With The Launch Of Provisions, Food 52 Now Wants You To Cook, And Shop, Better

Online cooking community Food 52 lives and breathes and sculpts things out of pecans and dark chocolate with the mantra "memorable cooking doesn't have to be complicated or precious." And a spin around the website proves that the mission is hardly marshmallow fluff. You won't find too many macaron how-tos or tales of foraging for bugleweed. Recipes are written with a singular end-result in mind — preparing seasonally minded meals, large and small, in a home kitchen. They also answer questions like what happens when avocados and berries meet? The site also hosts an annual online cookbook battle royale, christened Piglet.

Founded by journalists Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs in 2009, F52 is a different kind of cooking site. Unlike traditional cooking magazines, recipes are sourced from a passionate community of home cooks, rather than developed in a test kitchen. (Though, F52 does test and develop some of the recipes.) But up until today, the website has been a content-only proposition. Need a hard-to-source bottle of New Mexican green chili powder? Good luck.

Enter Provisions By Food 52, the company's foray into the retail business. "We sample every product we sell," says Hesser. As of today's launch, there are 104 products available, with more being added weekly. A preview of the store reveals five core categories: Kitchen (cookware, tools, storage), Table (dinnerware, barware), Outdoor (grilling accessories), Pantry (spices, grains) and a robust Exclusive section that, as the name implies, peddles products sourced exclusively from vendors like Oaktown Spice Shop and Jacobsen Salt Co.

Hesser says that all of the 104 products available at launch have been used in the F52 offices, originate from the F52 community or are found by a team of so-called "Pinterest Scouts." "We receive lots of inbound requests and can't stock everything that is pitched," she adds.

Selling a line of well-curated culinary products is certainly nothing new. Dean & Deluca invented the game long ago, while regional stores like Di Bruno Bros. (Philadelphia) and Zingerman's (Ann Arbor) have ramped up their web operations in recent years. But until now, it's proven difficult for a content-focused operation to make the leap to retail. Gilt Taste launched in 2011 with great fanfare (and Ruth Reichl as editorial advisor and emissary to the food world), but soon found it difficult to link their high-end store (selling spendy cuts of dry-aged meat and $600 Japanese knives) to an award-winning web magazine.

When asked how Provisions will succeed where Gilt Taste failed, Hesser is clear and confident. "Every product is presented with related content from Food52 that helps you contextualize it and make the most out of it," she says. She points to an $18 Boston-shaker. The page doesn't just provide product information, but a martini recipe, tutorial on zesting citrus for garnishes and an article on the best type of ice to use for different kinds of drinks. Provisions will also release weekly Collections, which will serve as mini editorial features linking the store to a timely subject like seasonal produce and entertaining.

Hesser admits that the leap to retail will not be easy, but she's up for the challenge. "It's hard to patch content onto commerce and have it feel authentic or useful. We started out primarily as a content company, and have spent the past couple of years building an audience who trusts us — and each other — to highlight only the best food and cooking content. Provisions is about extending that to products as well."