Dropping bombes on the status quo
Kerry Diamond and Claudia Wu built a community of women in food with an artful indie magazine, a weekly podcast, an annual conference and, now, a new cookbook
It's hard to believe that Kerry Diamond and Claudia Wu didn't have a plan beyond one issue of an indie food magazine when they started Cherry Bombe in the spring of 2013. Today, they also have a wildly popular weekly podcast and an annual conference that takes place in two cities. They're also heralded as the nurturers of a new community of women who work in food, and their brand has become synonymous with a combination of fun and female empowerment.
Both women are based in New York, where they met while working at Harper's Bazaar. The project started after Diamond, then a fashion journalist, opened a restaurant with her chef-boyfriend and discovered there was no place for women in the business to connect.
"Looking around, it was all guy restaurateurs and guy chefs," she says, "I had absolutely no network, no community, no support system and that experience made me realize how much I missed that and how much that was a big part of my life in my previous industry."
So she and Wu, a graphic designer with magazine experience, got busy filling the void, launching a Kickstarter with a $30,000 (U.S.) goal. (They raised an extra $12,000.) They were among the front-runners in the indie food-magazine rush. Nine issues in, Cherry Bombe's focus is on food community rather than recipes. Its pages are busy with chef news, product and cookbook launches, and profiles of women whose mission is social change through food. Cover models are often female culinary celebrities including Martha Stewart and former Gourmet magazine editor Ruth Reichl.
The duo maintain a small digital footprint – none of the magazine's content is online – preferring a tactile experience. Printed on heavy matte stock at the carbon-neutral, green printer Hemlock in Vancouver, the magazine is as thick as a big fashion monthly. It's artful and sophisticated; white space is Wu's muse. "The clean, bright aesthetic is subversive," says American journalist Charlotte Druckman, a friend of Diamond and Wu's. "A contrast to the busy, warm style of most food magazines aimed at women."
Toronto-raised Jessamyn Rodriguez is also a fan. "As a social entrepreneur, media coverage is either overly earnest or precious," says Rodriguez, who now lives in New York and is the founder and chief executive officer of Hot Bread Kitchen, a non-profit bakery and incubator kitchen that trains low-income immigrant women. "I appreciate being part of a community that is cool, stylish and sexy."
Last June, Rodriguez was a guest on Radio Cherry Bombe, the weekly one-hour show now in its third year that broadcasts from a shipping-container studio behind a restaurant in Brooklyn's Bushwick neighbourhood. Its punkish opening anthem, All Fired Up, captures the show's scrappy spirit – Diamond uses production skills she learned running a college radio show.
"The show is a free-flowing, meaty, well-moderated conversation with the right guests," Rodriguez says. Those have included chef and cookbook author Samin Nosrat and The Great British Bake Off contestant Martha Collison.
Beyond the print magazine and podcast, Diamond and Wu also put on an annual spring conference, Jubilee, in New York that attracts several hundred participants, mostly women. The brand's rapid expansion indicates a hunger for what the two women are producing.
"It's been a little like a runaway train," Diamond says. It's one that's still going. The first Cherry Bombe cookbook comes out on Oct. 10. The collection of recipes includes a cocktail from Druckman, a shrimp dish from Top Chef star Padma Lakshmi and chef Preeti Mistry's Vindaloo BBQ Baby Back Ribs. Four days later, Jubilee will make its first West Coast stop in San Francisco, with Alice Waters of Chez Panisse restaurant as the keynote speaker. "The Bay Area has always been better for women in food," Diamond says. "I don't know if it's because of Alice, but there's always been more female chefs."
Singling out successful women in any field can be controversial, but Diamond doesn't think Cherry Bombe forces community members into a silo or pink ghetto.
"It's hard to deny that women are not getting their due in the food media," she says. "I just got a pitch for a big guest chef dinner series in L.A. and not a single woman is involved." Staging international culinary events without female chefs is sadly a regular occurrence. In early September, San Pellegrino hosted 21 regional Young Chef competitions around the world, and out of 100 chef judges, only 14 were women.
Women who have been part of the Cherry Bombe experience call themselves the "bombesquad," a sorority with deep respect and admiration for Diamond and Wu's skill as community builders. One of these is Vancouver baker Lyndsay Sung, who speaks highly of the connections she made at Jubliee this past spring.
Sung, the blogger behind Coco Cake Land, spoke on a panel alongside Smitten Kitchen's Deb Perelman and farmer Molly Yeh. The camaraderie at the event left a big impression on her. "It's a community where no one is trying to take each other down," Sung says. "They're trying to build each other up."
Diamond loves making those connections. She recalls two e-mails from women working by themselves in the baking business, both of whom were grateful to connect with others in food through Radio Cherry Bombe. "It helped them know they weren't alone," she says. "Fostering those relationships has been one of the most rewarding things about this journey."