By Jennifer Iscol
Erika Lenkert, editor and publisher of the forthcoming GFF magazine (it stands for Gluten Free Forever), loves to cook, entertain, dine out and travel, and has made a career of conveying her enthusiasm in books, articles and recipe development. “The point of entertaining is to bring people together, so teaching people how to create fun for their guests and how to relax about it is important.”
GFF is planning to enter the crowded field of gluten-free magazines by creating a niche of stylish food, content, design and photography that will be compelling enough to appeal to mainstream readers, “something yummy that just happens to be gluten free.” Her team of three high-powered professional women has the collective experience to bridge the gap between gluten-free and glossy food magazines.
“My dream is that people will pick up the magazine and think ‘delicious,’ instead of ‘gluten free.’ It’s about a bountiful lifestyle, not about the struggles.” There will be less focus on medical topics, but content will include aspects of health and well-being. “I feel like there is room for beauty and deliciousness in this world that you can hold in your hand or have on your tablet,” Ms. Lenkert explained. Her childhood in San Francisco and academic and professional life seem to have prepared her well for leading this new venture.
Raised that way
Ms. Lenkert knew she was going to be a writer before the age of ten. She started keeping a journal in which she recorded the culinary adventures that were “always part of the agenda” wherever she went with her food-loving mother, from ethnic cooking classes to hole-in-the-wall and high-end restaurants. In junior high school, she took an afterschool job in order to fund her restaurant jaunts.
There were always “great ingredients” in her family’s kitchen when she was growing up, and an absence of junk food, so she was surrounded by inspiration and the opportunity to embark on personal adventures. Now as a parent, she still favors fresh ingredients and cooking from scratch, but for baking appreciates the convenience of flour mixes that allow her to forgo storing and blending individual gluten-free flours.
English major segues back to food
At the University of California, Ms. Lenkert majored in English, enduring the usual cautions from well-wishers that “you can’t make a living as a writer.” After college, she took a series of random jobs that she enjoyed in the moment, trusting that they would all add up to a full career experience in the end.
Ms. Lenkert did find a way to combine her love of writing, food, entertaining and travel in a successful and expansive career as a freelance journalist, book author and editor. Ms. Lenkert co-authored Frommer’s San Francisco, Napa and Wine Country guides, was a restaurant critic for San Francisco Chronicle, wrote InStyle magazine’s entertaining guides for six years, and has written for a variety of top national food and travel magazines. She authored The Last-Minute Party Girl and co-authored Raw: The Uncook Book.
Transition to gluten-free
After participating in San Francisco’s dot-com boom of 1999 as the editor-in-chief of WineShopper.com, she had a sudden change in weight and health. An elimination diet that zeroed in on wheat as the culprit, plus a move to Napa (and later to Marin with her new husband), refreshed her body, mind and spirit.
Ms. Lenkert “dialed back a lot” since having a daughter, but somehow managed to still undertake an impressive series of exciting foodie jobs, write a book on pregnancy and co-author another on pregnancy nutrition, develop naturally gluten-free farm-to-table recipes and work with renowned chefs.
Preparing to launch
It would be difficult to imagine someone better qualified to launch a glossy gluten-free magazine, a project Ms. Lenkert has thought about for years, and to which she can bring her well-honed skills, wide-ranging experience, impressive network and, last but not least, her intense passion for wonderful food, beautifully presented. She considers gourmet food to be edible art given as a gift to guests at a dinner table.
However, Ms. Lenkert knew the editorial side of the magazine would be just one component – she needed the visual side. She has been joined in the project by her friend, photographer Maren Caruso, and designer Catherine Jacobes, both well-established professionals with their own extensive experience. Together, they plan to juggle their existing professional commitments with the demands of turning GFF magazine into a profitable venture. Ms. Lenkert said that having to raise $90,000 in 30 days on GFF’s Kickstarter campaign broadened her skill set immediately.