An Interview with BlogHer Food '14 Keynoter, Author, Chef, and Blogger: David Lebovitz!
Update: David will be selling and signing his new book after the keynote!
In December, as we announced the BlogHer Food '14 agenda, we shared that David Lebovitz would be gracing the BlogHer stage for the first time since 2009. An accomplished chef and author, he has so much to share with our audience. To give you a preview of his Innovator Interview at the conference, I had pleasure of asking David about his upcoming book, favorite recipes, and of course, blogging.
Photo Credit: Elise Bauer, Simply Recipes.
First, let's talk a little bit about food. Your new book, My Paris Kitchen, hits in April. Can you share a glimpse into the process you used to pick the recipes for this book?
It was a fairly easy process: I just made a list of my favorite things to make...and eat, and dug in and wrote up the recipes! Initially my publisher was a little baffled by a few inclusions, like Naan fromage (Indian cheese bread) and Dukkah Dip, but those are part of Paris cuisine as the city is a multicultural mecca and there is so much in terms of diversity that people aren't aware of. I also wanted to include a lot of the beloved French classics because I am often asked for recipes for them. So there are sure-fire hits like Cassoulet, Bûche de Noël (Christmas yule log cake), Duck Confit (I included a super-easy version that anyone can make in a pan, baked the oven), Madelines (with a several page story on how I got them just right -- finally!), and rich Parisian Gnocchi baked under a blanket of crusty cheese, which I think I am eating for dinner every night this winter.
David's newest book, My Paris Kitchen, is available for pre-order now.
Whether in any of your books or not, what's your favorite recipe to make?
I love making Rocky Road with homemade marshmallows, candied peanuts, and cocoa nibs. It's probably my favorite thing to eat: pillowy marshmallows coated in bittersweet chocolate with crisp, candied peanuts and crunchy cocoa nibs. It's so, so good. Sometimes I'll add a bit of flaky sea salt at the last minute. Heck, just thinking about it makes me want to make a batch right now!
For a food blogger who might be debating taking the next step toward a book, what one piece of advice would you offer?
Find a niche, and find your audience. Often people have a bunch of recipes that they like and think they'd make a good book. And they probably would. But what publishers really want to know is: Who is going to buy it? You could have a great idea but if there isn't a clear audience for it, then it's going to be a tough sell. Single-subject books which fill a niche, especially if you set yourself up as an expert (ie: Panini, Thai cooking, gluten-free baking, etc), which many bloggers have done very well, those are attractive to publishers.
The other part is to build an audience. In the old days, you had to either be a chef, a food television star, or someone already famous to write a cookbook. The good thing with food blogs is that anyone can build an audience by just clicking the publish button (and doing that over-and-over-and-over-and-over.) So it's entirely possible for anyone and the traditional barrier is gone. It just takes work, and enjoying what you do, to build a following. And persistence. Julia Child spent ten years writing her first cookbook, which was roundly rejected by major publishers. She had no experience, yet through dedication -- and doing a good job -- she succeeded.
Elisa told me that you really feel like blogging and social media have made a big difference in what was already a stellar food career. What the most important benefit you've gained, or value you've derived?
Social media has become pretty important to me because it's a conversation, and I like to chat with others. I find it fascinating to interact with people around the world. I'll admit that I am a terrible blogger because I never look at my analytics or traffic, unless someone like a publisher asks. But I remember when I first saw that social media was a bigger source of traffic to my site than search engines -- I was pretty shocked. So aside from being fun and interesting, another benefit is that I gain a lot of traffic from it.
Yet like anything, you should do what you like and what feels natural. I keep reading things that, as a food blogger, you should do this (add hashtags to everything) and do that (put red food in your Pinterest images), and none of those things strikes me as a good long-term strategy. It's inauthentic and is off-putting to readers and potential followers. Just like no one wants to hang out at a party with someone standing there promoting themselves, I think it's better just to jump in and have a good time, and spend time having fun and networking -- and the folks will follow.
On the other hand, you also really talk about how blogging and social media can become overwhelming and begin to be a drain, not a gain. What is one trick you employs to keep yourself on the right track?
I strenuously avoid using hashtags, and avoid using too many links on Twitter. And I try to post things that I am truly interested in and worth sharing. I don't try to flood Pinterest with pictures to get followers. After a while, it all blurs together. (I just looked at my Twitter stream and I couldn't find a single tweet that wasn't a link to something, or hashtagged or a re-tweet.) It's just too much and I follow people who talk and communicate in a genuine manner, rather than trying to cultivate numbers and followers. I'm don't want to be just a number to people, and I don't think of people that follow me in terms of numbers either.
Blogging takes a lot of time and when you add social media to the mix, it indeed can be overwhelming. Especially with information just scrolling in and popping in from a variety of sources at a faster and faster pace. I have an "exit only" mentality, and only do things that I want to do, and not what others expect me to do and do my best to post quality things that I think (and hope) others will be interested in.
I guess I'm old-fashioned because I think that if you do a good job, you'll be happy and succeed, whatever your goals are.
I want to thank David for taking time to answer these questions, thus giving us a peek into what we might hear and see and learn when he hits the stage for an Innovator Interview on Day One of BlogHer Food. Check out the full agenda to see all of the great speakers and panels we have planned -- and then register now!