Friday, August 29, 2014

How Being a Food Blogger is Like Being on "The Next Food Network Star"

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Last week, my daughter and I were binge watching a marathon of the Food Network show, "The Next Food Network Star."  She has an addiction to that show.  And really, who can blame her?  

As I was watching Giada, Alton, and Bobby make their choices for the final cut, I thought to myself, "this show is almost like food blogging."  

Before I go any further, I first want to state that I know that being a food blogger absolutely cannot compare to being a professional chef who competes on a television show.  However, I have come to realize that there are some similarities, none the less. 

1.  Finding your niche and making your audience believe it
-I cannot tell you how many times I have heard this phrase come out of the judges on that show.  The contestants had to focus on what makes them unique (what types of food they make and what they are known for) and then sell it to their audience.  This is the same with food blogging.  You have to find your niche in the food blogging world.  You have to figure out what types of recipes you are going to post and what your main focus will be.  Then, you must make your blog reflect this and you must make your readers believe it.  

2.  It's all about presentation
-Presentation with their food, presentation with their appearance, presentation with everything…it was all there.  I'll never forget the look on the face of those judges when a dish was presented to them that didn't look appetizing.  They kept telling the contestants that the appearance of their dish would determine whether or not the audience would want to eat them.  The same thing can be said for food blogging.  Good food photographs presented on a nice, clean layout will more then likely draw the readers in like moths to a flame.  

3.  It's all about the taste
-Along with presentation, there is also the taste of a dish.  Throughout the entire season of this show, all three of the judges would comment on whether or not the food was up to par.  The same thing rings true with the recipes being placed on the blog.  The recipes must taste good.  If your readers try them and do not enjoy them, then chances are, they probably won't come back.  On the other hand, if your readers do enjoy them, then you will probably see them again.  Every person's taste buds are different, however, if the majority of your readers love how your recipes taste, then it's pretty safe to say they will be supporters.  
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4.  You must be social media savvy
-I can think of a time before Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest…before all of these social media sites were even born.  Technology has definitely changed in the last ten years or so.  The representatives at the Food Network noticed this and made sure that these contestants knew how to operate these media sites.  They even went as far as to have them make their own advertising project on YouTube.  

This same requirement should be in a food blogger's repertoire.  Writing and posting the recipes aren't enough.  These days, you must also learn how to navigate your way through outlets such as Instagram and Twitter.  These social media platforms help promote your blog and draw viewers/readers to try your recipes.  A social media presence is a must in the food blogging world.  Do you have to be an expert at it?  Not necessarily.  You do, however, have to possess some knowledge of how to get your tweets or status updates out there.  

5.  Don't be afraid of constructive criticism, it can help
-If you think about it, the entire show is built on constructive criticism.  How many times have you heard the contestants state this, "Bobby Flay wanted my dish to have more seasoning, so I'm going to do it" or, "Giada told me that I needed to open up myself more to the audience, so I'm going to do it."  And that is exactly what each one of them did.  They used the constructive criticism that they received to make their dishes taste better and make their competitive spirit sore.  

The same can be said for food blogging.  Take the criticisms that others have told you and find a way to make things better.  Maybe it's a fellow blogger who suggested something about how your layout looks or maybe it was a reader who suggested to put a little more pepper in that steak recipe.  Whoever and whatever it was, take these criticisms to heart and learn from them.  That's the only way we can get better…is by learning.

6.  Competition is fierce, but always remember you are on the same side
-Just like criticism, the show is also primarily based on competition.  That's why we like to watch it.  To see who gets to stay, to see who gets to go home, and to see who sabotages who.  The competition is fierce.  At the end of each show however, each contestant is always seen hugging the other, some even cry.  They remembered that they are all on the same side.  

Food blogging can be competitive if you let it.  It can be all about who has the most Facebook followers or who has the most post comments or even who has the most pins on Pinterest.  It can be about why this company chose so and so to fly to their retreat and why they didn't pick you.  Or who received a cookbook deal and why you still haven't received one.  It's a competitive hobby.  

Here's the good news though….it doesn't have to be.  Do it because you love it, not because you're trying to compete with "Suzy What's Her Name" for the most views for a brownie recipe, because at the end of the day, you and Suzy are both on the same side.  

~And there you have it folks…six reasons how being a food blogger is just like being on the show, "The Next Food Network Star."  Now I'm not saying to quit your day job and try out for the show (unless you really want to), however, you can't doubt the similarities between the two.  

Can you think of ways they are similar?

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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The First Day {Culinary School Journey}

Me: the morning of my first day: an anxious ball of excitement
Well…I did it.  I have completed my first day of culinary school.  And boy has it been a learning experience so far.

There is so much to tell y'all that I wouldn't even know where to begin.

I will break it down in categories:

School Schedule:
My school schedule is from 11:30 to 2:45 on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  I purposely made it that way so I will be able to attend classes while my children are at school.  The times also work out perfect for when Husband Man has to go on month long TDY's.  I won't need to ask anyone for babysitting favors just so I can attend class.  

I was originally scheduled to take a culinary lab and lecture course, however, my academic advisor switched things around so I am now taking Food Safety and Sanitation (first class) and Intro to Computers (second class).  Next semester I will be scheduled to take the culinary lab and lecture course.

What I've Been Doing to Prepare for This New Schedule:
I'm quickly learning that being a part time college student and a full time mom takes LOTS organization skills.  I've had to make quite a few changes to my daily and weekly routine.  Before I started school, my grocery shopping days were always on Tuesday mornings after I dropped the kids off at school.  Rain or shine, I never missed a Tuesday. 

Well, I have had to start doing my grocery shopping on Sundays instead.  I have been saving Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays for studying time, date days with my husband, coffee/lunch dates with my friends, and volunteering at my children's school.  The weekends are saved for cleaning the house, doing laundry, blogging, and grocery shopping.

The way I have been doing my weekly menus have also changed.  I make big dinner meals on Mondays and Wednesdays so we can feast on the left overs on Tuesdays and Thursdays so I won't have to cook.  Not to toot my own horn, but I am VERY grateful that God has blessed me with awesome organizing skills.  Because if he didn't, I think I would probably go crazy…lol…and would have disenrolled from my classes on the first day.

My Experience in General:
My first day going back to school was crazy.  I literally had all of these emotions going on.  You have to remember that the last time I ever stepped foot onto a college campus was 15 years ago, when Clinton was President.  Yeah…that long ago.

Drawing on that experience actually helped me in some ways on my first day.  I left an hour early for my classes because I distinctly remembered that the school parking lots would be flooded with cars and getting a parking space would be close to impossible.  15 years ago, it was either leave early to get a parking spot or risk being tardy for class because your butt left 15 minutes before class was due to start.  I'm so glad I left an hour early for my first class this week because it took me 20 minutes to find a parking space.

15 years ago, I had to do a lot of walking on campus to get from class to class.  This week, it was the same scenario.  My second class is located all the way on the other side of campus (go figure)…and as I was walking to it…I remembered being in this same position when I was 20.  I'm secretly hoping doing all of this walking will help me lose a few pounds ;)

15 years ago, I remember the people in all my classes being a diverse group of individuals…young and old…male and female…moms and dads…active duty military members…kids living in dorm rooms…artsy/fartsy groups…lovey dovey couples…etc..  I'm here to tell y'all…15 years later…this part has not changed a bit.  I recognized them all this week.  It was a melting pot of lifestyles back then and it gave me great comfort to know that this part about college has not changed a bit.

My First Day in Food Safety and Sanitation (Class #1):
I think this class will be my favorite out of the two I'm taking.  Our instructor is a chef who has been in the restaurant business for over 20 years.  And she knows her stuff.

She referred to us as baby chefs because we are the "new recruits" so to speak.  I was worried that I would be the only "older" student in the room, however, there were quite a few people who looked to be my age, as well as lots of younger ones too.  I pass the huge kitchen lab on my way to this class every week and I can't help but to take a few minutes to watch the culinary students in fascination as they joke around with each other while rolling out pastry dough.

The class itself is proving to be very interesting.  We had a quiz on the first day and I made 100 ;)  We have already covered the reasons why people catch food borne illnesses and why it's such a drain on the food industry.  We have 3 class projects to do, one of which includes examining an actual menu of a restaurant.  The instructor warned us that after taking this class, many students stop eating out at restaurants because they have learned what unhealthy practices go on behind the scenes.

While all this is fine and dandy, I have had to get used to certain "new" college techniques.  One of which, is a computer assisted blackboard for college students.  For those who don't know, a computer blackboard is a program that allows students to catch up on any college lectures/notes/tests/quizzes/etc.. that they may miss.  You log into your account on the computer and boom…all the class notes, lectures, and important info. is right at your fingertips.  15 years ago, we did not have anything like this.  It was literally the student's responsibility to take notes in class and to make sure they took all the quizzes and the tests…and it was all on paper.  If you didn't take notes OR if you missed your quiz or test…then you would get a big fat 0, unless your instructor took pity on you and allowed you to retake it.

The quiz I took on the first day, I took in my house…from the comfort of my living room…on my iMac…with my textbook open to find the answers.  Something like this wouldn't have gone over very well with instructors 15 years ago.  Sad to say, I was the only one in my Food Safety and Sanitation class who did not know what the "blackboard" was.  When our chef instructor asked the class, "who has not worked with blackboard or who does not know what blackboard is??"  I raised my hand, thinking, "surely I'm not the only one who doesn't know what the heck a blackboard is??" Ha!  I literally was the only one who didn't know.  I was so embarrassed my face turned beet red!!

My First Day in Intro to Computers (Class #2):
This is the class that I originally wanted to try to clep out of.  Why??  Because I took it 15 years ago when I was in my 20's.  To my dismay however, it didn't transfer over to this school or this program…and I was pretty bummed to learn this news when I spoke with my academic advisor.

I consider myself a huge computer geek.  I mean, after all, I have this blog.  However, on my first day of this class, I realized I knew absolutely nothing about computers and that maybe taking this class over again isn't such a bad idea.  Our instructor is a VERY fast paced person and I had a little trouble keeping up with things in the beginning.  I couldn't even figure out how to log on to my personalized desktop and had to raise my hand to ask what I was doing wrong.  Talk about being embarrassed for the second time!

Computers and technology have changed in the last 15 years, so yeah…I think this class will benefit me tremendously.  Coincidentally, part of our instructor's agenda on the first day included a tutorial on the blackboard program, so I was very happy about this.  Most of the students were 5 steps ahead of her during this part of the class, however, I was not…as you can imagine…lol.

Since this is my last class, I was VERY worried that I would not get out in time to pick my kiddos up from school (it ends at 2:45 and my kids need to be picked up from school at 3:30).  This class is also the one that is all the way across campus so I was very anxious on my first day.  It turned out that my instructor is not the kind of person who will make you stay until it's officially time to leave.  She told everyone that if you are finished with the day's assignments, then you are free to leave, no matter how early it may be.  This set my mind at ease tremendously!

I actually did make it on time to pick my kids up and ended up being 15 minutes early ;)

All in all, I would say that my first day went well, despite all the anxiety that I had.  The true test will be next semester when I start my culinary lecture and lab.  That's a whole other post and a whole other ball game…which I will tackle when the time comes.  Right now, I would just like to get through this semester ;)  

Till Next Time….

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