After news of the death of College sophomore Blaze Bernstein surfaced on campus, many of those close to Bernstein — and many who had never met him — found support among friends and loved ones and found ways to mourn his loss on campus.
Board members of Penn Appétit, however, had the additional task of making challenging decisions about the future of the magazine.
Before Bernstein went home for winter break a couple months ago, he was elected to serve as the managing editor of the food publication Penn Appétit, where he previously worked as a copy editor for both the magazine and "Whisk," Penn Appétit’s upcoming cookbook.
Bernstein was involved with both the editorial and culinary side of the magazine, creating recipes and editing articles. College sophomore and Penn Appétit Culinary Director Jennifer Higa said deciding the direction of the magazine has been difficult for board members.
“Blaze put so much time into [the magazine],” Higa said. “It’s hard to find someone as passionate, devoted, and who liked writing so much.”
In charge of all written content, the managing editor's role is integral for the magazine, which generally completes the written component of the process within the first month of the semester, according to Higa.
“We had to figure out what to do about the magazine fairly quickly because the club fair was coming up and we had our new member recruiting GBM the week after we got back to school,” said Rachel Prokupek, Wharton sophomore and Penn Appétit's executive director.
Bernstein went missing last month on Jan. 2 before his body was found in a park in Orange County. Calif a week later. Authorities ruled his death a homicide and charged Samuel Woodward, a 20-year-old male who went to the Orange County School of the Arts with Bernstein. A report from ProPublica found Woodward has ties to a neo-Nazi hate group.
After news of Bernstein’s death broke, all members of the board were originally going to collectively fill the role of managing editor until they decided to open applications after their first general body meeting on Jan. 17.
“We realized that the amount of work and feasibility of having a managing editor team was not going to work out,” said College sophomore Chris Muracca, the Penn Appétit treasurer.
Higa said Penn Appétit board members also considered not releasing an issue this semester before coming to the conclusion that they would publish the magazine and add pieces throughout the issue that honored Bernstein’s life.
“Blaze wouldn’t want us to stop because of him. He was very thoughtful,” Higa said.
College freshman Alexander Gottfried will be taking over the role as Penn Appétit’s managing editor. He said he was originally not aware that it was Bernstein's position when he decided to apply.
“I felt horrible that the position was up for grabs in this way,” Gottfried said.
“I’ve tried to respect what he started and incorporate some of his themes [into] the magazine.”
Muracca said it was difficult for board members to be making these decisions given the recent public attention toward Bernstein’s death.
“As sophomores, we don’t feel as experienced to handle the situation,” said Muracca, who also serves as The Daily Pennsylvanian print director. “We [have] to make these executive decisions, even though we are young and don’t have as much experience with the club as some of the older members that had previously taken on these leadership positions.”
Prokupek worked closely with Bernstein on the editorial team last semester. Bernstein’s father, Gideon Bernstein, sent her Blaze’s recipes and notes that he prepared over winter break. The next Penn Appétit issue will feature a theme directly from Bernstein’s list of potential themes he had for the magazine.
“The first thing we wanted to do immediately was to choose a theme that not only honored him, but honored something he would liked to have done,” said Kate Kassin, College sophomore and Penn Appétit business manager.
Kassin said board members of Penn Appétit started a group chat over winter break, but Bernstein never responded.
“He really was such a great kid. We always joked that he was quirky and had such fun, out-of-the box ideas,” Kassin said.
Prokupek added that the Penn Appétit cookbook, "Whisk," will be dedicated to Bernstein and will feature some of the recipes he created over winter break. She said that Bernstein helped create a visual style guide for the recipes, planned to copy edit recipes for "Whisk," and set up meetings with publishers.
Gina DeCagna, 2016 College graduate and Kelly Writers House fellow, reached out to Prokupek after hearing about Bernstein’s death and offered to help advise the publishing side of the cookbook. DeCagna has previously worked with Jamie-Lee Josselyn, Bernstein’s pre-major academic adviser.
“Of course, it’s so devastating and heartbreaking,” Higa said. “But in a way it’s brought so many people together and we really feel the strength of communities coming to support each other.”
For the upcoming spring Penn Appétit issue, the board will also republish one of Bernstein’s articles that was featured in the “Get Rich” issue released last fall. The next issue will be distributed during the last week of classes at the end of April.
Kathleen Norton, College junior and previous Penn Appétit managing editor, worked closely with Bernstein last semester when he was a copy editor.
“He knew so much about food and cared so much about the magazine,” Norton said. “I always wanted his opinion because I trusted him really strongly. I was so excited for him to take over.”
Bernstein was also involved with a number of publications on campus, as he served as a copy associate for the literary magazine, Penn Review, and was an incoming copy associate for 34th Street Magazine.
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