The art of food blogging

Food blogs make celebrity chefs of kitchen geeks and sound the death bell for cookbooks and travel guides

Searching for a recipe for dinner, or want to know the best restaurant to visit in Bangkok? Rather than dusting off a little-used cookbook, or out-of-date travel guide, the community of food bloggers may return exactly what you need with only a few mouse clicks. What’s more there’s the chance to ask questions with the real possibility of an answer from the author or a fellow reader.

Food blogs are not new on the scene, several have been live for five years or more, but easy-to-use templates and an increasing blog readership have ramped up the number of food blogs to more than 33,000, according to Technorati, an internet search engine for tracking blogs.

There are no career prerequisites for setting up a food blog. Experience can vary but the big-hitters are not often complete amateurs. Dorie Greenspan and David Lebovitz were chefs and authors before starting their blogs, and Matt Armendariz, of Matt Bites, is a professional photographer, a useful trade given the importance of good pics for a food blog. Pim Techamuanvivit, on the other hand, quit her Silicon Valley career in 2005 to pursue a food writing career, and has certainly shaken off any amateur status by racking up more than half a million hits on her blog Chez Pim each month.

The beauty of the blogosphere, apart from its sheer energy and topicality, is that there’s always scope for the enthusiast to “go viral”. Often the “most-read” bloggers are those who are approachable and deliver in an endearing style. Such blogging amateurs can even garner literary success. Take Molly Wizenberg, for example, of Orangette, Nicole Stich of Delicious Days and Clotilde Dusoulier of Chocolate and Zucchini, each of whom have won book deals as a result of their successful blogs.

Content varies, too. Food bloggers tend to write about travel and restaurants as well as publish domestic food diaries and their own recipes. Commonly they will adapt recipes from cookbooks, paying homage to the original but offering modifications; they also create a blank space for readers to add comments – recipe technique being a hotly contested area online (see Times Online’s Recipe Exchange).

Luisa Weiss of The Wednesday Chef says: “When it comes to writing about food, blogging is a great medium because of the nature of good food writing: familiar, immediate, and casual. After all, we’re not talking about rocket science or world poverty, food bloggers are writing about what’s for dinner so it’s great to find alternatives to the weekly newspaper sections or monthly food magazines. The daily renewal of what’s out there is quite appealing.”

According to Anne Sage, author of a popular design blog The City Sage, a good food blog is like a trusty friend. “It should illuminate the blogger’s personality, whether he or she is writing about a recipe for scones or their latest kitchen gadget. It’s like getting a recipe tip from a good friend, and who doesn’t love to get kitchen advice from someone whose taste you trust and admire?”

Weiss admits that food blogging is not for everyone. “Blogging appeals to people who want community, who like feedback, who want to participate in something a little larger than their own kitchen. I love cooking a recipe for my blog and imagining my readers and loyal commenters’ reaction to the recipe. Will they like it as much as I did? Will they offer tips to alter the technique?

“Cooking and eating is our most social habit, and food blogging is one way of turning the ‘anonymous’ internet into a sort of office water cooler, in an office where your colleagues are as obsessed with what to make for dinner as you are.”

Certainly the interaction between blogger and reader is a key component to a lively food blog, as opposed to a strictly recipe-only site with little or no opportunity for feedback. Orangette, for example, is an established blog with about 5,500 hits a day. Recent comments on a cabbage gratin recipe number more than 80, with comments offering substitutions, further questions, and responses from the author about problems and issues – could you substitute goat’s cheese, for example, or how about using leeks instead of onions?

Molly Wizenberg, author of Orangette, welcomes the opportunity for interaction, either between reader and author, or among the loyal following of blog readers. “Blogs are like sitting down in the kitchen with someone, only that kitchen is on a computer screen. Cookbooks, by comparison, are a sort of one-way street. Most of us who love to cook and eat also love, I think, to talk about cooking and eating, and blogs are an ideal space for that. I can’t think of a better way to share my love of food, and to (hopefully) inspire other people to get into the kitchen, too.”

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