“The More You Work on It, the Easier It Gets”: A Conversation with Smitten Kitchen’s Deb Perelman

Deb Perelman started a food blog as an off-hours side project back in 2006, cranking out recipe after recipe in her tiny New York City kitchen. A decade later, Smitten Kitchen (a WordPress.com VIP site) is one of the most beloved food blogs on the web, and has inspired a best-selling cookbook.

The holiday season is all about food, community, and more food — so we recently caught up with Deb to chat about her site’s super-active comment section, the evolution of the food-blogging scene, and her staples for feeding the unruly masses of people known as “friends and family.”

Smitten Kitchen recently celebrated its 10th anniversary (congrats!) — that’s roughly four centuries in blog years. What keeps you going after all this time?

deb perelman

I just really, really enjoy blogging. I love having a place where I can share what I’m working on in an immediate way and have a conversation with people who are equally excited about it, and who encourage me to try more stuff that scares me in the kitchen. When I was first invited to write a book, try out video, or freelance a little, my first thought was, “Do I have to? Can’t I just blog forever?” Obviously I’ve come around and I’m glad I did, but it remains my default response to new things: how much will it take me away from this “centerpiece?” Will it force me to compromise the quality of what I’m putting out?

How has food blogging changed over the course of the past decade? What should a novice food blogger do differently today, compared to when you started out?

It’s changed tremendously. Many food blogs these days are glossier and as well-photographed as magazines staffed by dozens. The competition is fierce. It can be good, because it means that the quality out there is better than ever. It can be bad, however, because I know it leads to a lot of comparison, and that can lead to sameness. I encourage — no, beg — all new bloggers to try to avoid this trap.

Some of my favorite food websites seem like they exist almost in a vacuum, like they either don’t know or don’t care what everyone else is doing, like they’re just beelining (or barreling) toward what they think has been missing from the food conversation. They may not have gotten the memo that they need a really great camera, or props, or search engine optimization, or scheduled updates on social media — and it can make a website feel like a breath of fresh air. Who wouldn’t want to read that first?

Images courtesy of Smitten Kitchen’s Instagram account.

Images courtesy of Smitten Kitchen’s Instagram account.

One of the most startling things about reading your older posts is how fully-formed your writing voice was from the get-go. What advice can you give to people still finding their way and experimenting with their online persona(e)?

My advice would be to just keep at it. I think of creative pursuits — anything from painting and writing to synchronized swimming — as an ongoing struggle to close a gap between your idea for what the painting, essay, or routine should be, and how it’s in fact coming out. The more you work at it, the closer it gets to what you have in your head. The more you work at it, the easier it gets. If you’re reading your writing and it doesn’t sound like what you wanted to say, the way you wanted to say it, keep at it until it does.

The community on Smitten Kitchen is incredibly vibrant. What did you do to cultivate it? And how do you wrangle a never-ending avalanche of comments?

Head to The Daily Post to find more tips on fostering conversations on your site.

I get behind on comments all the time, but I always try to catch up at least every couple of days. I not only enjoy the conversations, but also think it’s a cool thing that sets a food blog apart from cookbooks or magazines — that you can ask me a specific question about a recipe and I will answer you as soon as possible. It sounds corny, but answering these questions over the years has made me a much better cook and recipe writer: I can now anticipate a lot of things people will be concerned about.

I’m lucky because the comment section is overall very kind; I very rarely have to delete comments that are wildly off-tone or non-constructive in a rude way. I think it helps that I’m there all the time. Even when people are annoyed about something, once they realize they’re shouting at an actual human being who’s happy to help, their tone softens by 98%.


Images courtesy of Smitten Kitchen’s Instagram account.

The end-of-year holiday season is here. What does food mean to you at this time of year, and what are some of your go-to staples?

Looking for more holiday-cooking ideas? Browse the Smitten Kitchen archives for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Hanukkah recipes.

My husband and I watched Breakfast At Tiffany’s early in our relationship and decided that party scene — where a gazillion people are piled into a too-small apartment but don’t care because they’re having the best time — was what we wanted entertaining to look like.

In reality, we have two kids and it takes four weeks to organize anything, but we love having people over in a messy way. No fancy food. Only big-batch stuff we really want to eat, like DIY tacos with a pot each of braised brisket and black beans and a ton of fixings. Or spaghetti, meatballs, and a giant salad. Or a pot-pie party, which I think we did twice last winter. Another favorite is mussels and fries, with bread to sop up the mess and another big green salad; it feels fancy, but somehow never too heavy, which is particularly nice over the holidays when everything else is. We haven’t done a latke-vodka party (lots of potato pancakes, sour cream, caviar, and vodka cocktails) in a while, but it might be time to brush it off this December.

Finally, as someone deeply enmeshed in contemporary food culture, what current food buzzwords would you be happy never to hear again?

Chia. Impactful. Elevate.

Visit Smitten Kitchen for more, and follow Deb on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook.

November 21, 2016Cooking, Food, Inspiration, Interviews, Lifestyle, Recipes, Writing, , , , ,