The Hugh Hefner Magazine Story You Haven’t Heard
The completely astonishing, and highly unexpected, beginning of Food & Wine
Everyone loves an American origin story, especially a complicated one—and there is no more complicated media figure than Hugh Hefner, who died yesterday at the age of 91. The visionary behind Playboy, the magazine, the brand, the lifestyle, it turns out Hefner also introduced the world to Food & Wine magazine in March of 1978.
That’s correct: Food & Wine launched as a supplement in the March 1978 issue of Playboy and then as a stand alone magazine two months later. The original group of five founders, Robert and Lindy Kenyon (parents of newscaster Sandy Kenyon), Michael and Ariane Batterberry (who would later go on to run the much beloved Food Arts) and Peter Jones convinced Playboy there was an opportunity to create a magazine for an emerging passion group: Epicureans. Playboy, and Hef, were in their heyday, as was America. An economic revitalization was leading to the expansion of the middle and upper class and with that came a love of "finer things."
The founders were sure it was time to make a magazine that would celebrate the new American appetite—but investors weren't convinced. According to Ariane Batterberry, who spoke with Food & Wine this morning, it took "seven years" to raise enough money for launch. "Americans would never be interested in food," the finance community told them, so the group set out to cobble together a patchwork of backers—Playboy was one of them.
Believing men—and yes women—would appreciate a "scrupulously honest magazine that cast an appraising eye on everything from cookbooks and kitchen appliances to mail-order houses to Washington lobbyists," Hefner clearly agreed and placed, next to the cover line "Sex Gadgets: The Good, The Bad and The Boring," the announcement of the launch of the The International Review of Food & Wine, called only Food & Wine on the cover.
Batterberry distinctly remembers working with Hefner, whom she says "was wonderful to work with. He was really an editor, he really loved the editorial. And he respected that it was our magazine and left us alone—he really liked Food & Wine." The founders worked most closely with Christie Hefner on the business side, but Batterberry clearly recalls her weekend at the Playboy mansion with Hugh when they struck the deal.
"It was wonderful, but not for the reason you think," Batterberry told Food & Wine. "I didn't see a single bunny the entire time we were there. Two things that did stand out to me were the really beautiful art collection—there was art everywhere—and his amazing menagerie: there were monkeys and peacocks and maybe even big cats, I don't quite remember. I always tell people Playboy wasn't what you think it was."
As for dinner, "I will say they served boy food—steak and lobster, that kind of thing—which I loved," she told us. Most memorably, they broke into the second course (steak) with a tray of chocolate chip cookies. "You see, they had just realized that if you microwaved chocolate chip cookies, the chocolate melted but the cookie stayed crisp—but they must be eaten right away. We had a cookie orgy at dinner—everyone ooh-ing and aah-ing over the cookies, that was it."
Inside, the launch insert is no less astonishing or accomplished. On the cover is a (fully dressed) woman and chef—toque, mustache and all—sipping wine, hanging at the bar of a clearly California restaurant. Its only cover line, a quote from James Beard: "At last, a magazine about food in all its aspects." The cover also debuts our famous "&," a symbol we still use.
Inside you find some of the most accomplished names in food and journalism: George Plimpton, Miriam Ungerer, Jacques Pépin, James Beard, Gael Greene and an ad for Johnny Carson’s clothing line.
Coming as no surprise, we right away find a photo of 007 himself, Roger Moore, tuxedoed and hanging with Michael Caine, dining at London's Intercontinental Hotel on a menu "drawn directly from Ian Fleming’s action fraught pages. Included for the occasion were Turbot Poché, Sauce Mousseline accompanied by a Macon Superieur (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Goldfinger) and Sorbet á la Champagne served with mounds of tropical fruits and torrents of Dom Perignon (Dr. No, The Man with the Golden Gun, The Spy Who Loved Me)."
Other amazing gems: a piece on the return of the at home smoker ("any place suitable for a barbecuing can accommodate a smoker"; a page called "Status Lunch; The Inside Track on Who Eats Where And How Well"—the first item about The Pool Room at The Four Seasons (getting a four fork recommendation); a lesson from Jacques Pépin (a personal chef at the time!) on souffles, including a recipe; a short piece on why it was time to begin gardening for vegetables and herbs from seeds and where to find them; a recipe for "The World’s Great Classics No.1: The Manhattan" (1/3 sweet vermouth; 2/3 rye whiskey, whatever brand preferred; 2 dashes Angostura bitters,optional); an essay on the dinner party meant to kill Rasputin by, casually, George Plimpton
A "Connoisseur’s Forecast on California Wines" including ponderings from James Beard, Gael Greene (identified as New York Magazine’s “’Insatiable Critic’), Sam Aaron (co-author of the Joy of Wine) and Philip Brown; a feature story on Haiti that begins "If you have a soul, you’ll get Haiti" including a guide to Haitian specialties: "'Consomme': Not what you’d expect. In Haiti this usually means a rich, thick puree or soup based on aromatic vegetables, meat, seafood, etc. ‘Marinade’: Again hardly what you’d expect. Deep-fried fritters or croquettes based on anything from breadfruit to salt fish…"
And then the ultimate show stopper, "Verdict: Canned Tuna. Bumble Bee, Chicken of the Sea, Star-Kist and Geisha" judged by a panel of 'notably sensitive and educated palates' which included a hostess/designer, the owner of a cooking school, a former New York Times restaurant critic and the then vice-president of Sherry-Lehmann. (Spoiler alert: they picked Bumble Bee.)
Always ahead of the trend, a feature on tapas described as "free-form party fare, tapas may be consumed in either vast or puckish quantities, indoor or out, by day or by night, with a broad spectrum of drinks" written by James Beard himself.
Food & Wine went on to be sold to American Express publishing in 1983 and then to Time Inc., the current owner, in 2013. We are still devotedly dedicated to the finer things, but we no longer cover "mail-order houses."