff that’s devoted to print and a Web team which is typically smaller and has less resources,” Fleischaker said. “And so the fact that we don’t have legacy products or those two products to balance is really to our advantage because we can focus on what’s new and what’s happening.”
Correction: A previous version of this story said Peggy Wang was co-creative director at BuzzFeed Life. She is editorial director there.