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Mel Mai was born in Australia to Vietnamese parents. She's a motion graphics designer, self-confessed nerd, and blogs at Crunchy Tiger. She loves food and taking photos of said food, and is intent on baking the perfect baguette.
By
April Smallwood

15 Feb 2012 - 11:13 AM  UPDATED 6 Sep 2013 - 9:31 AM

Mel Mai was born in Australia to Vietnamese parents. She's a motion graphics designer, self-confessed nerd, and blogs at Crunchy Tiger. She loves food and taking photos of said food, and is intent on baking the perfect baguette.

We talk to Mel about low-light photography, a new-found obsession with breadmaking and food tip-offs from Twitter.

Where does the name Crunchy Tiger come from?
People have asked me this before, and, unfortunately, I don’t have an interesting answer. The most accurate answer is that I typed a whole bunch of unrelated words into Wordpress late one night to see what wasn't already taken. But that's not very fun. The fun answer is that I love cats, and I love crunchy things! I used to chew on ice straight from the freezer as a kid and I definitely prefer crunchy peanut butter over smooth; KFC Hot & Spicy over Original Recipe"¦ the list goes on and on.

You’re a fan of Adriano Zumbo. What's the appeal?
There's a playfulness and inventiveness to his work that's intensely appealing. His creations can be polarising – [such as his] deep fried fish-and-chip flavoured macaron. People who achieve sudden popularity will always have their detractors, but he does what he loves and isn't afraid to take risks. I can really respect that. 

The photography in your blog is fantastic. Have you always been a whiz, or has blogging developed these skills?
Thanks so much! I've always loved taking photos, but the best and worst thing about reading so many blogs is realising how far you still have to go. There are so many bloggers that I admire; looking at their amazing work makes me want to be more thoughtful about how I shoot and style my photographs. We're lucky to have such an encouraging little community – people are always willing to share their knowledge, whether it's their photography tips or anything else.

One of my favourite posts on my blog was about my troubles with low-light photography. I got comments from bloggers sharing their own secret tips. Dining with other bloggers definitely helps you pick up nifty tricks too, like using an iPhone screen as a lightbox in dark restaurants instead of using a flash (which is a major faux-pas!). I thought that was quite brilliant.

There’s a strong food blogger community in Sydney, with Christmas picnics, conferences and infinite Tweets. What about the foodie community brings people together?
Food always brings people together. And there's nothing food bloggers like better than organising an eating expedition. Plus, more people means you get to order more dishes! Blogging can be quite an introverted and navel-gazing activity at times, so going out and meeting other people with the same weird obsessions is always great fun, even if it means the food will probably be less than piping hot once everyone's had their opportunity to take a photo!

We're also really lucky that there are awesome people like Chocolate Suze and Grab Your Fork out there, who take the time to organise big blogger picnics for us to get together, socialise"¦ and eat, of course.

How do you use social media to enhance your blog? 
Twitter doesn't just enhance my blog"¦ it enhances my life! I'm kidding. People often joke that 90 per cent of Twitter is people tweeting about their lunches. Well, in our case, that's actually pretty true! 

Blogging is great but it can be a slow medium. There's invariably a delay between an event and writing the detailed, spell-checked, fact-checked blog post about it. With Twitter, you have immediacy and forced succinctness that is incredibly engaging. In 140 characters, I can share where I'm eating, get recommendations, post a photo, and see what everyone else is up to as well. A lot of the places I've ended up blogging about have been from tip-offs I've gotten from Twitter.

Tell us more about the 2011 Eat. Drink. Blog. Conference?
Eat. Drink. Blog. was a food-blogger conference organised by Jen from Jenius, Simon from The Heart of Food, Reemski from Tummy Rumble, and Trina from The Gourmet Forager. It was a great day of talks and seminars on topics like food blogger ethics, copyright, defamation, search engine optimisation, hands-on workshops on things like food styling, food photography and bread-making, and lots of lots of eating (naturally!). It was great to meet so many interstate bloggers too, and spend the day talking about things we have in common. I'd never been to anything like it, but found the experience really valuable.

Tell us something we don’t know about you.

I don't actually have a big sweet tooth! I like sweet things, but not in huge quantities. If you offered me chocolate or hot chips, I would definitely pick hot chips. Or maybe salted caramel. Or maybe hot chips dipped in salted caramel.

Do you prefer writing about your own food creations, or reviewing cafes and restaurants?
Though I still love spouting my intensely unqualified opinions on restaurants and food, these days I'm finding it more and more interesting to write about my own experiences and misadventures baking and cooking. There's a feeling of ownership you get by creating something, which you don't quite get from reviewing someone else.
 
At the moment I'm really obsessed with bread-making, so I've been blogging about that lately. I've just received my first sourdough starter culture from a friend, and, in a few weeks, I'm hoping to bake my first sourdough loaf. Wish me luck!

How would you describe the aesthetic of your blog?
Being a designer by trade makes me a bit of a fiend for negative space, and, in the end, I'm also quite lazy, so I just picked out a template that I thought looked clean and unfussy. The header photo is of the very first macarons I ever baked. I was pretty proud of them (shhh, no-one needs to know they were half cracked. And half hollow).

Follow Crunchy Tiger on Twitter.