With great recipes and a commitment to editorial integrity, Deb Perelman’s smittenkitchen.com has attracted a legion of fans. Here's how she did it.
Filled with food porny photos, accessible recipes, and witty musings about everything from lemon pasta to the fact that her most recent Valentine's Day involved takeout pizza and How I Met Your Mother, it's no surprise that Deb Perelman's smittenkitchen.com is one of the most popular food blogs around. Counting the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow and Oprah as fans, the blog won Best Photography at the 2010 Bloggy Awards, and was a finalist in the Best Writing category as well. Her first book, The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, will be published by Knopf in 2012.
How did you come up with the idea for your blog?
I was a bit of a collector of what I considered great recipes, recipes that worked each time, before I started the site. I couldn't stand the idea that anyone would make a bad recipe for yellow cake they found on the web when I had a great recipe for yellow cake. The site grew out of this; I wanted to share what I knew with people.
Do you do this full time? If so, when did you realize you could make a living writing a food blog?
I do this (and some other freelancing, plus I'm working on a cookbook) full time. The equation for me was fairly simple; figuring out if x (site income) > y (current income).
At what point did you realize it was popular? How does it feel to have fans like Gwyneth and Oprah?
I don't think it's sunk in in any way. I fear if I only listened to nice things that people said about me, I'd become complacent. So I don't pay attention; I just focus on what I want to cook next, and how to make it the best version of the recipe that it can be.
How has food blogging evolved since you started smittenkitchen.com in 2006?
I think it's become a lot more commercial—there are a lot of partnerships/giveaways/sponsored posts/trips/dinners and although not every site takes part in these, it feels like a lot do. I'm not immune; years ago, I did one one giveaway (reusable grocery bags) and went on one networking trip before deciding that for me at least, anything worth mentioning was worth paying for (I blame my journalism background) and that if this meant I didn't partner up, so be it. Staying disentangled has made life much easier and helped keep my original focus—recipes and stories—intact.
How do you maintain quality and protect your brand?
I've maintained quality, or hope I have, but not outsourcing anything. It's bad for work flow—every single person who knows me knows that I'm swamped and need an assistant/editor/e-mail reader/comment weeder/photo editor/recipe tester—but I can't let go. I'm not good at letting anyone else's voice represent me, so I just do what I can. Slowly. Hope quality trumps quantity.
What's the biggest lesson you've learned in the last few years?
I work so many more hours that I had ever realized. I thought when I had a baby that I could have a babysitter come for a few hours each day, maybe 20 a week, and get all of my work done! Oof.
Any advice for aspiring writers?
Be your bad, dorky self. Cook the food you love. Don't work for free. Send all e-mails that contain the words "SEO improvement," "link exchange", and "we think your readers want to know about..." into a folder marked Never— it's just noise.
CLARISSA CRUZ is the Fashion Features Editor of O, The Oprah Magazine. She is the former Style Editor of People magazine and has written for Entertainment Weekly, InStyle, Food & Wine, and Budget Travel. @clarissanyc1