Eric Gillin arrived at the newly relaunched Epicurious.com as director of product in September 2012. Two years later, he was promoted to executive director of Condé Nast’s online destination for passionate home cooks. In this role, his first order of business was a major redesign, unveiled earlier this month and complete with new content packages, partnerships with networks like The Weather Channel and an in-the-works collaboration with Apple on its highly anticipated Watch. “A lot of people worked super hard for the last 10 months to make [the relaunch] a reality so [it] has been just thrilling,” he said.
Gillin brings an editorial sensibility (having had editor stints at Esquire.com and Maxim, among other pubs) to product development, as well as an evident passion for the work.
Here, he talks about the new site, career lessons and his favorite place to eat in the city.
Eric Gillin: The main goal of the redesign was to turn Epicurious from a recipe database into the kind of content destination that home cooks want to visit every single day. The way we went about doing that is by being everywhere a home cook is, which meant responsive design with mobile tablet desktop. It meant big beautiful pictures. It also meant decluttering, to put a lot more focus on the amazing recipes that we’re known for, and a lot of the new content we’re doing. We hired a whole new editorial staff. We have a staff photographer, we have a test kitchen, and we’re really working very hard every day to deliver on that value promise editorially, as well as from a product perspective.
FBNY: What are some of those new content pieces?
Gillin: One of them is called Frankenrecipe, where we cook five different recipes and take the best parts of each so we have a Frankenrecipe for, say, cinnamon buns, and we take the topping from one, and the dough from the other, and the icing from a third, and we create the world’s greatest recipe out of that.
We had a piece of launch content that was hugely successful called ‘57 Things You Can Do to Be a Better Cook Right Now,’ and it’s that kind of service-driven approach. It’s really useful. We had a wonderful story about how to use a kitchen towel as a blender. Little things that, I think, if you like to cook at home, it gets you excited to be in the kitchen, and it’s one of those types of things where you say, ‘Wow! I didn’t know that.’
On the product side, we’re playing a lot with personalization. We’re going to be doing something for the Apple Watch, which is pretty exciting. We’re an agile shop so we’re rolling out improvements all the time whether they make a press release or not. Every single day that people come back to Epicurious it’s going to get better and better. We do have huge things ahead. I probably said too much with Apple Watch, but everyone knows that’s coming out and of course we’re going to be on it.
We also have a really wonderful kind of feature on the site right now called the ‘Food Forecast.’ The Weather Channel has enabled it using an amazing API called ‘Weather Effects’ that’s really powerful, and we were able to map some types of recipes to the weather so that when it’s cloudy out you get some snacks and pick-me-ups, and when it’s super cold out we have some nice warming chili and slow-cooked recipes for you.
FBNY: In your career, you’ve worked in both editorial and product management. What are some lessons you’ve learned that you’re applying to your current position?
Gillin: Sometimes as a product person you may want to get something done and kind of ignore the small details, but the editorial mindset maintains that high quality and really getting the little things right [matter]. So, I’ve always felt really good that I kind of understand what editors need, whether that’s a second line on a headline, or that the entire deck needs to be shown and you just can’t truncate it because it doesn’t quite fit the design. I really do apply an editorial mindset to product development so we can tell the kinds of stories we want to tell in the way we want to tell them, without those weird tradeoffs that might render something unreadable or unclear or just plain not fun. I do think I’ve been able to give that attention to detail to the product world.
FBNY: What’s your favorite thing to cook?
Gillin: My favorite thing to cook is this roast chicken dish. It’s a little complex and my wife has to leave the kitchen when I cook it, but it’s amazing. Basically you take a four-pound broiler chicken, fryer chicken. I like Kosher chicken for superstitious reasons, but organic is great too, and you debone it. And this is why my wife has to leave the room. You debone the whole thing, except for the wing joint, and what you’re left with is a really lovely breast and a really lovely deboned thigh and leg that is wrapped in skin. You can take a cast iron skillet and you can cook it on both sides for five minutes and then put it in a 450-degree oven and what you’re left with after 20 minutes is a super juicy chicken that you can cut straight into. It cooks really fast. [When I make it] everyone’s kind of blown away. They start to cut into it thinking that it’s got bones in it, and once they realize it has no bones… they’re just digging in like crazy. It’s really delicious.
FBNY: What’s your favorite New York City restaurant?
Gillin: My favorite one is Bianca, a local’s joint. It’s on Bleecker and Bowery. A small grandma Italian place. It’s where my wife took me on our second or third date, and it’s her place. That’s why I love it so much. The menu has not changed in about eight years, 10 years. The prices are super cheap. I mean we’re talking, you can get yourself a great piece of salmon with garlicky spinach, and roast potatoes for $12 maybe, and George, who’s at the door, is the sweetest man ever. They’ll let you wait for a table next door and let you get a glass of wine at Von. It’s the kind of place that likes no muss, no fuss. It’s unheralded. It doesn’t show up on lists, but — I just gave you my secret so hopefully it won’t get too crowded.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.