Top 3 TED Talks for Writers

Looking for a little inspiration? TED conferences (Technology, Entertainment, Design) cost $7500 per year to attend, but dozens of its speakers appear online on videos. Many are short enough that you can watch a few at a time.

Here are three picks for food writers based on storytelling, inspiration, and passion:

1. Filmmaker Andrew Stanton: “The clues to a great story.” Yes, the presentation is about animation (Stanton works for Pixar and includes some film clips), but his advice is spot-on for any writer. Plus, he opens with [Read more…]

Self-published Cookbook Author Sells 300,000+ Copies

What is it like to sell more than 300,000 copies of your self-published cookbook? It’s rare. Extremely rare.

But Martha Hopkins did it, starting when she was 25 years old and didn’t know any better. Her 1997 erotic and visually stunning cookbook, InterCourses, is still selling, especially as a wedding gift.

Martha will be speaking on self-publishing and marketing (see her fantastic website) at a March 27 full-day class in New York, Creating and Selling Your Dream Cookbook, along with food stylist and cookbook author Denise Vivaldo, photographer Jamie Tiampo, and myself. I was so impressed with her success that I thought I should share it, as a preview of what she’ll cover in the class:

Q. You were so young. How did you hit upon this subject of aphrodisiacs?

A. Honestly, my business partner and I went through a whole slew of ideas over the phone. We thought about an Oaxacan cookbook because I spent a summer there, and then we thought about aphrodisiacs. Food and sex! Sounds like fun, I thought.

We picked aphrodisiacs that tasted good and would look good in photos, like asparagus and [Read more…]

Food Blogger David Lebovitz Dishes on His Success

Has anyone not heard of David Lebovitz? He’s a super successful American food writer blogger living in Paris. He’s also a gorgeous photographer, author of five cookbooks and one memoir, and author and co-author of two apps.

I first met him on email in 2005, when he endorsed my book, Will Write for Food. Recently we spoke about his success and philosophy on food blogging, writing cookbooks, social media, and how he finds the time to get it all done:

Q. Why do so many people adore your blog? What is it about you and your subject matter?

A. It’s a combination of things. Part of it is I started a long time ago so I’ve had a long time to practice, to learn about blogging and build a site. Part of it is I live in Paris and that interests people. Plus I worked as a professional chef, which is part of the mix. People say they feel my blog is very personal; they know the person behind it.

My blog is largely about cultural differences because I’m a foreigner living abroad, and the longer you live somewhere, the more it gives you more credibility. And perhaps people can relate to being an “outsider.” Years ago I was more of a critic of certain aspects of French culture, but now I’m more of an observer and I try to be more neutral. The longer you live somewhere, the more you understand how people are and I’ve become more integrated, too, and understand the culture better.

Q. How has your blog changed since you started your website in 1999? What kinds of posts do you no longer do?

A. Now I microblog on Twitter (105,000+ followers) and Facebook (26,000+ followers). I used to do [Read more…]

Styling Pro's Secrets to Gorgeous Food Photos

Food Stylist Denise Vivaldo

For every food blog with gorgeous photos, 10 others need work.

So I’ve asked Denise Vivaldo,  founder of Food Fanatics, a catering, recipe development and food styling firm based in Los Angeles, to come to the rescue. She has styled food for television shows including The Tonight Show, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, and Inside Dish with Rachel Ray.

She helps authors with their cookbooks, including Mariel’s Kitchen by Mariel Hemingway, cookbooks by Suzanne Somers, and The Date Night Cookbook by Meredith Phillips.

She also teaches food styling (sometimes with photographer Matt Amendariz), and is the author, most recently, of The Food Stylist’s Handbook, based on her decades of food styling experience.

Q. What is the definition of a food stylist?

A. It’s the food stylist’s job to prepare food for the camera. The food is not necessarily consumed but prepared just for the camera. The majority of tricks we use are to manipulate the food so it’s still edible.

Now that’s different for food bloggers. You develop issues about food when your family’s going to eat it. You want it to still be hot, to make sure nothing gets into it to contaminate it, and you don’t want to waste it.

So if I were making strawberry ice cream, I would pick out a quart of strawberry ice cream at the grocery store and shoot that. That way I might not feel panicked about working with it.

Q. Where do food bloggers go wrong about food styling?

"We put the green beans going in different directions. It's a platter like my mother would have brought to the table. We blanched the onions first, then sautéed them to preserve their color. We undercook everything."

A. A blogger in a class I was teaching once said to me, “I just throw it on the plate. I have four kids to feed.” You need to understand composition.

I’ve found that bloggers don’t read the instruction book that comes with the camera. I tell them to take off the automatic setting and learn to focus the camera themselves. Take the automatic flash off and learn how to harness light.

They don’t get close enough to the food. You want to be able to lick that photograph! Props and food trends come and go, but less is more in photographs.

Q. What if I don’t have a whole cabinet full of pretty plates and dish towels?

A. Then get close to that food!

Also, food needs color. Get gorgeous colored napkins: vibrant blues, pinks and orange. Then [Read more…]

Ramp Up your Food Photography

There’s no way around it. Blog readers are as interested in the visual aspects of the food as the  content. So if you’re writing about food you ate or cooked, you need to be just as good at taking the photos as you are at writing.

How do you get there? Fortunately, there’s tons of good information online about improving your photography skills, much of it provided by friendly bloggers, including those who win awards for their work.

free-stock-images-cake-pictures-01-500x375Here’s a list, by no means comprehensive, of ways and people who will help you improve your food photography:

Generous food bloggers who share their knowledge:

Snapping Photos at Restaurants: Should You?

It’s the last night of my husband Owen’s and my vacation in New York, and despite 10 days of eating meals at restaurants, he took shots of our food only once. I asked him to do so when I didn’t think anyone would notice, sitting at an outdoor table at  Xie Xie (pronounced shay shay, Mandarin for thank you), a casual pan-Asian sandwich shop. I wanted to experience what food bloggers go through when they’re going to blog about a dish. When we were done, however, Chef Angelo Sosa came over to say good-bye and thanks. Later Owen said the chef had been watching us. Would he have done so if we did not take the photos? I guess I’ll never know.

Let me interrupt for a moment to tell you about his sandwiches. Sosa has worked a the restaurants of Alain Ducasse and Jean-Georges Vongerichten, and I couldn’t wait to taste his cooking at a fraction of the price. The two pan-Asian sandwiches I sampled were loaded with layers of flavor and texture, and to top it off, cost under $9 each.

fishThe Hanoi-inspired Cha Ca La Vong, a tumeric-laced seared fish sandwich loaded with sweet juicy onions, a layer of fresh dill, had a sriracha mayonnaise that kept the sandwich moist.

porkThe caramelized Sweet Glazed Pork in Chinese buns, so tender it hardly required chewing, was laced with a sweet and sour sauce, onion and sprigs of cilantro.

We ate well and inexpensively in New York, including dinner with David Leite and his partner at La Caridad 78, a Latin American/Chinese restaurant frequented by cops [Read more…]