Food Writing

The Evolving Recipe Blogger

By on August 26, 2013 12:30pm EST
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How to make shrimp look unappetizing

I started my first food blog in 2008, when I was getting ready to start culinary school. I knew almost nothing about food, including how to make it taste good. I posted hideous, overexposed photos like this one of shrimp overcooking in orange tomato sauce with a dirty wall backdrop. I was stiff and often overly descriptive to make up for the fact that I didn’t know what the eff I was doing. Worst of all, I used no capital letters, except in reference to my chef-instructors.

As bad as my early blogging was, I am really grateful to have documentation of my entire year of culinary school. (I still get nasty, albeit hilarious, comments every so often on the laminated dough entry from people who are flabbergasted at my terrible technique.) And there are some wonderful little nuggets in there, like the first time my mom made German rot kraut without her mother, the afternoon I spent learning to make pie with my future mother-in-law, and the time I visited chef Sarah Stegner (owner of Prairie Grass Café in Northbrook, Ill.) at her home to help her plant an edible garden with her daughter.

Call blogging dated if you want, but it is a wonderful place for an inexperienced writer to gain confidence, or for an experienced one to find release (I’ve used it in both capacities). As a recipe writer, I learned how important it is to list ingredients in the order of use and to be very specific and clear when explaining cooking techniques and steps. As a writer, I’ve learned to trust my own voice and my unique expertise instead of just copying the style that had already been perfected by the Ree Drummonds, Molly Wizenbergs and Heidi Swansons of the world. As a food blogger, I’ve learned–above all–the value of natural light in amateur food photography.

I still have my hang-ups, like my tendency to be longwinded (see above), my penchant for extreme close-up food shots and my severe lack of chicken recipes–because I think chicken is kind of boring. Sometimes I wish I were a little funnier and a little less sentimental. And all the time I wish I had Will Self’s vocabulary and Deb Perelman’s camera.

But doesn’t relentless self-deprecation often make for good writing? Sure, unless all your readers want is a few decent chicken recipes.

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Marge Hennessy

Maggie is a certified chef and food writer who likes bread with every meal. Follow her on Twitter @edible_words.

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  • Colleen

    Ha, I am guilty of those kinds of terrible food photos…

    Great article, by the way. I would be interested, if it wouldn’t get you sued, on a post on the things you learned in culinary school but have now left behind or just turned out to be wrong. Just a thought. What’s generally true is that I’d like to hear more about culinary school and being a chef!

    • Marge Hennessy

      What I really loved about culinary school is realizing that each chef has his/her own little “rules” that absolutely cannot be broken, like this old French chef-instructor I had who thought anything spicy or charred tasted horrible (and thought cooking asparagus in any other way besides steaming was sacrilegious), or the Southern pastry chef who HATED the flavor of whole wheat flour in most baked products. I discovered that once I actually learned some shit and gained confidence, I could create rules of my own, and refuse to apologize for them. It is very freeing, but it wasn’t until long after I graduated that I realized it.

  • Dana Staves

    Oh gosh, when I think of some of my old food photos. My current ones aren’t great, but those were really bad. I really enjoyed reading your meditation on your blogging life, though. I think that journey of finding your voice and finding confidence is a really great one to have recorded and to involve readers in as well.

  • Danguole Lekaviciute

    Ah, I can definitely relate to the abundance of overexposed, awful photos! And yes, ditto to what you and Dana said about finding your own voice (mine surprised me actually, but it’s what felt the most natural).

    • Marge Hennessy

      I think it’s just the sheer fact that writing with an audience in mind consistently just makes you better. Thanks for the great responses, guys. Feel free to share your hideous photos as well…so I’m not the only sucker here :)