(This piece was first published in the writers' blog, Writer Unboxed, www.writerunboxed.com, and then in my collection of short pieces on writing, By the Book: Tips of the Trade for writers. I'm re-publishing it here as a bit of a retrospective on this blog.)
Food For Thought
In an idle moment a couple of years ago, when I was between novels and feeling at something of a loose end, I finally got around to doing something I'd been thinking about for a while: start my own blog on food and all sorts of culinary matters, with a French-Australian slant. I wanted it to be much more than a mere collection of recipes or restaurant reviews or anything like that. This was to be a space for memoir, for musings, for dipping into literary culinary classics, for showcasing the seasons in our very productive vegetable garden and orchard, for culinary travel, for giving tips, shortcuts, and yes, recipes, my own, my family's, and those I'd gleaned from all kinds of weird and wonderful sources. And so A la mode frangourou was born.
Being from a French background, I imbibed with my mother's milk the notion that food was not only necessary to life, but an expression of culture, a sensual pleasure, and a real art. For centuries, great cooks and chefs have been ennobled by French kings and fêted by French society, and great writers have written about it, but it's not just an upper-class thing. The whole culture of food, from the growing of it to the preparation and partaking of meals is part of the glue that holds French society together. One of the reasons why French food is so good is that just about everyone cares, from rich to poor and in between, peasant to nobleman, factory worker to banker, people consider it a serious matter worthy of the highest respect. And the amazing regional diversity of the country makes for a gloriously diverse cuisine as well. But my other country is Australia, the country that has become my home, and though in the past Australian cuisine left a lot to be desired, today it's vibrant, exciting, imaginative and fresh. There's still a good long way to go as regards some things, especially the quality of vegetables available in supermarkets which in contrast to French supermarkets focus on size and unbruisability rather than taste. But thanks not only to the injection of immigrant cultures such as Greek, Italian, Lebanese and Asian, but also such programs as Master Chef and so on, Australians of all backgrounds have discovered the joys of good food in greater and greater numbers. And that's also spurred on a bigger and bigger interest in food writing as well, and now the shelves are groaning with cookbooks and musings on food, newspapers and magazines have regular columns on it, and of course there's been a huge proliferation of food blogs.
I'd written food pieces myself before I started the blog. In fact my very first professional published piece of work ever was on Basque cooking in the now-defunct Vogue Living magazine, published when I was 22. My mother's family is part Basque and many's the summer we'd spent in the Basque country, so my piece was part memoir, part travel, part recipes. After that whilst writing short stories and novels(most of which featured at least some descriptions of meals, much as I'd carefully noted down my childhood meals in my diary since I was little!) I also dashed off articles for newspapers on various aspects of French food, on markets, on regional cooking of all sorts, and I sold some of my own original recipes to women's magazines. So writing about it wasn't new to me, and it seemed a natural step to create the blog. And why 'a la mode frangourou'? Well, 'a la mode' can mean both 'in the style of' and 'fashionable' in French, and 'frangourou' (or 'frangaroo' if you're leaning more to English) is my own coined word for the hybrid I am, a mixture of French and Australian, evoking Australia's most well-known animal.
It's been a lot of fun, and a learning process too. One thing I learned was that you get a lot more traction from a food blog than any other kind I've ever created for myself(Writer Unboxed is different!) Though my blog doesn't have a lot of official 'followers', the stat counter I installed showed me that this is multiplied sometimes up to ten-fold or more when you're looking at the number of visitors to the site. And what's more, even though of course I'm writing the blog for free, within just a few months, thanks directly to the blog, I scored a dream gig: I was asked to be one of the paid reviewers for an annual restaurant guidebook published by one of Australia's biggest media organisations. Pretty cool!
I'd like to pass on a few tips here if you're thinking of creating your own food/cooking blog:
1/Have a definite and original focus. Of course this is so in all blogging, but it is especially so with a food blog. What is it about your cooking or outlook on food that really sets it apart from other people's? It doesn't have to be rooted in a cultural thing, like mine, but should be personally quirky in some way.
2/Range widely within your focus but don't get too distracted
3/Don't blog too often: once or twice a week is enough(I did heaps more at the beginning, but have now learned my lesson.) People need time to digest what you've written, as it were, and to try out your tips and recipes
4/Make sure your recipes work! I only ever write up ones I've tried myself and know are goers.
5/Think about the beauty of your words and images as well. Your food blog should be a feast for the eyes and ears and the imagination as well as the salivary glands!