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An Interview With The Food & Entertaining Editor: Nancy Wall Hopkins

The upbeat and vivacious Food & Entertaining Editor for Better Homes & Gardens had a few minutes to spare despite her busy day preparing the March 2018 issue. She sat down with us for a spirited conversation about her career, favorite photoshoots to date, and her relationship with the BH&G readers.

Nancy Wall Hopkins entered the Better Homes & Gardens test kitchen on a cool winter morning donning a wool, pastel pink coat and sporting a smile that illuminated the room in an instant. Having spent the day taking a walk in her kitten-heeled shoes, we were in awe of how she worked with such elegant poise. Not to mention, everyone seems to notice when she enters a room—and not just to marvel at her posh attire. You can instantly feel the significance of her role just by watching her go about her day, encountering test kitchen chefs and photographers alike all desiring her final approval. Despite her jam-packed schedule hopping from taste testing the March issue recipes to styling a coconut pudding photoshoot, we were able to sneak away with Nancy to talk about what it's like being, well, the uncrowned queen of food.

Getting Her Start

How did you get your start here at BH&G?
Well this is really interesting, I was an intern at Better Homes & Gardens.

Really, I love that! So you started from the bottom?
I started from the bottom! And I always wanted to be a food editor. I had a mentor growing up...and she was a food editor at Southern Living Magazine. [She was] sort of like a big sister to me and I wanted to be like her, but also she taught me a lot. I [also] loved to write and my school, University of Tennessee, had a program where it was a food degree combined with journalism so I have a double major in Food Science and Nutrition and then Journalism. And then I got the internship and moved to Des Moines right after they offered a position. I think it's really important, if I would just add that, you need to have a journalism degree to do this role but you also have to have the degree in food.

That makes sense. You have to be well-rounded in both areas because it is a double job. You need to know the editorial world, but you also have to know about food.
It's double. Exactly. And magazine work is very much like that, it helps to have both.

What's it like being the Food & Entertaining Editor?
I love it—I just hit my 20th year in this role and I love it so much. It's a wonderful position in that I'm totally responsible for the [food related] content. Our staff is, I always love to say, lean and mean, but our readers love everything that we do. They love to cook and I think for any food editor it's wonderful to create recipes for people who will really use them and learn from them.

I'm sure that you sort of have a relationship with the reader, being here for so long you probably feel like you know her, you know?
We do, and we feel like we're her ally in the kitchen. She's showing us things we show her. What they do on Tuesday night might be different than what they do when they're having...friends over and entertaining so it's nice to know we're giving her a solution for important days and everyday. It's wonderful.


Behind The Scenes

What's one thing you think our readers would be surprised to know about when it comes to the creation of recipes?
It's a team effort. There are no fake foods, that's always a question—everything's real.

So no weird ingredients to make it look pretty but would taste terrible?
None of that, we really photograph the recipe. And you know if it doesn't photograph well, it doesn't work out well in the kitchen so we actually—I think people would be surprised—we do a photo match [after photoshoot] to make sure we didn't get too elaborate during photography to [ensure] the recipe reflects what we photographed. A lot of magazines get the recipe perfectly edited and then photograph it but they never backtrack to make sure the two lineup. So for example, you might throw some fancy garnish on a recipe in photography and then when the reader is making it at home.

They're like what's that green thing on the top?
What's that green thing on the top! Yeah, so we just make sure it all works after photography and before.

What is your favorite part of your job?
Photography! Food photography has sort of always been my specialty. I do believe that if it doesn't look delicious, no one will try the recipe. You have to be able to eat it with your eyes.

Tell us about some of your favorite photoshoots that you've ever worked on.
I love them [all], but my favorite ones are the productions with a person. Sometimes for us, it's a celebrity, sometimes it's a chef, sometimes it's a cookbook author. But I really love the ones when we're telling someone's story. You know, like their special Christmas meal or their special barbeque or someone at Thanksgiving. Those are hard to pull off [with] lots of people and parts, and they're hard. You have to think on your feet and I'm really completely driven when you think on your feet, I think it's so fun.

Who's been your favorite person to meet through a photoshoot?
I've had some great shoots in my career. I loved Jamie Oliver, I got to photograph him. I recently photographed Little Big Town's Kimberly Schlapman [and] I loved her. I photographed at Blackberry Farm which is in Tennessee where I'm from. My favorite of all might have been Jacques Pépin. It was just the two of us alone in his kitchen, [and] that was special. He is such a wonderful cook, a cook that loves to teach, and he has really dreamy eyes.

What do you look for when choosing recipes for BH&G?
That the reader will love them, and they're delicious. They have to be delicious first. We can always make a recipe look beautiful but we have to want to eat it ourselves.

Do you ever find that you have to steer clear from things that people don't normally like?
You can't win. We have 40+ million readers so you have to think mass with a twist. And we make sure that all of our ingredients are nationally available.


Her Relationship With Our Readers

At this point, someone had poked their head in asking for Nancy's expertise at the photoshoot happening just outside the door, so our time together was nearing an end. Luckily, Nancy enthusiastically jumped to answer this last question, appearing to hold the answer near and dear to her heart.

What do you think sets the BH&G recipes we feature in print and online apart from every other publication?
They're created for our readers and we're just like our readers. We're making recipes that we would feed our own families and our own friends and we know what our readers like because we know what we like. [The recipes] are easy and tested, and they work.

So at the end of the day, it's kind of like helping a friend?
It's exactly like we're helping our friends! And we know our readers because we are our readers.

I'm sure it's a nice feeling, really believing in what you're creating.
We do believe in it and we're all passionate [because] we want to make food at home for the people who matter most in our lives, too.

Thanks so much for sitting down with us, Nancy!