When Jane Francisco joined Good Housekeeping as its new editor in chief four years ago, she didn't just take the helm of one of publishing's oldest and most revered women's service magazines, she assumed control of the magazine's famous test kitchen. A glass-walled space with white cabinets and appliances of brushed stainless steel, the kitchen commands a corner perch of the Hearst Tower's 29th floor and is among the most frenetic kitchens in Manhattan.
Moving under a cloud of steam among the maze of countertops, the magazine's cooks and editors develop all of the recipes for the magazine, over 1,200 of them a year. It's a staggering job that not only entails 16 weeks of development for each dish, but purchasing over $2,200 (every month) worth of groceries, conducting over 140 taste tests and washing upwards of 6,500 dishes. Keeping it all going is, in the words of food director Susan Westmoreland, like "solving a puzzle.”
But to Francisco's eye, the kitchen wasn't just a puzzle—it was a packed house. The magazine not only developed and cooked all of its recipes in its test kitchen, it photographed everything in there, too, and things could get pretty tangled up. Cooks would be cooking while, just feet away, the staff photographer was trying to arrange the beauty shots.
One day, watching this culinary snarl in progress, Francisco thought: "We need a better space.” And, as she explained to a visitor to the 29th floor on a recent morning, "That was where it started.”
The "it” she's referring to is the Kitchen of the Future, Good Housekeeping's name for its new and expansive space just next door to its test kitchen. As the name suggests, the facility showcases cutting-edge appliances—all of which are furnished by German manufacturer Miele—that aim to improve kitchen life in the years to come (more about that later.)
But the airy new suite is also a window into the evolution of a 132-year-old publishing brand as it works to satisfy the evolving expectations of its readers while also creating a new vehicle for branding and marketing at a time when advertising revenues don't just roll in the door like they used to. The 728-square-foot facility doesn't just feature an ample countertop set with futuristic gadgetry, it boasts a long and slender dining table with room to comfortably seat 16 people. When the 23-by-32-foot room is not being used for photo shoots, Francisco envisions it as a web-ready event space, a stylish expanse where Good Housekeeping will bring together advertisers, choice readers, journalists and social-media influencers together under one high-rise roof.
Like many magazines, Good Housekeeping has realized that creating events—and, specifically, branding those events with the publication's widely respected name—can present new promotional and revenue opportunities. Good Housekeeping had done some of this in the past year inside its original test kitchen (having, say, a wine partner introduce its new varietals along with suitably paired dishes). But that space wasn't just constrained in terms of the number of guests it could accommodate, the atmosphere of an active kitchen limited the ambiance it was possible to create.
With the new space (strategically connected to the test kitchen via a discreet side door), the opportunities are much broader.
"When we're not shooting in here, we can have functions,” explained Francisco, sitting at the table over an array of fresh-baked breads that had just emerged from the ovens next door. "We can have readers come in here, and we can actually broadcast. We can do Facebook Live. We can create content [with] guests and with our own VIPs and partners.”
Apart from the most obvious benefits of content creation and event-based marketing, the new space accomplishes something else for Good Housekeeping that's less visible but equally important. Because it shares the 29th floor with the Good Housekeeping Institute—myriad laboratories that test tens of thousands of consumer products a year for the coveted Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval—the Kitchen of the Future accentuates the magazine's position not just as an editorial voice, but as a hands-on institution and consumer advocate.
What's more, by creating a variety of events that can be shot, posted online and viewed by a diverse audience, Francisco believes the Kitchen of the Future will further help position the magazine as a culinary authority, especially to a younger audience who may not be current readers. Whereas historically, consumers may have regarded the Hearst title as a trusty service magazine with wholesome casserole recipes, they'll now be more likely to see it as a bellwether of food and eating trends for the 21st century.
Central to this shift, Francisco explained, is the incorporation of the magazine's own in-house culinary team.
"We have this wonderful, amazing test kitchen with this incredible group of experts in the space—our chefs, our registered dietician, all of these people who work in here,” she said. "There's this huge resource … [but] we weren't marketing it enough to our own audience. And we weren't marketing it enough to the industry and beyond. … So these kinds of spaces, and specifically this one, is partly a way to do that.”
Francisco isn't reading from a playbook the publisher just slipped beneath her door. She is, in fact, an editor who's had significant experience on the business side. Francisco created and ran her own fashion-design company while still a student at the University of Toronto, then worked for a custom publisher where she created content for clients like Microsoft and IBM. She's worked for a digital marketing company and as a marketing director in the fashion press. These experiences, she said, instilled her with an understanding of content as more than just what readers consume, but as a branding and differentiation tool. The Kitchen of the Future, then, is something Francisco sees as a "wonderful vehicle to create a different level of content.”
Which is what the times call for, according to James G. Brooks, Jr., founder and CEO of social video distribution platform GlassView. "What I think is interesting is that Good Housekeeping, ostensibly this old-school publication, is pushing forward on the technology front, positioning themselves as leaders on not only what's current, but what is yet to come,” he said. The Kitchen of the Future, he said, "could help expand their audience base to not only home enthusiasts but also technology enthusiasts. Expanded audience can mean more ad dollars.”
"Additionally,” Brooks said, content produced in the Kitchen of the Future "could make [Good Housekeeping] a natural go-to for advertising for any company creating Internet of Things and wearable devices, which we know many are. They could expand their brand base outside of what has historically been considered as endemic advertisers.”
While those benefits would, naturally, come down the road, the Kitchen of the Future is already marching cooks into the digital era by showcasing high-tech appliances. Miele—a brand that, not coincidentally, holds the Good Housekeeping Seal—has furnished the workhorses for the space, including an induction cooktop, a combination steam-convection oven and an EcoFlex "smart” dishwasher that can be controlled via Miele's mobile app.
Not content to leave off at the merely utilitarian, the magazine's new kitchen also incorporates some pretty far-out stuff, including a Simplehuman trash can whose lid opens via voice commands; Opcom's Farm Grow Box, a hydroponic growing system small enough to fit into the corner of a room; and the inimitable PancakeBot, a combination grill and 3D printer that produces pancakes in any shape you like via an SD card.
It's impressive technology for an impressive room, whose copper-colored chairs and wooden plank dining table help create a space that's somehow both modern and homey at the same time. Only time will tell, of course, if the magazine gets as much branding mileage out of the new kitchen as Francisco envisions. But in the meantime, at least it will make the photo shoots easier and, with luck, it might make Susan Westmoreland's life a little easier, too.
The food director says that in all of the recipes her team develops and tests yearly, there's one ingredient they all share, and that's time.
"It used to be a half-hour [that people had to cook], and now it's 20 minutes,” she said. "That's changed in [just] the last five years. People don't want to be standing at the stove.”
Fortunately for her, PancakeBot will make the pancakes all by itself.