In 2005, Luisa Weiss was working in book publishing in New York City and toying around with the idea of starting a food blog to, as she explains on her website, The Wednesday Chef, “work through a mountain of recipe clippings from the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times that I’d been obsessively saving for years.” Although she was concerned that she’d be late to the game since, “there were already twenty other food blogs online,” she forged ahead anyway to become one of the Internet’s first food bloggers. Now, twelve years after launching The Wednesday Chef, with thousands of food blogs in the digital media ecosystem and two cookbooks under her belt, Weiss speaks to MOLD about the communities that emerged in those early days of food blogging as well as how the industry has shifted in the past decade.
Vicky Zeamer: What is your process?
Luisa Weiss: I feel like an actor. I cook things that I’m in the mood for or that just seem interesting, it’s based on my gut feeling. It’s not that removed from what the original [website] was meant to be—talking about food in an approachable way like if I was emailing my dad on a Sunday night.
Can you comment on what the food blogging community is like? I’m curious to know what sort of conversations you’ve had.
I actually don’t think I’m exceptional—there are a lot of people like me out there that have been blogging for a while and have been able to make a living doing something else, whether it’s related to the blog or not, so that the blog can be a creative outlet more than anything else. Younger bloggers who have exponentially more readers and wider reach, are in a different boat because they have decided to make the blog their career and money maker. I think its super that that exists but they have to make very different calculations about what they produce and how they go about sponsored content, sponsored Instagram posts, and I have very little insight into that model.
In 2007, I was invited to part of an ad network so for a couple of years before the crash, I had ads on my blog through no effort of my own. I would cut and paste some code. In 2009, when the big blogs started moving into mobile, I realized I wasn’t interested in the numbers but I really enjoy writing the blog because of the connection I have with my readers and commenters. The blog is my creative outlet, my hobby and my business card. Most of my paid work comes because people have found my blog and say, “we should hire her to…” write a book, a column, do an advertorial, etc.
Since starting 12 years ago, how have the unspoken rules in food blogging changed?
When I started, there were some unspoken rules I think still apply. Early on, people would come to blogs to be part of the community, leave thoughtful comments, make friends and that’s how you would build readership. Link back, don’t steal recipes without attribution—those rules still apply but because people now read on their phones, people don’t comment as much. I think that’s why Instagram has enormous success because you can like a post and you can also comment but you’ll notice that there’s always so many more likes than comments. Because blogs don’t give you that option, you’ll notice that my posts from 5 years ago got far more comments than they do now, even though my readership hasn’t necessarily dropped off.
What do you think makes the components of a good blog? I’m really interested in the skills for what you do and also how it helps the content resonate with people.
Elements would include a sense of authenticity, some humor and offering something compelling. Especially now, I appreciate it so much more when I’m reading other people’s blogs that talk about the challenges of cooking with young children, or a job, or trying to find the right ingredient. America, in general has become incredibly sophisticated when it comes to ingredients from other cultures—but little snippets about how challenging it can be to get good food on the table. Berlin, in terms of German cities, is some sort of international and I can find all kinds of great things here. But a big difference is that food is much more expensive in the United States and food is terrifyingly cheap in Berlin.
The nice thing about writing about food is that everybody has to eat and everybody has an opinion about food, even people who don’t like to cook. You can talk to a cab driver on the same level that you can talk to a university professor. I find that as long as you’re able to make a connection with people, the rest falls into place.
What are the things you find most exciting right now?
In terms of food media, I’m excited about the fact that what was termed ethnic food even five years ago, is so part of the landscape, it is no longer ethnic. We’ve all been challenged to have a better sense of what the experience is for others; that is trickling down to food as well. People from various cultures are producing food that is “hot” and stepping up to be the face of food instead of that white guy on bonappetit.com.
I started my blog with one machine and basically that has never changed. Although I love my phone and I totally appreciate that it’s where most of the action is, I do feel a little sentimental about reading on our computers. Part of me wonders if there’s going to be a backlash—a slow blogging movement. I don’t know if [content] will always be images and videos as people’s attention spans get shorter and shorter. Which one will win in the end?