Ten Years A Food Blogger

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Dear Me of Ten Years Ago,

Let’s see if I can remember the moment. You’re in your room of the apartment you share in Atlanta, Georgia with your friend Lauren, avoiding the stack of law school homework on your desk, and trying out potential blog names on Typepad. A week earlier, you posted a question on Ask Metafilter: “How do I become an internet phenomenon?” You asked that question in a manner that was both tongue-in-cheek and sincere. In a few months you’ll graduate law school, and then what? A career as a lawyer? Litigating toxic torts for the law firm where you spent your previous summer in L.A.? The folks on Ask Metafilter offer advice, but this nugget from Aaorn stands out: “Having a single, narrowly-focused topic (assuming it’s an interesting single topic) will draw people more consistantly than a hodgepodge of random things that interest you.” Until you read that, you considered just doing an Adam Roberts blog with bits about musicals and books and the occasional recipe; but, really thinking it over, you realize that food–a subject that’s fascinated you ever since, two years earlier, you started watching Sara Moulton and Mario Batali on the Food Network–is something you’d enjoy blogging about on a regular basis. You type the words “amateur gourmet” into the HTML box and hit publish. A few minutes later, you write your first post–“The Birth of An Amateur Icon”–and send it out into the ether. You then frantically wait for your first comment. It comes from your friend Josh who, along with his wife Katy, urged you start the blog in the first place. Katy, I’d soon learn, would be my first troll, with comments like: “OMG!!!! You are HILARIOUZZZ!!! Are you singel seriously because I LOVE GUYZ WHO ARE FUNNY AND ALOS I LOVE FOOD!!!!”

The blog takes a while to get going. You make Martha Stewart White Chocolate Chunk Cookies and don’t include the recipe. You debate your friend Lisa about olives. You write your first restaurant “review,” of The Silver Skillet, saying of the biscuits: “[They] melt in your mouth and stay there in your dreams.” It’s an inauspicious beginning, you don’t really win a new following (Josh, Katy, and your parents are your biggest commenters) until Janet Jackson shows her boob at the Superbowl and you make your, now notorious, Janet Jackson Breast Cupcakes.

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CNN comes over and does a story. The post is featured on CollegeHumor and Instapundit. Your traffic surges.

Then it wanes. It picks back up again with Condoleeza Rice Pudding with Berries of Mass Destruction; also, the ur-blogger, Jason Kottke links to you and that helps too. Meanwhile, you’ve written a play that you submitted to grad schools and, lo and behold, NYU accepts you to its dramatic writing program. Right before you leave, John Kessler–the food critic for the Atlanta Journal Constitution and one of the country’s best food writers–publishes a profile of you in the AJC. The picture, taken with a fisheye lens, makes you look like a walking nose with glasses. Still, it’s exciting. Soon after, you move to New York and start blogging about New York things. Like bagels.

Then in November of 2005, it happens. You meet a literary agent (Michael Ruhlman’s literary agent, at the time), develop a proposal and sell a book! Suddenly you’re an actual, real-life food writer. Two weeks later, Google drops you off its search results and your traffic plunges. You can’t figure it out. Then you do: people are Googling “cupcakes,” and Janet Jackson’s nipple is a top result. You erase the nipple from the top of your post and all is well.

In December of 2005, you journey with your friend John to Paris and eat everything in site. You go to a Parisian market and a bistro with the one and only David Lebovitz. You have a sophisticated Parisian dinner with Clotilde of Chocolate and Zucchini.

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Back in New York, you attend a taping of Iron Chef America and, soon after, move with your friend Diana to Brooklyn. (These things are unrelated.)

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Also, around this time, you meet an NYU film student named Craig, who you start dating, and you casually slip that into a post. Your readers are all like, “We knew you were gay.”

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Soon, your blog (and book deal) give you some credibility. You go to lunch with one of your heroes, Ruth Reichl. You get to interview Mario Batali for Serious Eats. Best of all, you somehow score tickets to Calvin Trillin’s “Come Hungry” tour; he’s the food writer that got you interested in food writing in the first place.

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In September of 2006, you have your first controversy: your parents take you to Le Cirque and you’re all treated like chumps. You write a post, Only A Jerk Would Eat At Le Cirque, and start a whole fracas. Sirio Maccioni writes your mom an apology letter. You go back. It’s not that great. You say as much.

That November, Restaurant Alain Ducasse (no longer in existence) begins pestering you with e-mails about their white truffle menu; an obscenely expensive white truffle menu. At some point you reply, “I can only write about it if we can experience it for free.” (Now we know better, but you were still pretty green back then.) To your shock, they write back and say: “Come on in!” So you and Craig go and, afterwards, you craft a comic book post about it. That post ends up winning an award for Best Food Blog Humor and Guy Kawasaki calls it “one of the best blog postings I’ve ever seen.”

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In April of 2007, you travel to San Francisco for the first time as a food person and eat your heart out with lots of your favorite bloggers. And then, in August of 2007 your first book comes out.

You go to a book store–the Barnes & Noble in Union Square–and stalk the table with your book on it. You hide behind greeting cards and make a rule for yourself that you can’t leave until someone buys your book. You soon change that rule to “until someone lifts up my book.” That becomes “until someone glances at my book.” Finally, someone does and you go.

A month after your book comes out, someone from the Food Network asks if you’d be interested in blogging about the Next Iron Chef for the Food Network website. You say, “Sure” because that’s a lot of eyeballs looking at your writing. That goes well and soon leads to a meeting with a producer who’s launching a new web show on FoodNetwork.com called The FN Dish and she asks if you’d like to host it. You don’t bat an eye. This is big time (or as close to the big time as you’ve ever been). “Um, yes,” you say.

It all begins with the taping of a pilot on an actual Food Network soundstage with an actual Food Network crew. Michael Symon is flown in from Cleveland to be your guest. The night before, you’re so nervous, all you can do is watch “Mary Poppins” to console yourself. The day of the taping (back when the show had a Daily Show style format), you sail along with all the jokes, though you flub one of your monologues. And flub it again. And flub it again. The crew gives each other looks. You start to worry.

Then a month later, you see the first cut of the pilot. It’s totally awful. You think, “Well, that’s it…no Food Network show for me!” But instead of firing you, the whole concept is changed; now it’ll be you on the fly, interviewing Food Network celebrities at big events. In fact, a big one is coming up pretty fast: the South Beach Food and Wine Festival. Soon you’re on a plane with your new director, Matthew Horovitz, and then you’re in Miami and it’s go go go. Paula Deen’s poker night, Rachael Ray’s burger bash. On your last night there, you decide to take it easy with Matthew at Danny Devito’s restaurant, only when you spy Giada DeLaurentis going into the kitchen, you decide to follow her; there you discover Jamie Oliver, Mario Batali, Rachael Ray, and–most notable of all–Anthony Bourdain. You ask Bourdain if he’d like to trash the Food Network on camera. He says, “Gladly” and gives you a killer interview.

That video causes a controversy at Food Network: the higher-ups are up-in-arms about it; the web people are like: “This is what goes viral.” Immediately, you start to realize the tough position you’re in. Your 23 Awkward Seconds with Rachael Ray doesn’t help.

Everything comes to a head in Las Vegas. You’re there for Vegas Uncork’d and the entire thing is surreal. You’re treated like a “celebrity” and pitted against Lorraine Bracco and Todd English in a cactus-cooking competition judged by Andrew Knowlton and Alan Richman.

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At a “V.I.P. Cocktail Party” you’re the guest of honor with a drink named after you. You suddenly realize how arbitrary food fame is: if people tell other people you’re famous, you’re famous. And just as quickly you’re not. When you get back, your show is kaput.

Meanwhile, you continue meeting fascinating food people. You go to dinner with Frank Bruni while he’s still the food critic for the New York Times. You go to lunch with the irascible Regina Schrambling. You discover that Pulitzer-prize nominated playwright Jon Robin Baitz is a reader of your blog and you join him for lunch at Brooklyn Fish Camp.

You do your first cooking demo at the Baltimore Book Festival. Your book comes out in paperback. Then, in November of 2008, you toss a recipe on to your blog with the hyperbolic title: The Best Broccoli of Your Life.

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Even though you’ve used that phrasing before (notably with The Best Cookies of Your Life), this post catches on like crazy. It’ll be Pinterested (you’ll soon learn what that means) over a million times and remain a top result when people search “broccoli recipe.” In any given year, it comprises over 50% of your traffic.

Every year, sort of as a joke, you apply for a table at one of the hardest-to-score-reservations in the world: El Bulli. Every year you get rejected. But in December of 2008 you find out that you have somehow attained a table for two in July 2009 at 8 PM. You go nuts. Grub Street makes fun of you. When you do go, several months later, you start out in Barcelona–eating your way through it–and work your way up to Roses for one of the most extraordinary dinners of your life. You also document it as a comic book-style post. Slate makes fun of it. But it remains one of your favorite posts you’ve ever done.

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Various projects come and go. You host two more web shows for Food Network. You try to develop a book about food and religion and travel to Elberton, Georgia with your friend Shirin for an Eid-Al-Adha feast. You eat a chicken cooked in a pig’s bladder at Daniel and make asparagus with another one of your food heroes, Amanda Hesser.

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Then, something huge happens. Your friends Matt and Renato, who own Baked, introduce you to their cookbook agent Alison Fargis of the Stonesong Agency. She helps you develop a cookbook proposal that you pitch to various publishers, including Artisan which publishes all of Thomas Keller’s cookbooks. To your total shock and surprise, they’re interested; you go into a meeting and there develop the concept for a different book, one where you’d travel the country and cook with 50 chefs and adapt their recipes for the home cook. A deal is reached. You’ve sold your second book.

Fun things continue to happen. You cook dinner for The Big Gay Ice Cream Truck guys:

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You start a web series called “Someone’s In The Kitchen With” and interview the likes of Ed Levine, Ludo Lefebvre and Anita Lo in your West Village apartment (oh, I skipped the part where Craig and you move to the West Village and paint the kitchen orange).

In April of 2010, Craig’s parents come to town and your parents come to town to meet them. You write about that night as an It Gets Better post and Dan Savage reaches out to you to ask if he can include the essay in the It Gets Better Book. Of course, you say yes.

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In June 2011, you travel to New Orleans with a bunch of bloggers and eat like crazy. You also go to Puerto Rico. Then, around that time, Craig is offered a job at 20th Century Fox in L.A. and you let the cat out of the bag: you’re moving to the west coast. You cross the country in August and go food shopping for the first time in California.

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In December of 2011, you have an article published in Food & Wine. Then, in May of 2012, you surprise your friend Diana for her 30th birthday with dinner at the French Laundry. Another comic book post ensues:

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A few months later (in fall 2012), your cookbook, SECRETS OF THE BEST CHEFS, arrives on shelves.

You’ve worked like a maniac to make this book happen, traveling all across America with your fearless photographer Lizzie Leitzell, and testing over 150 recipes in your kitchen with the help of various friends and neighbors. Then, you go on a book tour. Your first big event is a dinner at Eataly with Lidia Bastianich (pictured at the top of this post) that’s pretty much the most amazing night of your life. You host a panel with Jonathan Waxman and Amanda Hesser at the Greenlight Bookstore:

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You go to Austin and San Francisco and Seattle and host all kinds of dinners and events. You do a Google Talk and wear a dorky bow tie. You even cook on T.V.

Meanwhile, while all this is happening, Craig directs his first feature–TRUE ADOLESCENTS–which debuts at SXSW to great acclaim. Then, in 2013, he shoots his second feature, THE SKELETON TWINS (with Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader), which in the fall of 2013 is accepted into the Sundance Film Festival.

Which brings us to the present moment, ten years after you hit that “publish” button. You’ve recently traveled to Australia as a guest of the Eat Drink Blog conference. Oh, and you and Craig got engaged at a restaurant called Rustic Canyon. As you sit and type these words, you’re two days away from flying to Utah for the big movie premiere.

And what of your blog? This thing that’s taken you on so many strange, unlikely journeys over the past decade? That’s introduced you to so many unforgettable people? That’s given your life shape and meaning?

Well you start to question things when Jason Kottke, the previously mentioned ur-blogger, publishes a post: “The Blog Is Dead, Long Live The Blog.” The tag on the toe of blogging is dated December 19th, 2013. You are writing these words on January 14th, 2014 and you’ve done a lot of soul-searching.

At dinner with your friend Zach Brooks of Midtown Lunch, you talk about the inevitable decline that awaits us and our fellow bloggers. The end is nigh. Soon, we’ll all be spending our days on Snapchat and dating our computers like in the movie Her. Bloggers will be embalmed for all to study at the Museum of Natural History.

Still, while typing these words, you resign yourself to this knowledge: as much as the world might be moving on without you, those initial instincts that led you to start the blog in the first place–the desire to connect with a bunch of strangers over a shared enthusiasm for food and cooking–are the same instincts that will motivate you to keep it going. You won’t be able to resist the urge to share pictures of the spicy chicken soup you made recently to fight a cold or the escargot with a puff pastry topping that you ate at Republique.

Or maybe, inevitably, you will. It’s hard to say. But I can promise you this: as you hover your finger over the mousepad, ready to click “publish” on this new blog of yours, you’re about to set yourself on a course that’s far superior to any other course you have available to you at this point in your life. Ten years later you’ll look back and be unable to fathom a life where you don’t hit that button. So go ahead and click: a great adventure is in store.

Sincerely,
Me Ten Years Later

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