Have you ever dreamed of being a food writer? If you have a food blog, I am 100% sure you have. If you don't have a food blog, I am only 90% sure you have. If you've never wondered what it would be like to be Ruth Reichl or Jeffrey Steingarten, you are probably reading this blog because you are related to me :) So, it wouldn't come as a surprise if I told you that for several years, way before the days of blogs, I dreamed of writing about food professionally.
I remember my first call to the editor of THE Paper (we'll leave the name of this paper anonymous). "I thought your readers might like a story on making flavored oils? No? Oh, ok... And how about...? Ok. Sorry to have bothered you." That was before I knew all about query letters and other such courtship rituals of professional writing. Then I tried writing for The Other Paper. Writers in Boston who get rejected by THE Paper write for The Other Paper. But hey, one has to start somewhere and when The Other Paper's editor replied to my query, I felt like I just got into Harvard.
They didn't want full stories, just a 150-200 word blurbs about what to eat in Boston. I'd spend days researching the places I was writing about, obsessing over every one of those 200 words only to find my stories completely rewritten to make them sound like catchy tabloids. It really got to me, when they changed the dishes I recommended for the other more "cool" sounding ones. They found those on the restaurant's website. I didn't have a chance to warn them about on-line menu being out of date because I only got to see the changes when the paper came out in print.
When I asked if they'd like some seasonal recipes, they said "Only if they come from a restaurant chef." I tried to explain that I taught cooking classes and they'd have a higher chance of getting a well-tested recipe from me than a restaurant chef who is not used to writing for home cooks. "But it's not like people actually cook this stuff," the editor said. "I am sure your recipes are good, but unless there is a well-known chef's name next to it, who'll want to read it?!"
That did it. I started this blog and swore off professional food writing forever. I only knew how to write about how to cook. I didn't know how to write about:
- trendy ingredients ("have you tried pomegranate molasses yet?")
- food orgasms ("the scallops melted in my mouth like a happy cloud on a spring day")
- travel and history ("Jacques led me into the cellar of his Côte de Nuits château... ")
- sex in the kitchen ("as I was finishing my 25th pound of onions, I heard the sous chef screwing the pastry chef in the walk-in")
Since "how to cook" seemed to be a thing of the past, at least in the food literature, I decided to start Helen's Kitchen. To my delight, there were still people who wanted to learn how to cook, and they've been keeping me plenty busy this year. So when I got a call from Kim at Culinate.com, I was more than a little skeptical about yet another food writing opportunity. Kim told me that Culinate was not just about what's for dinner. Its goal was to take a closer look at food and its role in our lives. This wasn't volunteer work. They were looking for freelance food writers and called because they enjoyed my blog. I started to explain to Kim why they didn't want someone like me. But hey, if she was willing to give me a chance with no query letters, why not? I'll write something, they'll see for themselves that they don't want this stuff, and they'll leave me alone.
So I wrote something, and they asked if I want to do a column for them. What?! Were they crazy? It reminded me of Shrek. "Donkey, don't you see that I am a big ugly ogre? This is the part where you run away!" Kim and I spent two hours on the phone. I tried to tell her that I don't know how to be anything but myself, which doesn't seem to be very popular at the moment. Kim tried to persuade me that they actually want me for my "how to cook" content, and it doesn't have to be romantic or mouth-wateringly beautiful. "You mean I can write about stuff like how to buy and sharpen knives?" I asked. "Yes," said Kim.
Last week, my first story, "The cutting edge" went live. It felt a little strange and exciting to see my writing on another site. Do check it out, and while you are at it, see what Culinate is all about. You'll find out how to have a perfectly sharp knife with minimal work for $30 and why steeling your knives is not always a good idea in spite of what they tell you on Food TV and in cooking classes. Culinate even lets you leave comments, just like blogs, so if you want to share your own experience with choosing and sharpening knives, you can leave a comment in the end of the story.