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A food mag for the college crowd

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Audrey Scagnelli often has dreams that involve food. At the tender age of 20, the George Washington University sophomore has an enviable track record of making them come true. Last summer, she backpacked through Europe to sample the cuisines she admires most. She’s zeroing in on her grandmother’s secret recipe for gateau breton. And it took a mere eight months for her to envision, develop and publish College & Cook magazine, a nationwide online effort geared for her demographic.

That particular slice of the population pie — college students in the United States, for starters — is at almost 20 million, which is enough to make media moguls smack their foreheads and wish they’d thought of the concept first.

The big shots should not come calling quite yet. Scagnelli’s not interested in yielding control.

“Everyone’s excited,” she says with a shiny smile, referring to the 19 or 20 students at universities across the country who contributed to the inaugural issue. “I very strongly feel students should remain a part of the production of C&C.”

The editorial “we” in College & Cook is as evident as its founder’s fondness for ampersands. From the Web site, by way of introduction: “We’re a bunch of college kids who love food, live for it, live to enjoy it. . . . we’re sick of being stereotyped by easy mac & cold pizza. We’re worried about record child obesity & the underfunded FDA.”

Scagnelli says she didn’t know where to start, yet tracing her path reveals few missteps. The political communication major sought advice from professors and others who had experience with online publications. She reached out to friends and interested parties through Facebook: at Washington University in St. Louis, the University of Wisconsin at Madison and Le Cordon Bleu in Atlanta. She tapped into the University of Pennsylvania’s campus food magazine, Penn Appetit. Fifteen schools were represented in the quarterly’s winter issue.

“I thought it was a great idea,” says Crystal Williams, the College & Cook contributor who’s at Le Cordon Bleu.

The two met as congressional pages in Washington in 2009. “She knew I am now involved in Share Our Strength,” Williams said. “She asked me to write a piece about it for the magazine, and a regular challenge recipe to teach our readers.”

When Scagnelli served on the yearbook committee at her high school in Gainesville, Fla., she learned how to use a page layout program similar to InDesign, which is what she also works on at Delight Gluten Free Magazine, where she works on Fridays. A college photography class provided enough pointers for her to shoot some decent pictures that accompany recipes in College & Cook. A Politics of the Kitchen course “was a game changer” for her, she says. With lots of ideas for articles, a 15-inch laptop and no operating budget, Scagnelli and a small corps put together an 86-page book.

Its tone is engaging, and its subject matter includes the intricacies of kissing with food allergies, a sustainable-food project at Yale and how to make 5-Minute Cakes using a shot glass to measure the ingredients. Every issue will offer a playlist of music to cook by. Most features are deliberately brief, to keep readers scrolling forward.

The initial recipes admittedly are not cookbook quality, but Scagnelli says the staff received positive feedback about them. Readers can sign up for e-mail updates; anyone can page through College & Cook, no subscription required.

“I honestly don’t want to think about how many hours I put into that first issue,” she says. “I’d say maybe 21 / 2 hours per spread, and that’s not counting any of the pre-production, getting in touch with contributors, the copy editing. . . . Frightening!”

Scagnelli could work late into the night because she lives roommate-free on campus, in a space where the photos are framed, the textiles are coordinated, the furniture’s comfy and the bookshelves are not makeshift.

“Everything you see here was at least 60 percent off,” she says, proud of her shopping skills while being careful to acknowledge the support of her parents in Miami, who gave her the sole bound copy of College & Cook, displayed upright near her favorite cookbooks. Scagnelli loves to cook, of course, and hosts monthly dinner parties around a table hauled up from a community room.

The editor in chief also has received kudos for turning a kitchen near-disaster into a life lesson of 500 words or so. During a photo shoot, bread being toasted for croutons caught fire. Scagnelli and crew grabbed an extinguisher and then spent critical, tense moments struggling to operate it. Firefighters arrived and cleared the entire dorm; her fellow students were less than thrilled on that cold day. No one was hurt, and all it cost was a thorough room-scrubbing.

Since then, Scagnelli has gone looking for opportunities. It doesn’t hurt that she is poised and polite, keen to communicate effectively; Wash U. pal and magazine contributor Jeffrey Morris calls her “my 30-year-old 20-year-old friend.”

College & Cook has made it through the first of three rounds toward winning a $10,000 or $25,000 grant through the GW Business Plan competition. The magazine was awarded two years’ worth of communal office space close to Georgetown via Social Driver, a young Washington outfit that offers Web development and consultation for digital businesses.

“We’d like to get to 10,000 readers with this premier issue, and then grow that number, of course,” she says. (As of press time, that goal was well within reach, monitored via Issuu.com.) The spring issue is underway, covering a trend among collegiate vegetarians and vegans who have turned pescetarian; a history of food phrases; interviews with owners of Maryland food co-ops; and a look at the ethics of lab-engineered meat. It will feature student input from about twice the number of schools as the first time around, with American University, Duke, Williams College, Barnard and the University of Maryland among them.

“I came to GW hoping to do something with food. Something larger,” Scagnelli says. “My goal is to find the news as well as recipes. To connect this community with so much potential.”

RECIPES:

Edamame and Beet Salad

Sauteed Shrimp, Zucchini and Squash Medley

Scagnelli will join today’s Free Range chat at noon:  live.washingtonpost.com.

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