When Deb Perelman started blogging at SmittenKitchen.com in 2006, she thought she'd "just fiddle around with it for six months." She published recipes from sources like Martha Stewart and Rachel Ray, adapting them to suit her tastes and documenting her process in photos and text. Within two years, Perelman was making enough ad revenue to quit her IT job and focus on the blog full-time. Six years later, Smitten Kitchen now receives more than 5 million unique visits per month, and Perelman's recently released The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook is on best-seller lists across the country.
Though her success seems a blogger's dream come true, Perelman is quick to point out the site doesn't show the whole picture. "As with all Web projects, you always get an unbalanced view, you only see what's successful."
Perelman has no training in writing, photography, or cooking – the trifecta of skills that make up any food blog. "When I started my site," she says, "I didn't know where it was going to fit in. I was reading other food blogs and [these bloggers] were amazing cooks or great Web developers or something, and I wasn't any of those things."
Despite her protests, the early posts reveal Perelman had a winning formula from the start. Her writing is engaging yet casual, a combination that has endeared her to her readership. The recipes, often heavily tweaked adaptations of classic dishes, seem completely doable due to her detailed instructions and practical suggestions, such as which cakes actually do require more than one mixing bowl, and which tools you'll need to create perfectly crispy latkes. And her photography is the crisply lit, drool-inducing lure for it all.
Of course, making it look easy is often not easy at all. "In some cases, things just take longer to get where I'm going, and it just depends. On the site, it's often just a few times" to get a recipe right, she says, as if "just a few times" is no big feat. "There are times when it's just been one, but I would never tell you which ones those were! [And] there are times when the recipe is very close to a formula I've done many times, so it doesn't take as many times to get it right."
Though Perelman is undeterred by two or three tries to get a recipe right for the blog, the work for The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook was much more daunting. "There was definitely this fear of it not being editable. I rarely use the editing on the website, but knowing that it wasn't a possibility, that mistakes would be forever, made it a lot less fun," she admits. "There's a lemon bar recipe in the book that I must have spent like 1,000 years on. I must have tested it like 50 times. It was really hard to get the formula right."
"There are so many more layers with print publishing than Web publishing," she continues. "With web publishing, I can make food for dinner tonight, take a bunch of pictures, and if I have a few hours tomorrow, write about it, edit it, post and that's it. With the book it's more like nine levels of copy-editing and proofing and page layouts and press stuff. ... It's a much more complicated process."
When asked if she'd do another, now that The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook is out and reaping accolades, she replies, "If you had asked me six months ago I would have gone, 'Are you crazy? No!' But now I don't know. ... [But] my first love and loyalty is to the site. ... I just really love being on the Web.
"I never looked at the blog as just a platform or a way to get somewhere else," she adds. "I wanted it to be what I did. And I was really happy just making a living doing my site. [With the book], I just thought I'd try something else out. If it was the right time, I'd do another book, but I don't want to be on the train of a lot of book authors who write a new one every couple years. It might happen anyway, but it's not my hope. The main thing is, I'd really like to keep doing the site."
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