Something was cooking recently on Blogchatter and the recipe was so delicious, we had to share it with you! Don’t they say sharing is caring?
Anindhya Basu, our host for the evening started by introducing himself. Passionate about food, he quit his corporate job to open a restaurant, and became a blogger by happy accident.
Our other panellists also traced a similar trajectory becoming food writers by chance and not so much by design. Rushina Ghildiyal, the award winning author, food consultant, columnist, and writer, was first a food writer who worked with print publications and found blogging later. Kalyan Karmakar on the other hand became a blogger as a result of a brief sabbatical, which never ended. He is India’s earliest food bloggers.
Here’s what they had to say:
Q1) The first question was for Rushina: Food writing in India has evolved. What is the difference between writing for a print publication and writing for a food blog?
She said that food writing has always existed in India. In the beginning, it flourished in print before diminishing steadily. It continues to exist in the form of what Rushina calls ‘Feature lens’ food writing, but there has been a major evolution, bringing less print options but many online options. ‘Blogging’ has been responsible to open this possibility to many instead of the limited opportunities that print publications presented.
In the year that Rushina first started writing, there were 4 or 5 food publications, while now the only two she could think of were: Upper Crust, and the recently relaunched Good Food magazine. But as print publications gave way to blogging, the interest in food writing has grown to a point that bloggers are now a force to be reckoned with. Rushina also discussed the flip side of this internet-fuelled revolution, acknowledging that the number of bloggers writing about food has seen a sharp incline, and while one can find unique voices in the often repeated noise, this level of activity will further help the serious food blogger to distinguish between things that work and things that don’t.
Q2) The next question was for Kalyan, whose journey has been from market researcher to food blogger to columnist to author. Kalyan was asked to share key insights in his food writing journey.
With an initial stint as a sub-editor for a journalistic publication before his MBA, Kalyan went into market research. By academic training, he’s a sociologist, which allowed for a fuller appreciation of culture, which crossed over with his interest in food. Kalyan’s wife encouraged him to blog instead of limiting his restaurant appreciation or criticism to his immediate family members. She named the new blog ‘finely chopped’ and the name has stuck.
In 2013, he took a sabbatical from work. At the time, blogging seemed not to provide a clear objective or structure, but a book deal had him writing regularly. Kalyan insists on consistency over being a one-post-wonder. And urges food bloggers to write from the heart instead of following trends. He firmly believes that everyone’s voice and approach brings distinction even to the same topics. The same subject matter might inspire a writer to write from a sense of nostalgia, or explore the evolution of food via the local history, or simply state the role in local food offerings.
Q3) There are many food writing segments, from restaurant reviews, recipe writing, to writing about wines and drinks, street food, and hidden gems in a city. While expertise in one genre does not restrict you from writing in another, there is no formal training on how one can write about food. Most people become food writers by chance. What are the essentials of/grammar of food writing?
In Kalyan’s opinion, there might not be one grammar since there are as many approaches as there are food writers. Kalyan likens this to Indian food, where one finds that there isn’t the only one way to prepare or serve something. The readers also don’t necessarily look for the same thing, with each reader finding the aspect they are interested in. While some might be interested in the evolution and history of food, chefs are often interested in cooking, Kalyan is most interested in how culture has shaped the cuisine.
The writer’s interests apart, their food writing is also often influenced by the writer’s life experiences, exposure, and a measure of their social affluence. From street food to international dining, food writers have the full range to work with, depending on their comfort.
He concluded by adding that that the only grammar of food writing is that one needs to love food. Kalyan felt that good food writers keep with the times, and do not stay tied to one style that may have worked at a certain time. He also advised new writers not to be too influenced by writing coaches who have strong rules about only using a specific writing style of their own invention. These styles, Kalyan opined, are often left behind and their advice doesn’t age well.
Rushina suggested that the rules that govern writing in general need to apply to any form of literary expression, food related or not. She hopes that while there are generic writing courses, special food writing courses will soon be on offer.
She also agreed with Kalyan’s view about multiple approaches, asserting that food blogging often reflects the bloggers life. Success in Rushina’s point of view, is when the blogger’s voice comes through a piece of writing.
She then raised a question that generated spirited discussion through alternate view-points. Rushina thought that having a growing community of bloggers provides opportunity for unique content, yet there’s evidence of a lot of writing about classic recipes like the Red Velvet cake or a large number of reviews for the same restaurant. She believes that content producers have the responsibility to make their content unique, to continue to create a pull for readers.
Anindhya’s point of view differed, in that he thought that beginners should write about the more established recipes while trying to build a comfort zone. If, however, the writer doesn’t evolve their subject matter to unique or contemporary creations over time, the writer limits themselves severely and risks being clubbed in with the thousands of others doing the same.
Rushina clarified that being unique has worked for her. While beginners can use established recipes to commence their cooking journey, as writers they need to bring a unique perspective to even the most over-googled recipes to be able to stand out, so readers come back for more.
Kalyan chimed at this point, to express his observation about bloggers writing more about trending topics and thus falling prey to almost similar restrictions publications exert on writers, taking away from their freedom to write individualistic pieces, because they wanted to drive more traffic by chasing the popular trend.
Q4) Anindhya then asked our panel for some pointers on how one can become successful at food writing.
Before going to the panellists, Anindhya started by sharing the 3 things which he follows:
- Read a lot to stay updated
- Revisit and rewrite until the piece is refined and ready
- Try to have a distinct voice of your own
In her response, Rushina agreed that we never stop learning. She added that it is equally important to listen because good your stories can come from anywhere. Recipes are aplenty on google, but readers will come back to your blog for your stories.
Kalyan chose to talk about the food writing that interests him and international food writers that inspire him. He spoke of many food bloggers, from Anthony Bourdain to Vikram Doctor, explaining that he enjoys their personal take on the topic at hand. He also called out their writing style that follows a conversational tone, creating reader engagement. And finally, he observed that a lot of thought and research supports the very best food blogs, making them highly informative.
Q5) Anindhya’s next question brought up Behram contractor, who was the first popular food columnist in India, to highlight how the times have changed. From those early days of singular food columnists to new food writers starting their blogs every new day in the current times, food writing has come a long way, but what does the future hold?
Kalyan felt that language and technology constantly evolve and it is futile to attempt predictions. Instead he advised us to write well, engage the reader with a well written story. He further added that the grammar of telling a good story evolves according to the times, and staying true to the zeitgeist is essential to keep readers engaged.
Rushina expressed the hope that we find ways to reinvent ourselves as required by the changing times. In the past, social media was not as visual as today’s social media, but adapting to these new methods opened new doorways for creative expressions, she hoped that any future advancements also provided for a scope to re-invent oneself.
The sense of community was apparent in the comments section, with encouragement for the host, despite a few technological hiccups through the session. You can watch the full session here.