At first I wanted to call this post “A Year in Reflection from a Male Food Blogger.” Then I thought about the experiences I’ve had, which led me to title this “Observations and Challenges from a Male Food Blogger.” Then I changed my mind one more time as the writing evolved. I kinda roll that way…
In a female dominated environment where single, married, both working and stay at home mommy bloggers rule, I’ve felt like an outsider and a minority. I am a male food blogger. There I said it and the small number I have found have been few and far between although I follow them closely. I want to succeed and am watching a lot of food bloggers. How they post, how they photograph, how they work social media. Not copy, but emulate, work in my own style and voice. Mind you the opinions expressed here are my own, but I am sure you may relate to some of what I am about to write if you too are a food blogger, and for those of you who are not, thanks for taking the time to read this.
Also, I realize I will be opening myself up to all sorts of comments and criticisms, but this has been my experience and life on the food blogging journey.
So let’s start where every story does, at the beginning. My name is Kevin and this site, Kevin Is Cooking, started with the intention of digitizing my mom’s and some other long since gone family member’s recipes. When my mom passed away years ago, my dad had asked if I wanted anything and I asked for the treasured box of recipes. I kept them, dusted some off now and again and pulled out favorites for holidays and other times to hold on to memories and keep my mom alive in my own way.
I decided it might be a good idea to make a cooking site and post them as well as share my favorite recipes that I’ve been creating, adapting and collecting on my culinary journey. I like to call my style of cooking International Modern Comfort Food. The dishes I love and create are inspired from around the world, as I love travel and the many different ethnic flavors I’ve encountered along the way.
To give a little history to my passion for cooking let me step back a moment. When I was young I always loved to help my mom bake and cook, it seemed like alchemy to me. I remember the patience she showed in explaining my endless “why this first?” or “how does this, do that?” I continued to learn from my mom and grandmothers, although many a Saturday morning were solo experimental outings and many a catastrophe!
“why this first?” or “how does this, do that?”
As a teenager I took a part time job at a French bakery called La Boulangerie in San Francisco. I believe it was at the end of Clement and Arguello Blvd, but it could have been off Union Street, too. Anyways, let’s just say it was somewhere in the Richmond district. I remember doing the bakery’s kitchen dishes and was always given things to taste and try from the owner and the pastry chef. I remember her speaking French, and at the time I was taking it in my high school too because I wanted to get into the cooking field. The female owner, I unfortunately have since forgotten her name, would always be smoking Parliament cigarettes, but would always take care to wash her hands before working the bread, rolling out the croissant and pastry doughs.
It seems a lifetime ago that smoking was allowed everywhere, even on planes and in kitchens. To this day it is a memory I hold dear – her in a cloud of smoke, cigarette dangling from her mouth and her saying “Kevin, try this.” They were the best croissants I can remember. I mean, who doesn’t love a fresh baked croissant, right? She would cut copious amounts of cold butter into the dough; fold the dough over time and again, building up the buttery pastry and then cutting, shaping them into the crescent shaped pieces of heaven. My favorite part was the crispy tip on top of the croissant and the two crunchy, pointy ends. Then you would pull apart the dough and see the layer upon layer of tender, buttery baked yeast-leavened dough inside. HEAVEN. Ahhh, times flies and I have not lived in San Francisco in quite some time so I might have the wrong street where the bakery was, but the memory will always be tucked away for a pleasant and fond remembrance.
“Kevin, try this.”
At seventeen I had the opportunity to attend an ROP cooking school in Terra Linda, California headed up by a red bearded Frenchman named Gérard. He taught me the basics of making a roux to soups, salad dressings, beurre blancs and other beginner classics and baking techniques. It peaked in me a secret talent and a way to express myself.
My hidden passion continued when I moved to San Diego in 1981 from San Francisco. I worked for several catering companies as what they termed a “chef” and waiter and then went to the famed La Valencia in La Jolla, California to work in the kitchen and later wait tables – where the better money was! Soon thereafter I left to sous chef at the now defunct Piret’s, also in La Jolla. Great memories, but the best times are always the experimentation in my own kitchen. Cooking and creating is relaxing to me and I find it therapeutic.
OK, moving along. I have had several career changes since then and cooking and baking have always remained my passion and outlet for creativity. Who doesn’t like to make people smile, fill bellies with wondrous, tasty food and create things that get you kudos and applause? Well, I do and with a “Oh, it was nothing really…” response. Ha! If they only knew how much work went into that. Jeez! If you can relate, keep reading.
It was a little over a year ago my Creative Director came to town and I had her over for dinner. We had a blast cooking and she wouldn’t let me serve the dinner until she put a lemon garnish she had peeled and made into a rosette on the plate first, too fun. Chatting away and from previous conversations, she knew I had a small side project of the cooking site. She had been in marketing for quite some time and mentioned that with a more updated look and feel, a little more length to my writing and researching food photography techniques, my site had the potential to be something. In other words, in reading between the lines, I needed to put some effort into the site if I wanted it to be something. She knew of my passion for cooking and baking and it invigorated my lackluster approach to the site and hence I feel Kevin Is Cooking came alive on that late June evening in 2013.
I starting subscribing to other food blogs for daily updates, found some books on photography, read and practiced food shots. I would no longer just use my iPhone for the images, even though the shots were nice and definitely easy to take. My partner of 34 years, Dave, had a Canon EOS Rebel T3i DSLR Camera with a 100mm and 50mm fixed lens and I would start to use it and experiment for my photos. I went around to different flea markets and picked up different food props of plates, bowls, trays and utensils. Placemats, linens, etc. I submitted my site to Google AdWords and started ad placements to see what kind of monetization could happen. I looked into Google Analytics to review, tweak and fine tune my site. Where were my readers coming from? What recipes were the ones that were getting read the most, what were my demographics? All of it. I looked at a lot of food blogs out there to see who were the heavy hitters, who was prolific in content, who was into quality over quantity, who took the best photographs, whose writing grabbed my attention.
” it would be nice to see the step-by-step images”
I decided I wanted my site to be one where, as a reader of recipes, it would be nice to see the step-by-step images. I didn’t see many out there that showed that, just the beautifully staged money shot of the finished recipe. I mean, many a time I would follow a recipe and think – is it supposed to look like this, did I read that correctly? So I set out to do just that in my postings and images. It is hard work though to stop and set up a shot mid recipe. I plan ahead and think, think think. Is everything prepped? Is my mise en place set up? OK, let’s do this! I love all of it.
I read about food blogger conventions like the IFBC in Seattle. I was excited, it seemed the right fit and was happening in a few months! Then I read it was sold out. Grrrrr! Sad face. Bummer! I was so excited. OK, I will go next year I said, and continued to up my game of new recipes, posting and photographs through the end of 2013. From July 2013 to December, with December being a loss due to the site redesign and post debacles, (read below) I worked my butt off. I posted 156 new recipes, wrote more content, took better photos and really worked the social media aspect, too. I wanted Google to find me as I was not advertising. I wanted more readers. I wanted my site to get noticed. I needed to be my best advocate. Social media helped with that one. I started a Kevin Is Cooking Pinterest page, a Facebook page, an Instagram account, Google+ and Twitter page as well. Post, post, post.
I also found food photography sites to help showcase and bring in more readers like foodgawker and was crushed when some of my submissions were turned down. I mean, half of what I submitted looked just as good as others, some even better. I certainly didn’t submit shoddy stuff. It angered me, I wanted to be part of “the club” damn it. What the heck does “Primary reason: Composition too tight/Awkward Angle” mean really? I get “Low lighting and/or underexposed”, I’ve been working on that, but some images I see on the site are not matching up with what their standards are. Did I miss something? Nope, no sour lemons here – we need to make lemonade. Great lemonade, darn it. I would continue to hone my craft! Be the best I can be and practice, practice, practice.
“I needed to be my best advocate. Social media helped with that one.”
The task of finding a new food theme for the site was a process and I finally found one I wanted to implement. I wanted a fresh start and new look and feel for 2014 and in December I found it. In looking back there have been at least 3 iterations of this site design wise. From the simple beginner template site I found on WordPress that I adapted to suit my needs to another one that I purchased and made some modifications to that was a little for food specific. I reached out to the author of the food template after I ran into a snag only to find them defunct, gone and off Themeforest. Sad, I loved the theme, but needed their help as everything was custom. As a web designer some may find it funny I would utilize another’s design, but I am not that proficient in the deconstruction and manipulation of WordPress files as I would like to be. Like the old saying of how a cobbler’s kid’s shoes always have holes in the soles, as a designer I just didn’t have the time or patience to work on a site design after working in that field all day. I needed a professional who assisted in food focused WordPress themes and I found one after much research in December of 2013. I loved her theme, but her tagline I found interesting: “… works with small businesses and bloggers to create custom functional WordPress sites with a creative, clean, and feminine flair.” My first thought was why alienate half your potential market? Well I wasn’t feminine, I didn’t want a feminine feel site, but still wanted her theme, it was great. So I reached out, purchased it and gave her my ideas on modifying it to suit my needs. We collaborated and ran into one snag. A nasty one.
To my unfortunate realization, the previous blog theme’s way of setting up the recipes was done via a custom recipe post and not the standard Wordpress post so I was told all of my active recipes had to be copied over into each individual post. By hand. Open, highlight, copy, paste over and over again for over 200 recipes! I was not a happy camper and could not figure out why she could not pull the data from the database, it was all there! But I did it and transferred over 200 plus recipes I had accumulated and written to the now standard post. What a process! It took almost 2 weeks in my off time. I was still working 50 hours a week at my design job. Something I didn’t need or have in the first place. After that the site got its facelift in December and I was looking forward to the new year of food blogging and growing the site.
Word to the wise, when purchasing a theme, be sure, and I mean crystal clear with your intentions and the exact terms of the work you are paying for. The additional costs add up and sometimes not in money, but your time. In retrospect I would never use a theme that had so many different customizations that would not easily allow me to change the theme if I got tired of it. But that hurdle was passed, lessons were learned and the new theme was installed and updated to my requests. Then the real work began.
“I am doing what I love.”
It was January 2014 and I was going to take this to the next level. It’s hard working full time, and keeping your attention on your relationship, dogs, friends and the blog. But all are my loves so onward I went with a passion and commitment to excel. I am doing what I love. I work really hard at creating the recipes on this site unless otherwise noted as adapted.
It takes me a lot of time to think of my recipe ideas, shop for them, prep the food, cook or bake them, clean up after, set up and photograph them, edit the images, write the posts, share my insights and stories. I spend about 3-4 hours daily on this labor of love. All images you see here are all done by myself (unless the image shows a credit). It also gets costly shopping for the different recipes, too. Luckily, I have been able to bring to work many a dessert or other dish to share with co-workers and friends. My neighbors love me, too. I can’t tell you how difficult it’s been with the extra few pounds I’ve gained. I have made the mistake of trying to keep up with the other food bloggers with all of their delicious dessert postings. I have really gotten into baking and it’s addicting, almost a competition to post the juiciest, warm, oozing chocolatey delicious, caramel dripping cookie. I mean just looking at Pinterest sometimes would take someone over the edge! It’s a scary place for a diabetic, and I live with one, so I needed to stop the competing and start working on my own style and way. More healthy and less dessert.
“How do they stay looking so good, so healthy and thin?”
I love sugar, but it has been sticking around longer than I would like if you catch my drift. Sugar that the body doesn’t use as energy gets converted to fat. Ugly, nasty fat. In looking at other food blogger’s images the women seem completely in shape and radiant, beaming from their kitchens and a lot of them are consistently posting recipes that are always dessert based. How do they stay looking so good, so healthy and thin? I read their bios and About pages and so many are into fitness and running to keep in shape. I had to start changing my eating habits and have since worked really hard at creating and working on healthier recipes as of late that are not always dessert based. I find it harder to lose the belly fat the older I get! So we workout every morning at 5:15am with Shaun T doing the T25 program. Now that workout kicks my ass. But what a way to start the day!
I continue to develop new recipes, read other blogs and learn. I mean just the other day I saw something I had no idea what it was they were discussing, NaBloPoMo. Really? And then it was consistently posted with no definition. So I Googled it and found it to be the acronym of sorts for National Blog Posting Month. It’s all about writing a blog post each day for the month of November. Ha! I did that last year already and I didn’t even know there was a term for it!
I had planned on attending this year’s IFBC in Seattle, but that same weekend a niece is getting married and family comes first. I was so bummed, I was willing even to go solo and challenge myself to mingle and network and check out the conference. But that will have to happen next time in 2015!
I continue to try and “break in” so to speak, with the women bloggers out there by commenting on recipes and posts and get the occasional same on mine. It’s hard, but I persevere! It’s like a “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine” type of thing – at least to me. It’s all about getting as many readers and followers who enjoy your dishes and the photography. As Irvin Lin from Eat the Love says, “You never “get readers” – you “earn readers” and there’s a difference.”
It’s been a lot of fun and it’s almost addictive in checking my site’s stats and I get excited when I get comments and can interact with readers. I mean, wow, someone is reading my stuff and actually making my recipes? How cool is that? It pushes me more to continue to develop my voice and style, not only in cooking and writing recipes, but in my photography. I can see growth in both from just 6 months ago and it feels good. This site is a side project of mine that I hope one day allows me to be able to do this full time. Who knows?
I’ve found there to be a lot of good recipe developers, photographers and creative women out there. Some very nice and positive commenters that come to mind are Julia from Julia’s Album and Amanda, from her Australian food and photography site, Chew Town. I have appreciated their comments and feedback on recipes and my photography. There are also some fantastic male food bloggers that I thoroughly enjoy and look forward to their posts. Besides Irvin Lin who I mentioned above, one other has been David Lebovitz with his self titled site. I find his writing style and humor similar to my own and his adventurous spirit and wit fun.
So in the meantime, I plan on sticking around and pushing myself, staying positive, focused and following my passion.
Oh, and don’t forget to lick the spoon!