Food The Tastemakers:

Christene Barberich | Refinery 29

Photography by Winnie Au

“I’m a swooner by design.” I couldn’t have dreamed up a better statement myself. This sentiment is expressed by none other than former Global Editor-In-Chief and Co-Founder of Refinery29, Christene Barberich. Christene is a product of the publishing world golden days, having worked at the epicurean publication Gourmet magazine, among other outlets. As a constant innovator, entrepreneur, dreamer and content creator, she was at the forefront of the burgeoning digital media age when she launched R29 back in 2005. On a mission to genuinely impact in people’s lives, R29 offered creative freedom, exploration, and community.

“Great ideas at the right time are important (as they were for us), but it’s really the chemistry and combined ambition of the people there at the beginning that determines its destiny,” she tells me. This is yet another one of Christene’s sentiments that deeply resonates with me, because her timing and the chemistry and combined ambition of her founding team seemed to collide with my own. You see, R29 had a heavy hand in shaping my own destiny and beginnings in the digital space. They were the first digital publication to highlight Athena Calderone as EyeSwoon. They were also very much responsible for my early growth on Instagram, as I can recall watching my following expand from 900 to 1400 over the course of 15 minutes. Moreover, R29 also began syndicating my stories in the first few months of EyeSwoon’s inception, and this without doubt brought many, many, many eyeballs to my site. So first and foremost, Christene, THANK YOU!

But rather than being a love letter to R29, this is a story about a shared passion for cooking and connecting deeply, not in the digital space but in the kitchen, and a story about evolution. Christene and I have “known” one another for years. We have sat next to one another at a fashion show or across from each other at a dinner. But, as holds true every time I think I know someone, the true connection happens when we are in an intimate setting, when we are sharing, when we are chopping, when we are laughing, when we are engaged. Within the colorful walls of Christene’s ridiculously photogenic Brooklyn Heights apartment, she and I really did finally get to know one another as we cooked. We created one of her tried-and-true gluten-free pastas, packed with a punch of vibrant herbs, briny feta, and rich pine nuts.

Christene and I talked in detail about so many creative endeavors from vintage shopping to the joys and stresses of entertaining, but what I loved most about my time with her was witnessing her zest for what she does. For someone who has seen so much change and growth in publishing, she continues to adapt with the times. She is a pioneer, a persevering, adept entrepreneur, and an inspiration to me.

Each time I have the opportunity to get into the kitchen with another creative I learn something. When I am with a chef, that something may be how to better hold my knife. With Christene, it was a little tip about a local restaurant, (I’ll be moving just a block away from it in a few short months), an amazing acupuncturist recommendation, how and where to score the best vintage linens, and the knowledge that I absolutely must upturn the corners of my mouth to avoid looking old, (a harsh yet helpful word of advice that was bestowed upon Christene and that she passed on to me, hahaha).

In every meeting of the minds in the kitchen, it’s always different, I am always curious, and I always leave energized. In moments like these, in standing beside a gracious, sincere, and inspiring innovator like Christene, I realize how fortunate I am to be on this journey, doing what I do. For each of us, whether we’re entrepreneurs or not, we are molding and morphing into something new every day with the help of the people we surround ourselves with. I will close with yet another swoony statement from Christene:

“I definitely think success is a process and a journey. You’re never done with it if you’re truly succeeding.”



Christene Barberich

Tell me about the genesis of your business.

I’m an entrepreneurial person by nature and love dreaming about building new things, whether that’s a short essay, a business, or a new corner of my home. Refinery29 was really a meeting of the minds, and maybe a little bit of serendipity, too, in that I couldn’t stop thinking about the prospect of starting this company after I first met my co-founders Philippe and Justin (Piera was already a close confidant). Great ideas at the right time are important (as they were for us), but it’s really the chemistry and combined ambition of the people there at the beginning that determines its destiny.

What was the career and life progression that led you to create Refinery29 and to where you are today?

I met my co-founders at a time when the internet was just being born (as we know it today), and I was eager to start translating my experience in content and publishing through that medium. In many ways we’re still following many of the earliest edicts that got us off the ground in the first place—inclusivity, creative freedom, community—always exploring and tackling new ways to bring our mission to life and have a genuine impact in people’s lives.

How would you briefly describe what you do on a day-to-day basis to someone who does not know your world?

As the global editor-in-chief, I do my fair share of traveling to speak at events, meet with brand partners, visit our global teams, or attend fashion shows (if it’s fashion month). I also work closely with our chief content officer and executive editor in guiding our content as it evolves and adapts, across all platforms, to what’s happening in the world and with our audience. As a founder, you’re challenged to constantly adapt your efforts to the greater needs of the operation and the team, but it’s also a big part of my role to ensure the spirit of the brand—what resonated with users at the very beginning and gave R29 a beating heart—doesn’t get lost or misguided in progress. That’s way harder than it sounds, too.

Current project that has you super excited?

Casting the new season of the podcast I host, UnStyled. We’re heading into production soon on Season 2 and I can’t wait to start framing out the guest list and the discussions we’ll have.

What makes you swoon more than any one thing?

Sincerity, gratitude, a good dream that I can actually remember in the morning, hearing a song randomly that I love that I haven’t heard in decades, GREAT Vietnamese rice noodles, my husband and cat, a spontaneous road trip…I’m sure there are many more things that I can’t remember right now. I’m a swooner by design.

I know you love vintage, from clothing to kitchen linens. Any secret spots or tips to score great vintage?

The Brimfield show is honestly so good for finding piles of never-used vintage linens and napkins. But I also love eBay for all things vintage, specifically hard-to-find thinks like Alexander Girard prints, ’70s gowns, or old, out-of-print architecture books. It’s like a daily rummage sale right on my phone…which is dangerous!

That “Aha!” proud moment in your career when you were recognized and knew you had succeeded?

I definitely think success is a process and a journey, you’re never done with it if you’re truly succeeding…but if I had to name one thing, it would be the widespread reaction to our 67% Project…to make content that actually shifts the conversation and drives change is the ultimate goal.

In three words, cooking makes you feel…

Optimistic, anxious, hungry.

Are you a recipe follower or an intuitive cook?

Definitely the latter. Reading recipes gives me serious anxiety…I think that stems from my Gourmet days when we had to test each recipe eight times….EIGHT TIMES!

Five artists currently in rotation on your cooking playlist?

The one song I’ve been playing constantly is Bob Moses’ “I Ain’t Gonna Be the First To Cry.” It’s perfect for cooking, for everything.

How would you describe the food you cook and crave?

With most things, not just eating, I am a hopeless creature of habit. Eating healthy food prepared with care makes me feel grounded and strong. Dark green vegetables, seeded gluten-free bread, organic berries, good raw goat cheese, fresh herbs, green juice, lots of nuts (not just raw, I like them roasted, too, even if they’re not as good for you!), occasionally good-quality meat or tofu, dark chocolate with spices, strong coffee and almond milk, spicy Vietnamese broth, Bragg’s olive oil and amino acids, lemon water, sea salt and red pepper flakes, spirulina tablets and probiotics…these are my staples, and I just don’t feel like myself when I go off the menu. It’s boring but it’s true.

That one dish in your repertoire you can make with your eyes closed, in a pinch?

A vegetable and goat cheese frittata…I can make it with almost anything, anytime, for anyone, and it turns out pretty great.

Do you entertain a lot at home? Easy breezy or holy stressful? Any tricks?

I’m actually writing an essay right now on how much anxiety entertaining at home gives me, despite how much I love to do it. I don’t know why…I think it’s mostly because I generally really love the people I invite over and I want them to feel delighted and cared for. I will say my one tried-and-true trick is to always, always have a great cheese/snack spread at the very beginning…good olives, crackers, turmeric nuts, cheese, a nice cider or prosecco (something a little different)…it just kicks everything off in a festive, yummy way. And bright, happy linens…I’ve had people want to take them home with them!

Five items that are always in your fridge?

Probiotics, fish sauce, organic eggs, organic blueberries, goat cheese with herbs, arugula…I eat it by the fistful.

Snack from your childhood or college days you are mildly embarrassed you still love?

On days I stayed home sick, my grandmother used to make us tuna fish sandwiches with Miracle Whip on toasted Pepperidge Farm white bread…she’d cut each of our sandwiches into fours and then we’d watch a soap opera together. I still love tuna with Miracle Whip….it reminds me of her.

What is your food Kryptonite – the one item you can never say no to?

The chocolate pudding from Rucola topped with fresh cream, olive oil, and dash of sea salt. It’s heaven.

All-time favorite restaurant in your city?

We go to Colonie around the corner from our house the most and just eat at the bar…it’s one of those places that just gets better and better and always makes me feel calm and comforted, even if my day was complete shit.

Describe the perfect Sunday meal.

Homemade sauce with fresh basil and lots of garlic with gluten-free rigatoni and raw grated parmesan cheese….A LOT of parmesan cheese, with a side of salad made with bitter greens. That’s my jam.

Go-to local spots? (Cafés? Restaurants? Shops? Parks?)

Iris Cafe, Colonie, Rucola (and my friend Henry’s new place Metta in Fort Greene), Nightingale Nine, Chez Moi, Sahadi’s for olives and groceries, Trader Joe’s for the basics, Primary Essentials for gifts and home goods, and Montague Wine & Spirits for all things boozy.

Life mantra at the moment?

If not now, when?

Fresh Herb Gluten-Free Pasta

Christene Barberich


  • 1 pound of Jovial gluten-free rigatoni (I like Jovial the best for firmness and flavor)
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • Bragg organic olive oil (I think the flavor of Bragg is best)
  • Block of fresh feta cheese, cut into half-inch cubes
  • Bunches of fresh herbs, such as dill, mint, thyme, basil, flat parsley, cilantro (I don’t measure but tend to use the dill in the largest quantity, the others in sprigs, maybe 2 to 3 tablespoons of each. The point is you want to really go overboard on the herbs…more is good!)
  • Fresh green peas (or frozen, defrosted, rinsed and dried)
  • Cherry tomatoes, halved
  • Sea salt to taste
  • Red pepper flakes to taste
  • Black pepper to taste

The Prep

  1. Bring pot of water to boil, salt to taste. Cook pasta until al dente. Drain and place back into pot, tossing with olive oil to coat.
  2. Chop garlic, add to pasta, toss well.
  3. Add herbs, peas, feta cheese, tomatoes, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes to taste. Toss together gently but thoroughly. Add more olive oil, just enough to toss easily.
  4. Serve immediately or at room temperature.
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