I first discovered Cannelle Et Vanille two years ago, when I methodically went through every single blog listed on the The London Time’s list of “50 of the World’s Best Food Blogs.” Aran Goyoaga’s blog was second on the list, and she had only been blogging for a year.
Her sun-lit, romantic photos of desserts and fruit drew me in, as did the stories about her family, travels, and baking. I learned that Goyoaga had been a pastry chef for a Ritz-Carlton, then started blogging and taught herself photography.
Since that prestigious list catapulted her into the public eye, Goyoaga’s blog has attracted the attention of magazines in Europe and the US, as well as Gwyneth Paltrow‘s Goop newsletter, which praised the blog’s gluten-free theme, expert recipes and gorgeous photography. Last fall, seven publishers vied to publish Goyoaga’s upcoming cookbook. Little, Brown & Company will publish the book in fall, 2012.
I caught up with Goyoaga right before BlogHer Food, where she was a guest speaker:
Q. You’ve been blogging since 2008, less than three years, and have attained so much success. I’m sure many new bloggers want to know how you did it.
A. At first I want to say it’s for the photography, but before that I had a following because of the recipes. I was a trained professional chef who left her career to take care of her children at home. I was trying to merge professional pastry chef techniques at home. Then I became very interested in photography. We’re all very visual people, and people come to my blog to see how I photograph.
Also my blog has a nostalgic tone to it, because food has always been a connection to my family. I left everyone to come to the US. My grandfather had a bakery and the family gathered there. When I left the Basque country I had an MBA, but nostalgia for food drew me back, and my blog has that tone and sentiment. People like to read about my background, my childhood, and how I relate to food. I have this romantic idea of food — growing your own food and being close to nature. Dad’s side of the family was farmers, so they probably don’t romanticize it.
We all like to feel close to home, we like to be nurtured, we all think about our families and upbringing. Maybe it’s the time we live in, where we want comfort and home-cooked meals.
Q. Do you think it’s an advantage to have worked as a professional pastry chef and graduated from culinary school, when it comes to developing recipes?
A. No. Culinary school gives you a lot of technique, but you don’t necessarily need that to develop recipes. You can learn that from reading a book, watching TV or watching people cook. Culinary school opened a lot of doors and I was able to find work in (restaurant) kitchens. I worked with French and German chefs. I already knew a lot of the things in culinary school, maybe because I grew up with chefs.
Developing recipes can come from your sensibilities, how open you are to tasting and learning from other people. The more you cook, the better you get at it.
Q. What is the essence of a good food blog? What do you look for?
A. I’m interested in stories. I like the background story of how writers got to their recipes, or what that recipes means to them. So any blog that has great recipes and styling, I also appreciate.
I own a million cookbooks, but honestly, I don’t have time to test other blogger’s recipes. But I like to see what that person is thinking. I want to read somebody who’s always going to surprise me with combinations, or inspire me.
For example, Shauna’s blog has a very different food reference memory to me, because she combines flavors and textures I didn’t grow up eating. Heidi has a San Francisco Asian reference. It’s kind of foreign to me, but I go to her for that kind of inspiration.
Q. I talked with two moms recently who quit full-time jobs to become food bloggers and they hope to make money at it. What advice would you give them?
A. You can’t compare yourself to other bloggers. You have to be your own person and maybe the stars will align. Having a voice is really important. You can’t keep copying other people because they’re moving on. You have to listen to yourself and what you have to offer.
Q. Many food bloggers hope to write a book some day. What does it take to have seven publishers fighting over the right to publish your book?
A. I waited for a long time to write a proposal until I knew what I wanted to write about. An agent and publishers approached me earlier, but at the time I didn’t think I had anything new to say. Then when I became gluten-free, I wanted to write a biographical, visual book. I felt like there was a niche for a book like that. The gluten-free is secondary, because it’s easy and healthy, with my own spin, which is Basque. Publishers thought it was a good idea, something that was missing. It was the right moment. Maybe one or two years ago my proposal would have been rejected.
I’m doing the recipe development, the writing, the styling, the editing, and the photography. My cookbook is kind of like a labor of love, another child. The manuscript is due August 15, and the photos are due September 15.
Q. In your blog, you reference your moleskin notebooks as the place you record recipes, ideas and inspiration. Did you go back to them for your book, or did you have fresh ideas? What is the ratio?
The Moleskines are tiny. I can carry them in a bag. I make three revisions of each recipe, then type it into the computer. The book will have all new recipes.
Even before I wrote the proposal, I knew a book would come. I started recording recipes I didn’t put in the blog. I kept building.
Q. Many new food bloggers have trouble getting people to comment. Why do you think so many readers comment on your blog?
A. When I first started the blog, I had more time, and I commented on people’s blogs. It’s like going to somebody’s house and saying hello. Some people will visit. But it’s been a long time since I’ve had time to be an active commenter.
Without sounding too pretentious, I’m kind, and that comes across in the blog, so when people come to my space, it’s kind of an unspoken thing. My voice is warm and inviting, so it makes people say hello. I don’t do harsh social commentary. It’s romantic, family oriented, and warm.
Q. Many bloggers want to write about whatever interests them about food. Do you think people should have a particular focus for a blog?
I talk about what I want to talk about, but it so happens that I’m very focused. People are blogging what they live, and it has to be authentic. Everybody has a style, and it has to come out when they start writing recipes.
I don’t like blogs that are constantly adapting from other recipes. I like to see how that person cooks at home. I want to see their soul in the recipe. You have to show yourself. You can only be yourself. Who else are you going to be?
Q. You’ve changed the focus of your blog to gluten free. It seems like the change evolved organically, the way your life was evolving.
A. It wasn’t intentional. I started blogging when I had one kid, and it was focused on pastry. I started to get work as a stylist and photographer, and then I was diagnosed with gluten intolerance. I just incorporate it into how I cook at home. I never made a big deal about it.
Q. How long do you spend on a post?
A. I often spend six hours on a post. I might photograph for two days. I photograph before it’s cooked, I style everything, and I edit the photos. Writing is very difficult for me. It’s probably a day’s worth of work. I enjoy every minute of it, though.
Q. Did you think food blogging would turn out to be a career?
A. I wanted this, but I didn’t know what shape it would take. I just did what felt good to me and what felt right in the moment, and I was eager to learn.
My dad and my brother are painters. I have always been exposed to art, and I have always been very visual. Although I was very artistic, I didn’t materialize my art as a painter. Food has been my vehicle.
I think you have to be modest in life. You have to be kind. I never had a specific goal. It’s always been about what I’m doing, not about where I’m going to end up.