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October 20, 2017
Cherry Bombe’s War on Food Bros

The indie food magazine may have started as a Kickstarter campaign in reaction to popular food culture, but with a radio show, a conference series, and a new cookbook, the company has become much more.

The kitchen is the first room you see when you walk into the Brooklyn headquarters of Cherry Bombe magazine. It’s cozily old-fashioned: The floor is a yellow floral linoleum, the cabinetry is blonde wood with a gingerbread aesthetic, and there are multiple stained-glass windows. “This one blows my mind,” says editorial director Kerry Diamond, pointing to a window featuring a parrot, a windmill, and a cornucopia. “How did someone decide that those three things go together?”

A Cherry Bombe tote hangs next to a bright pink apron on a wall, and the room is accented with neatly stacked cookbooks by women (Prune by Gabrielle Hamilton, Everything I Want to Eat: Sqirl and the New California Cooking by Jessica Koslow, Salad for President by Julia Sherman) and pale pink Le Creuset dishes. “Some of it was gifted to us; I won’t lie,” Diamond tells me. In the other room, the bathroom door is ajar, revealing a pink-and-white shower curtain.

Elsewhere, the apartment sports plain white walls and parquet floors, a mini-fridge tucked in a corner, a blonde-and-beige Ikea Poang chair, those ubiquitous black rolling desk chairs, and Apple computers. These rooms are where the lion’s share of work gets done: the making of the biannual magazine and the cookbook, as well as planning for the now biannual food conference, called Jubilee, and the weekly radio show. But the kitchen is the heart of the place. It’s here that the team shares a daily lunch, cooked by intern Romilly Newman (a 19-year-old blogger and self-trained cook), who runs the test kitchen. Currently, food photographer Andrea Gentl’s Lemony Lentil Stew, which appears on page 80 of the new Cherry Bombe Cookbook, is simmering on the stove. It smells incredible.

In May 2013, the Kickstarter-funded first issue of Cherry Bombe was published, featuring model-slash-“cookie entrepreneur” Karlie Kloss on the cover. The idea for the magazine had come the year before, when Diamond and Claudia Wu, the magazine’s creative director (the two met while working at Harper’s Bazaar), decided to team up to combat “a very bro-y time in food.”

“I’d had a great community of friends, mentors, coworkers in beauty and fashion,” Diamond says, “but I found myself with no community in this industry, and I missed having a community. There were obviously women in the food world, but we didn’t feel like they were getting their due. Part of starting Cherry Bombe was to shine a spotlight on these women who we felt deserved more recognition.”

That fall, Time did a story called “The 13 Gods of Food,” featuring—you guessed it—all men. “Then Eater did some reporting on the lack of female participation in food conferences around the world,” says Diamond. And with that idea for the Cherry Bombe Jubilee, a female-first food conference, was born; the first one was held at the High Line Hotel in New York City on March 30, 2014.

Since then, there’ve been nine issues of Cherry Bombe. The covers are aesthetically so uniform as to appear as a set, meaning if you have one, you’ll probably want them all. They’re styled with white backgrounds, pops of color that often include actual Maraschino cherries (the “Cherry” in the title of each magazine gets its own complementary hue), and, most importantly, an impressive woman—or, in the case of Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner, women—who embodies the Cherry Bombe aesthetic, a kind of intersection of power, beauty, passion, and food.

The magazine may be niche, but Diamond and Wu have the cachet to convince people like Christina Tosi, Chrissy Teigen, Ruth Reichl, Padma Lakshmi, and Martha Stewart to pose. Inside, readers find stories by and about women in the food world, photography that will make you drool, and, of course, recipes. The print run is always 10,000 copies. “I’m a big believer in when it’s sold out, it’s sold out.” The 10th issue will be released November 13, and while Diamond is keeping cover details under wraps, the theme is “chefs and restaurants.”

But the magazine is just part of the growing empire. On Thursdays, Diamond heads to Bushwick pizzeria Roberta’s to record Radio Cherry Bombe, a weekly show produced by Heritage Radio. “The radio, interestingly enough, has become the biggest part of our business,” she tells me. “We had over a million downloads last year. It just continues to grow. There are young women who listen to the show who don’t even get the magazine.” There have been five Jubilees, the latest of which just took place last weekend in San Francisco, the first on the West Coast.

Along with panels like “The Melting Pot Boils Over: Assimilation, Appropriation, and Affirmation” and “What We’re Hungry For: From Self-Care to Comfort Food to Recognition,” the conference included a keynote talk from Alice Waters, an extensive sustainability mission (flower arrangements made from foraged materials!), and “a lactation lounge for nursing moms and moms who need a pump. The dream is one day, maybe child care for the conference,” says Diamond.

Then there’s the new Cherry Bombe Cookbook, the first in a two-book deal with Clarkson Potter. It compiles recipes from “100 of the most creative and inspiring women in food today,” and Diamond is currently on a 16-city tour to promote it. As with the magazine, there’s a keen and consistent vision, with food photography that’s as palatable as it is simply gorgeous, and a mission to put the work of women front and center on the table. The recipes are, as Diamond and Wu put it, “dependable, interesting, nostalgia-inducing, maybe even a little quirky.”

They’re also diverse in terms of their backstory (shared in mini intros to each), the chefs’ backgrounds and ethnicities, the skill level required for cooking, and where the food might fit in a meal. Jessamyn Rodriguez, founder and CEO of Hot Bread Kitchen, a New York City–based nonprofit, shares her brisket with sweet and sour onions, which she describes as her “crowning glory.” Cookbook author Priya Krishna offers up a roti pizza party, inspired by her mom’s take on American fare. Food designer and artist Laila Gohar gives us hollowed-out zucchini cooked in tomato broth and drizzled with yogurt sauce, a dish passed down in her family for generations. And New York DJ and pastry chef Justine D. contributes cherry bombe cake balls with buttercream frosting and their own green candy stem (you’ll want to lick them off the page).

That all of these projects grew out of a Kickstartered magazine makes them seem all the more magical. “We diversified just as a fluke, to be honest. We didn’t have a business plan. The conference happened because it was a reaction to that Eater story, the radio because it was a suggestion from one of our contributors.” Diamond explains. “I bootstrapped the whole thing. We haven’t taken anybody else’s money, aside from the Kickstarter, which I’m grateful for. It’s really just been slow and steady. A lot of opportunities have come our way that we just haven’t taken advantage of for fear of doing a shitty job. We only have so much bandwidth.”

This year, the Cherry Bombe team doubled in size. There are now five employees, including Diamond and Wu, as well as two interns. All of them are women, which isn’t an active choice so much as it’s naturally reflective of the magazine’s mission to represent women and food. “Guys aren’t flooding us with résumés, let’s put it that way,” Diamond admits. With the expanded staff and the 10th issue put to bed, Diamond is thinking about what’s next. “The magazine business is hard right now, whether you’re in the indie magazine business or the mass-market magazine business. I think what you’ll see is the niche get niche-ier and the mass get more mass,” she says. “And today, everybody has to be this 360 media brand. You can’t just be print; you can’t just be online; you can’t just be anything, any one thing. If you are, God bless, I don’t know how you do it.”

But there’s a clear ideology of putting your money where your mouth is—and supporting women—that extends across the brand. Diamond mentions a conversation at the New York City women’s social club the Wing that she was part of earlier in October. “We talked about supporting female-fueled businesses and making sure that you have a favorite female chef,” she says. “‘Cause it’s one thing to read the stories and think, Oh, this is nice, or listen to the radio and think, That’s nice. But you really have to take the next step and buy their products, go to their restaurants, buy their cookbooks.”

Lunch is ready, so we gather in the kitchen to eat. “You guys are gonna love this!” Diamond tells us excitedly. We help ourselves, and staffers stand propped against counters as you do when you’re hanging out with family during the cooking of a holiday meal, bowls of “Gentl’s Lentils,” as the turmeric-and-ginger-infused stew has been nicknamed by the team, in hand. (It’s fantastic.) Discussion is casually food-oriented: Topics include the scoby—“symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast,” used for making kombucha—from the former Lucky Peach kitchen, what Newman needs to buy to cook lunches while Diamond is traveling, and plans for adding more of the past radio shows to the recently revamped website.

Diamond has to run—she’s off to Seattle the next day, and then on to San Francisco for the Jubilee—but as she goes I ask her another question. How would she describe her food aesthetic? “I wish it was like the cookbook, but it’s more like the Pinterest fail,” she admits. “It tastes good, but it might not look like the Cherry Bombe Cookbook. That’s a bit of the fantasy element.”

Yet here is where fantasy and reality seem to converge for Cherry Bombe: The magazine started due to a desire for community, and now there’s a definite community, as seen in the growing number of women in the food world, as well as the Bombe Squad—the avid fans who tune in for the radio show, bid for sold-out copies of the magazine, and come out in droves for book events and the forward-thinking Jubilee.

“These times are distressing and troubling, and whatever adjective you want to throw at it,” Diamond admits. “At the same time, we’ve seen a lot of improvement. It’s weird that you could be at this state where things have gotten unimaginably worse, but at the same time, the thing you’ve been fighting for for years is improved.”

RECIPE: Lemony Lentil Stew with Ginger and Turmeric

RECIPE: Brisket with Sweet & Sour Onions

RECIPE: Cherry Bombe Cake Balls

Jen Doll

Jen Doll is a freelance journalist as well as the author of the upcoming young adult novel Unclaimed Baggage and the memoir Save the Date.