Food Blogs Should Inspire and Surprise, says Aran Goyoaga of Cannelle Et Vanille

Jun 222011
 

A romantic image typical of the style of Cannelle Et Vanille (Photo used with permission of Aran Goyoaga)

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:

Aran Goyoaga of Canelle Et Vanille (photo by Txomin Goyoago)

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.

Summery photos by Aran Goyoaga (used with permission).

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.

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  70 Responses to “Food Blogs Should Inspire and Surprise, says Aran Goyoaga of Cannelle Et Vanille”

  1. Thanks for sharing this interview.
    It is so nice to read first thing in the morning.
    Full of soft-spoken inspiration.
    M’f3na

    • It’s not the usual hard-charging stuff, eh Mona? But believe me, Aran has worked very hard to get where she is today. You are most welcome.

  2. A good interview. I like what she said about her kindness coming through in her blog. I think that’s true. I think people (including myself) are attracted to really positive/kind blogging.

    It’s not exactly me (in terms of how I think/write), but hey. Maybe it’s that I admire what I don’t have myself!

    • Thanks Mariko. Re not exactly you, according to Aran, you only have to be yourself and not compare yourself to others. That’s a hard lesson to learn. I am guilty of it myself.

  3. I met Aran briefly in Atlanta and attended her session and she is right – her gentle nature and kindness comes across in both her words and in person. She is a lucky lucky lady to be able to transmit that through her writing.

    • Lucky or hard work? I think it is some of both but mostly the latter. The photography comes more easily to her than the words.

      • Of course I didn’t mean to imply that it’s not hard work. I just meant she’s lucky to have a gift (even if it is one she has to work at) of being able to convey her personality through her writing. Not many people can as well as she does.

        • Okay, good point. It’s true that many writers have trouble expressing their personality through writing. I just had this conversation with a client, about “playing it safe” in blog posts by revealing very littler about herself.

  4. Your posts are always so helpful. Cannelle et Vanille is one of my favorite blogs, and I loved reading about her process.

    • Thanks Rebecca. People always want to know about a writer’s process. Maybe it helps us imagine what we could be like if we worked that hard!

  5. Thank you for featuring Aran, one of my favorite people in the food blogging world. She is authentic and kind and so very talented, and her work is indeed a huge source of inspiration for me!

  6. It is absolutely inspiring.
    My day job – the one that pays the bill – is going to end in 6 months, I’ve been blogging from 2 years and a half now and I’ve decided it’s time to take the plunge and try to make a living out of my passion. I’m every day more motivated by the example of such great writers and photographers. Thank you for featuring this interview, it’s very helpful.

    By the way, I did love this idea:
    “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.”

    • Thanks Juls. Listen, even though she’s inspiring, even Aran would tell you it’s almost impossible to make a living wage from your blog. So I’d say to find another one that pays the bills.

      • oh, you are absolutely true, I didn’t express myself properly.
        With ‘passion’ I mean not only blogging but also cooking classes for tourists and cooking shows in local housewares shops. Make a living wage from the blog is even more impossible here in Italy!

  7. A very interesting piece. Its the same with whatever you do, painting, writing, you always have to have your own voice, some people find it more easily, others struggle to find it, but I think that staying focused is a very important thing, and warmth always come through the writing. Blogging is really just like life!

    • It is. Bloggers mostly write about their own lives, so all the more reason to let a distinctive style emerge. And focus…don’t get me started on that subject. So many blogs are all over the place.

  8. What a terrific interview – real, warm, inspiring, honest. Thank you, Aran, for sharing. And thank you, Dianne for bringing Aran’s beautiful ideas to us.

  9. I love the name of her blog and her photos are certainly outstanding. thank you for introducing her. So much to learn.
    Rita

    • You’re welcome, Rita. I forgot to say that the name translates to cinnamon and vanilla, two common ingredients in baking. It’s so evocative.

  10. Dianne,

    Thank you for this inspiring post on Aran Goyoaga of Cannelle Et Vanille. The word genuine comes to mind from Aran’s answers to your precise questions. As my food blog is a work-in-progress, I enjoy learning from your book and your interviews.

    The Souper

    • Thanks for saying so. She does come across as sincere and genuine — someone who enjoys working hard at her craft without having naked ambition.

  11. Thanks for sharing this post Dianne! I love her work and recipes! Very honest, real and down to earth, her work comes from the heart which is what I try to do in my writing and photography. Congrats to Aran on her new book!

    • You are welcome, Kristen. I suppose you can never go wrong with work that comes from the heart. And what’s not to love about food, family and gorgeous photos?

  12. What a wonderful interview. It inspires and encourages me as a “young” blogger and writer to continue to express and hone my voice, to look inside, and as Aran shared, ponder our relationship to the recipes we create and the food we cook. I have taken some great notes to think about. How exciting for Aran and her upcoming book! I’m sure it will be beautiful. Thanks Dianne.

    • Thanks Sally. Yes, playing it safe and talking about how “delicious” the food is bores me, unless I’m just out for a recipe. But even then, I get sucked into a story.

  13. Hi Dianne,

    Thank you for doing this interview. Aran’s blog is one of the most attractive food blog (if not the most attractive one) in the food blogging community. I actually contacted her blog designer, because the appearance of the blog is so inviting that even dough it has a lot to do with her photographs, I believe the designer also did a great job. Unfortunately, I am not in that budgetary league as of yet.

    Another interesting thing I learned from this interview is that it is OK to change your directions anytime during your blogging progress. Since I am thinking about doing just that, Aran’s comments (and of course as a response to your well-designed questions) is just reinforcing my positive thinking about this.
    Thanks again for this very informative post. Could I ask you to consider to do more this type of posts?

    • Thanks Jayne. I do interviews fairly regularly, but often they are with editors or agents, rather than other bloggers. I wanted to meet Aran at BlogHer Food, so I contacted her beforehand and this is what resulted.

      I agree that is possible to change course. However, keep in mind that she is still making pastries and taking gorgeous photographs, so the focus of her blog has not changed much at all. What changed is the kind of pastries, where she changed to easier recipes; and the ingredients, when she switched to gluten free.

  14. Wonderful interview, Dianne, I appreciate the questions that you asked. As a newish food blogger myself, it’s helpful to hear about the experiences of established food bloggers. Aran is so talented, and her comments on the subject of blogging were insightful.

    • Glad you enjoyed it, Amy. I try to think about food bloggers and what they would want me to ask her. Often the number one question is “How did you get so successful?” and it’s a hard one to answer.

  15. I read this last night, with a smile on my face, before I slowly drifted off to sleep. Great interview, Dianne — thanks so much for sharing it. I also first discovered Cannelle Et Vanille about two years ago and have found it to be a great source of inspiration. Her photos push me to become a better photographer/stylist. There is such charm, authenticity and passion behind everything she does.

    • So pleased that it was a good bedtime story for you, Elizabeth. I was relieved to finally post so I could relax.

      You chose good adjectives to describe Aran’s work.

  16. The last line of her last response is brilliant: “I never had a specific goal. It’s always been about what I’m doing, not about where I’m going to end up.”

    I dig that your interview revealed how present minded she is and how focused she basically is on keeping herself happy and centered by following what she loves.

    I also appreciate that food blogging isn’t a science to her. It’s literally art: “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.”

    Thanks for sharing this!

  17. What I got from this more than anything is Aran’s passion for her work. She did not set out to write a book, it was an organic extension of her love of food and photography. That’s what matters to me; seeing an authentic person behind the blog. Thanks for offering one more opportunity to see the ‘real’ Aran.

    • That is so nice when it works out that way. And she waited until the timing was right too. I’ve talked with many bloggers who want a book soon after they start their blogs. Sadly, it doesn’t work that way!

  18. I am humbled by all your kind comments and words. So generous and greatly appreciated.

    I love what I do. I am able to intertwine my personal life with my work which I never thought was possible. I remember saying a few years ago I felt that I was compartmentalizing my life too much. No more. This also means that I pretty much work every single day. If I am not writing recipes, I am cooking, photographing, thinking about what to make or testing new recipes. It never ends. But this being said, it never feel like it’s work. It’s another extension of myself and I feel terribly lucky.

    Thank you Dianne for thinking about me for this post. Such a pleasure to discuss such hard-to-answer question with you. Thank you.

    • My pleasure, Aran.

      You brought up another issue that would have been good to discuss — that of making your blog your life and vice versa. It’s nice that you think of it as a natural extension of yourself. I’m not sure everyone is so comfortable with the idea.

  19. What a wonderful interview with Aran. It is so interesting and fresh with insights into a blogger who has catapulted to the top of this new genre of writing. I enjoyed it very much!

  20. I found this through @canellevanille on twitter and I’m so happy I clicked through! The interview was inspiring and the comments equally thoughtful.

    • Welcome, Katlin. I hope you’ll find a few more things to read on this blog as well. The comments are always worthwhile, so thanks for noting them.

  21. I really enjoyed this interview Dianne, thank you. Aran appears to be both authentic. and pragmatic about blogging and life – what a woman! Her photographs and styling are sublime and I would happily spend hours lost in her site (if only I didn’t have other life responsibilities).

    I’ve enjoyed all of your interviews to date and would love to see more with bloggers in the future. Keep up the fabulous, inspiring work!

  22. I struggle with revealing myself on my blog. Sometimes I think I don’t have anything interesting to share. Why would people want to read about me? But it is so true about having your own voice.

    When I occasionally do share a little of who I am, people seem to appreciate the honesty and many can also relate to what I am saying. That’s a nice feeling.

    Thank you for the inspirational interview with Aran. She is such a genuine person, and it’s nice to read a different perspective on blogging.

    • Sure, a lot of what we do is not interesting, but if you’re a good storyteller, it’s all fodder. You’re getting feedback that people appreciate it when you reveal yourself, so I hope you’ll do more.

  23. Thank you for another inspiring post. I especially enjoyed Aran’s response to the question about how food bloggers can encourage people to comment on their site. The authentic, warm style of her blog simply invites participation. When it comes down to it, I find that the sites I enjoy most are those that are friendly and inviting. Yes, the photos are critical, and so is the quality of the writing and the recipes. But a piece that has warmth and humanity is by far more inviting than a cold and impersonal one. Great pointers. Thank you!

    • I guess she seems like someone you’d want to know, and you don’t have to feel intimidated about posting in response to her stories about her family, food and travels.

  24. What a pleasure to get to know Aran a little bit more. As a blogger it’s reaffirming to know she’s real and passionate about what she does and doesn’t consider it work, (sometimes I feel like I am playing hookie) although it is real work. I feel the same passion and it’s what brings me joy as it does for her. What would we do without the delight of blogging?
    Thanx for sharing. Ps. Loving your book Dianne:)

  25. Thanks for doing this interview, very well written and informative. Like many others, I love Aran’s photography and her stories are also warm and I agree that she comes across as very kind and not intimidating despite her success. As a blogger, I too find it hard on where I should draw lines on how much I want to reveal about myself, well don’t want my boss or my future bosses to know about certain stuff lol

    • If you don’t want them to know, you are smart to leave it out. The thing about the Internet is that whatever appears on it about you stays there forever, so we have to be careful.

  26. Canelle is my favorite blog. I love her pictures and stories of home, mainly because i do not have that kind of a background. I wish I did. I also blog, to practice writing per se and writing positively. I am not always good at it but some people read me so I am heartened. Aran’s pictures and words are inspiring and makes me seek out what is good in my life : ) I always read hers so I can be reminded that something simple and everyday such as food is a joy in itself. Its a comfort.

  27. Dianne,
    Thank you for the introduction to this most genuine blogger and photographer. A gentle reminder to “be yourself” is apropos for most every walk of life and especially true for blogging. I’m inspired by her photography, also. My photography skills lag far behind my writing skills. In fact, it’s not even a close race. Seeing her phenomenal displays has thumped me on the head, once again, with a reminder that I must improve.

    I received your book this week and will be diving in!

    • Yeah, mine too. I didn’t even get into Aran’s photography skills, as the interview was so long. She works hard at it, I know.

      Thanks so much for buying my book. I hope you get useful info from it.

  28. Yes thanks for posting Dianne. I love the work Aran does and totally agree with her philosophy. When things are authentic things happen like success. It is hard work and talent and being true to who you are. The journey not where you are trying to get too.
    Be inspired.

    • You are welcome, Laura. I think Aran’s a fan of Ekhard Tolle’s book, The Power of Now. Forgot to mention that.

  29. Lovely interview. Dianne, you ask good questions, and Aran gives good answers. I’m definitely in favor of more such interviews.

    I think Aran is way too modest — what a lot of talent and hard work this takes!

    • Thank you. A few of you have said you want more interviews like this, so thanks for the feedback. I think Aran is way too modest too, especially when it comes to her photography.

  30. Great post, Dianne, and lovely interview. It’s so great to get an insight into the workings of the big, successful blogs. Goyoaga is very generous with her advice and suggestions. I’m pleased to see that I’m not the only one who agonizes over writing, too. It always takes me hours.

    • Thanks Amanda. Yes, I still agonize over what I’m writing too, even though I’ve been published since 1975. But in a way, that’s what writing is all about. Sweet pain.

  31. Thanks for sharing this Q&A. It’s always interesting to hear people’s takes on how they got where they did since everyone has such different talents and focuses. At times it can feel like the blog community is so crowded and it’s hard to break through, but it’s proof that if you work hard, have a unique point of view and a little luck, there are still possibilities to be had.

  32. What a nice surprise to find this post. This is my first time stopping by. I just got your book in the mail, read through the first chapter and I sat down to do the exercise at the end of the chapter. But first I had wanted to see your blog!

    Thank you for the great interview. Aran is one of my favorite bloggers and has a way with expressing what food, family and home country mean to her. And I can easily relate to that. I met with her very briefly at BlogHer and although she was running after her beautiful baby, she still took the time to talk to me. I really appreciated that.

    • Well hello, Ilke. Welcome to my blog. I hope you’ll come by often, in addition to reading my book. Thanks.

      I saw her there too. Aran wanted me to interview her by phone beforehand, as she knew she’d never be able to give me her sustained attention for an interview, with her darling baby girl to chase. I appreciated that!

  33. Wonderful interview. Very insightful! I really enjoy Aran’s blog. I do feel that there are a few (rather renowned) bloggers who seem to imitate her style, and that kind of bothers me, although I honestly don’t know who came first! But for some reason, Aran seems more genuine, and I’m happy to see her success!

    • Thanks, Nicole. Hmm, I don’t exactly whom you mean, but certainly Aran’s photography style is definable for its lightness, femininity, and subject matter. I feel that she is comes across in a genuine way as well.

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