Debbie Elkind

7 Oct 2008 - 2:16 PM  UPDATED 6 Sep 2013 - 9:31 AM

From the celebrity chefs of the blogosphere to a home cook in Estonia, Debbie Elkind explores the wide, wide world of food blogs.

No longer is restaurant reviewing the hallowed domain of professional reviewers. Nor are cookbook authors the only ones who can claim a global audience eager to follow their recipes. Thanks to the enormous popularity and ease of blogging, the Web is awash in food blogs that critique venues, catalogue recipes, share tips and techniques, and generally set stomachs a rumbling.

The Food Blog Blog lists almost 2,000, and that’s a mere drop in the proverbial blog mixing bowl. In 2006, the Pew Internet and American Life Project released a report stating that there were (then) over 1.2 million food blogs on the Web – and presumably that number has only continued to grow exponentially. The report also calculated that food blogs account for ten percent of all blogs published.

Dianne Jacob, an American book coach and the author of Will Write for Food, suggests that three factors account for the ever-growing popularity of the genre, at least in the US marketplace: “Our national obsession with food; the amount of time we spend at our computers; and the growing acceptance of the idea that mere mortals are just as entitled to write about food as traditional media.”

However, Jacob cautions that producing a successful food blog – one that gains a regular and involved readership – is not nearly as easy as some may think.

“While it’s easy to start your own blog, it only takes a few minutes, it’s tough to get people to actually read it, and tougher still to get them interested in responding,” she says.

Indeed, for every great food blog out there, there are dozens that comprise little more than mind-numbing minutia about the author’s daily dietary habits. Food & Wine columnist Pete Wells incurred the wrath of food bloggers worldwide when he suggested that most food blogs fall into the “cheese sandwich” category – that’s Webspeak for those oh-so-tedious blogs that exist solely for the purposes of the author’s own self-indulgent navel-gazing.

But for those bloggers with actual talent, blogging can prove a great way to find and interact with an enthusiastic, receptive audience, willing to provide almost instant feedback on their efforts. It is that interactive relationship, and sense of community, which gives blogs an advantage that is near impossible for mainstream media to match.

Some of the brightest stars of the food blog world have not only gained massive audiences (drawing monthly readership numbers that many print publications can only dream of), but have gone on to successfully cross-over into print as well. One of the first was American Julie Powell, who became an Internet celebrity in 2004 with her blog, The Julie/Julia Project, which chronicled her ambitious, yearlong attempt at cooking every recipe in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Powell has subsequently published a book (Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen), and a movie is due out this year from Columbia starring Meryl Streep and Amy Adams.

Other well-known bloggers who have made the leap from electrons to ink include Heidi Swanson of 101 Cookbooks fame and Parisian Clotilde Dusoulier, author of the utterly delightful Chocolate & Zucchini.

Traditional media is clearly starting to see the value too, with many newspapers and magazines now adding blogs as a feature on their websites. Among them, Bitten by well-known New York Times food writer Mark Bittman and Word of Mouth published on The Guardian’s website, with posts by various contributors. Even some celebrity chefs appear to be jumping on the blog bandwagon, with America’s enfant terrible Anthony Bourdain now hosting his own blog.

In some cases, blogs provide an outlet for already successful, professional food writers to indulge their individual passions to their heart’s desires.

“I liked the idea of having a venue where I could write about anything I wanted. I’ve always had a passion for candy... the problem was, I wasn’t having much luck pitching candy stories to magazines,” says Patti Woods, an American journalist and editor who has written about food and nutrition for such publications as Health, Wine Spectator, Better Nutrition and Delicious Living. Her candy-devoted blog, Candy Yum Yum now averages 5,000 readers a month.

“Now it’s become an obsession for me. I have to write an entry every day or I feel lost. I feel a responsibility to my readers too. There have been times when I’ve gone two or three days without writing and I’ve gotten emails from people I don’t even know wondering where I’ve gone,” says Woods.

“I think food blogs in particular are so popular because previously there was no other outlet for like-minded people to gather... Food blogs have opened up a whole new world where foodies can gather and get all food-nerdy with each other.”

Food blogs that focus on the author’s regional cuisine can offer the sort of unique cultural insights and up-to-the-minute information that can be impossible to find in print. One lovely example is Nami-Nami, a “food blog about cooking and eating in Estonia and beyond”.

“I like the way [blogging] makes me think about my food choices, cooking and eating. And I LOVE the interactive element... it's wonderful to receive comments, especially about lesser-known Estonian dishes,” says 34-year-old blog author Pille Petersoo, who also manages an Estonian-language recipe site by the same name and is a senior research fellow at Tallinn University, Estonia.

“I don't think blogging would make much sense at all without the interaction. I love the feedback and I’ve realised that whenever I blog about Estonian food, or foraging for wild mushrooms or berries, I get more comments. It's part of our local food culture but seems very 'exotic' to many of my international readers.”

* Check out SBS’s own food blog, Mouthful, by writer Phil Lees.

Featured Blogs: A Sampling of Tasty Blogs Around the Globe

Taste Spotting
A lip-smacking, graphic compendium of recent food blog posts from all around the Web.

Smitten Kitchen
This blog from a tiny kitchen in New York has attracted a huge global audience, thanks to author Deb Perelman’s delicious recipes, witty writing, and drool-inducing food photography.

Chubby Hubby
Singapore-based Aun Koh writes about everything from new restaurants to street snacks and kitchen experiments.

British journalist Graham Holliday chronicles Saigon’s street-snack vendor culture, fresh food markets and restaurants, as well as, more recently, issues in journalism and new media.

Grab Your Fork
Sydneysider Helen Yee prefers eating to cooking and her excellent blog is laden with reviews of great eats in Sydney and surrounds.
Australian food and wine journalist Michael Shafran dishes up the latest scoops on great dining in Sydney, Melbourne and regional NSW.

For more Australian food blogs check out The Australian Index

The Travelers Lunchbox
American Melissa Kronenthal has won plenty of fans with her beautifully written blog about eating and cooking in Scotland and elsewhere.

Lucy's Kitchen Notebook
Lucy Vanel, an American expatriate living in France, waxes lyrical about her adventures in the kitchen, at the table, and throughout the markets.

the red kitchen
A Kiwi/Aussie ex-pat now based in Zurich serves up posts on Swedish life, food and culture.