Reflections on my internship at Bon Appétit magazine.
My roommate rushed to my desk, her eyes sparkling with anticipation. Just a few moments ago, I had revealed to her – with forced enthusiasm – that I had been offered a photo internship at Men’s Fitness magazine.
I had got several different reactions to this bit of news. My friend Sarah called me as soon as she heard. “You get to take photos of naked, buff guys? You have to take it,” she gushed, “And if you don’t, send them my information.” My mother was skeptical, “Will you be working late nights? Are you teachers OK with this?” She couldn’t believe that my mentors would proudly send me off into the world of semi-pornographic photography.
After this, watching someone actually be excited for me was refreshing. As Kelundra marched toward my computer, I started feeling better about myself. Maybe this internship isn’t as bad as people are making it out to be, I thought.
But then Kelundra pulled up a website significantly lacking in muscled men. “This is where you should work,” she declared, “I’d rather my roommate work for a magazine my mother actually subscribes to.”
Over Thanksgiving break, I submitted applications to 18 magazines in New York City.
Two weeks later, I found myself at the 42nd street station, on my way to interview at Bon Appétit. I was excited. I could feel my pulse quicken to match that of the big city. The prospect of working in the Condé Nast building on Times Square took my breath away.
From then on, I only remember the day in flashes.
That first sighting of the building. Canopy. Engraved address plate. 4 Times Square.
Standing in the Condé Nast elevator, looking up at the little boxes with floor numbers and magazine names.
Walking through meandering corridors with pictures of pasta and chocolate cake on the walls.
The interview. More smiling. Another handshake.
Riding the elevator again, with a copy of the latest Bon Appétit issue clutched in my now-sweaty hands.
Walking out of the building. Deep breath.
Turning back to take a picture of the address plate.
Thinking, I have to get this internship.
Train back home.
A week later, I met up with my friend, Josh, for one of our regular refueling stops at Starbucks. We talked of internships and interviews. I told him that I really didn’t want to work at Men’s Fitness. He told me he really didn’t want to work at Maxim.
As if on cue, an email popped up on my smart phone. It was from Hannah Sullivan, and the subject read, “Web Editorial Internship at BA.” I couldn’t read it. I asked Josh to tell me what it said. I squeezed my eyes shut. For a long time, he didn’t say a word. I prepared myself for the worst. I looked over, wanting to spare him the misery of having to tell me that what I wanted so bad wasn’t going to happen.
“I didn’t get it, did I?” I said, resignedly.
“I don’t know, it’s still loading!” he said. Thank you, Starbucks.
And then, “We are thrilled to officially offer you the Spring Website Internship … you got it!”
Winter break was a blur. I put together some kind of professional wardrobe, filled out
paperwork, traveled to the city for two more interviews – with Time Out New York and Budget Travel – decorated a Christmas tree, designed and printed business cards, and cooked – a LOT.
I started my internship on January 19, a day that felt much like the first day of school. Hannah, the internship coordinator, met me at the door, and showed me to a room marked “Interns.” I was handed an orientation packet, and pointed to one of the Macs in the room.
After we had read through all the rules and regulations in the packet, my fellow interns and I were led on a tour of the office, where we were introduced to the Bon Appétit staff, all of whom were polite enough to make it seem like meeting us was the best part of their day. Our heads were crammed full of names, faces, and a mental map of the office, one that wasn’t fully fleshed out till at least three weeks later.
The highlight of the day was getting our ID badges from security. We could now swipe in and out of the building without having to stop at the scary security desk and whip out photo ID. We were insiders. It felt wonderful.
At the end of the day, I sent out an email to my friends and family from my new company email address. I signed off, “Aasimah Navlakhi, Bon Appétit Magazine.”
What surprised me most about Bon Appétit was the intimate relationship it maintains with its readers. To me, writing to a major national magazine was equivalent to sending out good thoughts into a black hole. But at BA, every query was answered, and every suggestion acknowledged.
One of my first jobs at the magazine was to respond to recipe requests sent in by readers. Their requests ranged from the desperate to the absurd, and were relayed in messages spanning the entire spectrum from curt to epic. Where some readers knew exactly what they were looking for, right down to the issue and page number, other requests had us foraging in the vast BA library to find recipes of, for instance, “brownies that taste like wonder bars.”
Writing for the website was probably my favorite thing to do. I remember getting an email from Julia, an associate editor, asking me to write up a short blurb on Chocolate-Oatmeal Moon pies. I spent an hour thinking of what to say, and how to make it funny. The next hour was spent crafting, as I called it, “my moon pie masterpiece.” This is what finally appeared on the website:
“What’s better than a cookie? Two cookies! And boy, do they fit snugly around some fluffy marshmallow cream. Pop these moon pies in the oven and watch your willpower melt away with every waft of fresh-baked goodness.”
From there, I’d like to think they got better. After all, Julia asked me to write 13 more.
Being an intern, I knew it was only a matter of time before someone sent me out on a coffee run. And I was right. My time came about two weeks in. But I wasn’t getting coffee for an editor. I was grocery shopping for a shoot.
Interning at BA involved a lot of time spent outside the office, tracking down obscure brands of coffee, artisan Parisian macaroons, advance copies of cookbooks, and trial versions of incredibly expensive cookware.
One sunny February afternoon found me in the Upper East Side, at the Parisian macaroon store, Ladurée. Armed with a corporate credit card, and an unspecified budget, I bought $300 worth of macaroons. When I reached the register, the cashier walked out from behind the counter and handed me my bags with a little bow and a smile I’m certain she reserves for visiting Hollywood stars.
It felt pretty good.
One of my last assignments at BA was to assist on a photo-shoot for the “My Morning Routine” segment of the website. For this section, celebrities spoke to BA about their morning routine. What time they woke up, what they ate, what they read etc.
On the morning of the shoot, I sped across the city, buying copies of The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal, ordering Mexican food, picking up green smoothies, and choosing the most photographable sushi box from a deli around the corner from Times Square.
Back at work, I spent the day cooking oatmeal, broiling salmon, and grilling steak in the BA test kitchen, amongst professional chefs who were grilling peaches, and browning whole turkeys for a massive Thanksgiving themed tasting session. In April, the test kitchen was already testing new recipes for the October issue.
The food I cooked was laid out, photographed, and trashed.
We shot five images. It took nine hours.
It was worth it.
I could not have asked for a better internship.
I met driven, intelligent, and hard-working people, and was fostered in an encouraging, open, and inspiring environment.
I was entrusted with responsibility, given opportunities to pitch ideas every week, and allowed to work in departments I was interested in learning about.
In the ruthless, unforgiving magazine world, I believe that Bon Appétit is beloved for a reason, and I am glad that I was able to be a part of it for this short period of time.
I hope to continue my relationship with BA and I will be only too happy to go back to work there, if and when they’ll have me.