Six lessons about food blogging I learned from Julia Child
Six years ago today, I posted my first words on The Perfect Pantry, beginning an exploration of the more than 250 ingredients I keep in my cupboards, spice rack, freezer and refrigerator, with recipes for how to use them. Recently, a reader asked for some advice about her own blog, which led me to reflect on what I've learned about food blogging in the past six years, and who taught me what I know.
Julia Child taught me everything I know about cooking. During college, in the early 1970s, while my friends cut classes to watch afternoon soaps, I inhaled every episode of The French Chef. I bought her cookbooks when I could find them at the used bookstore in town. I couldn't get enough of Julia, cooking teacher extraordinaire, who dropped, spilled, flung and goofed, but also infused new-to-us recipes and techniques with her special joie de vivre.
Though she passed away in 2004, two years before my first blog post, Julia Child also taught me every important thing I know about food blogging.
So, as The Perfect Pantry celebrates its sixth birthday and the food world prepares to celebrate Julia's 100th birthday in August, here are six lessons about food blogging I learned from Julia Child.
1. Work hard.
Nobody worked harder than Julia, who tested, retested, wrote and rewrote, to make sure her recipes were clear and precise, and -- most important to her -- that we would succeed at recreating them. She wanted us to have fun, but also to learn. Julia's work ethic allowed for no shortcuts; quality came from methodical testing, note-taking, revision, proofreading.
When Julia published a recipe in a cookbook, there it stayed, forever etched into the page, and any mistakes stayed with it. Bloggers have the chance to fix their mistakes, and I'm especially grateful when readers point out my errors to me. However, my goal is to get it right the first time, to present recipes that are as clear and easy-to-follow as Julia's own recipes. I don't publish recipes that don't work in my kitchen, because I want the recipes you find here to work in your kitchen.
2. Use real ingredients.
Butter, eggs, salt, good cheese and chocolate. Julia Child might have been the original whole foods cook. She taught us to respect real ingredients, real seasonings, and good wine, and to buy the best ingredients we can afford because it really does make a difference to the outcome of a dish.
While I appreciate some store-bought convenience foods (think broccoli slaw, wonton skins, puff pastry), I don't believe that canned cream of mushroom soup or instant mashed potatoes are ingredients. I do use artificial sweetener when I'm cooking for diabetic kids and friends, but 99.9 percent of the recipes in The Perfect Pantry use real, whole food ingredients. I want you to stock your pantry with real food, too.
3. Keep calm and carry on.
Do you remember the episode of The French Chef in which Julia exhorted us all to have the courage of our convictions and attempt the frying pan potato pancake flip, only to overshoot the pan and watch it land on the stove top instead? She calmly slid the pancake back into the pan, tidied the edges with a spatula, and kept right on cooking.
At times, both in cooking and in blogging, things go wrong: the mayonnaise breaks, the chicken burns, the photos are out of focus, or for some reason your blog page takes forever to load, and you don't know how to speed it up, or it suddenly goes completely and horribly blank. I don't always keep completely calm, but I carry on until I figure out what happened. That's what Julia would do.
4. Don't give up.
When Houghton-Mifflin rejected the original manuscript for Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Julia persevered until the book found an editor (Judith Jones), a publisher (Knopf), and an audience.
Some food blogs find an audience right away, but most take weeks, or months, or sometimes years to connect with the readers who stay with them. To fellow bloggers, I say: If your thoughtfully crafted posts haven't found an audience, keep at it. Create great content, give your blog value, and make it easy for readers to use. Hosting giveaways or contests can attract more readers, but it's great content that will keep them coming back.
5. Be generous, and inspire others.
In 1995, my husband Ted and I attended the graduation ceremony for ten formerly homeless men and women who completed a year-long food service training program at Pine Street Inn, a large Boston shelter that provides emergency housing, job training and health services for the homeless. A standing-room-only crowd of 250 family and friends, neighbors, supporters, and local chefs listened to Julia Child's five-minute commencement address. She shook hands with the graduates, speaking a few words to each of them, and then shared in the buffet of refreshments the students had prepared.
Julia didn't have to take the time to come to this event, but she did, lending dignity and gravitas to their graduation ceremony and celebrating their entry into the food service industry she loved. Had the graduation been at Harvard, she could not have been more gracious to the graduates and their families. In her lifetime, Julia mentored dozens of young chefs all across the country, with the same enthusiasm and encouragement she shared that day at a shelter for the homeless.
When I started blogging, I reached out to more experienced bloggers like Elise Bauer and Kalyn Denny for help and advice, and I'm forever grateful to them, and to many others, for sharing their expertise. Kristen Doyle created an adopt-a-blogger program that matched new food bloggers with mentors, and through that, I adopted three bloggers and helped them over a period of years. I try to answer questions whenever someone writes to me for blogging advice, and I hope I inspire other food bloggers to do their best, share what they know, link generously to others, and spread good blogging karma.
6. Be yourself, always.
Julia Child was, some said, too smart, too tall, too creative, too witty, too adventurous, and too independent of spirit. She was, also, always herself.
Cooks can find recipes anywhere, but Julia Child taught me that people come to The Perfect Pantry to get my take on a recipe, my ideas, my stories, my confessions, just as we all turn to Julia's cookbooks to get her point of view. If my recipes aren't the most complicated, or my photos don't look like the ones on the fancy photo sites, I'm okay with that, and I know that if you keep coming back, you enjoy my take on pantry ingredients and fun ways to cook with them.
As I say every year, because it's true, you are the most important ingredient in The Perfect Pantry. Thank you all for being here.
And thank you, Julia, for everything you've taught me about food blogging.
Illustrations created with Paper for iPad by Ted Chaloner (known to readers of The Perfect Pantry as my husband Ted).
Disclosure: The Perfect Pantry earns a few pennies on purchases made through the Amazon.com links in this post. Thank you for supporting this site when you start your shopping here.
Great lessons... for blogging and life in general. Thanks for your sharing. Happy Blogiversary!
And great pictures, Ted!
Loved this article. Love Julia. Thanks for sharing and continue on! :-)
A beautiful post, Lydia! Thank you for sharing this wisdom with us. I'm especially grateful because I've been on the receiving end of you implementing #5 many times. I'm sure Julia would be proud, but be sure that you accept credit for a job well done for 6 years--impressive! I love coming here to find out what's going on at The Perfect Pantry. :-) Happy blogiversary, dear!
Thank You for 6 years of information. I've enjoyed every blog, picture, drawing and evolution. Thanks again for keeping us looking forward to the next one.
What a great post, and Ted's illustrations are perfect. I'm so glad you started The Perfect Pantry so we could become good friends! (Who could imagine you could be best friends with someone you don't even see once a year who lives thousands of miles away.) Wishing you and The Perfect Pantry all the best in the years to come!
Congratulations on SIX - six! - years, Lydia, creating a body of work that's a treasure trove of stories and information and inspiration and oh, yeah, recipes too.
PS Love-love-love Ted's drawings, I'm off to buy the app!
Inspiring post. I met Julia once and in the 6 seconds or so she even took the time to offer me advice! So generous. And I agree with everything you've said.
I don't know why but this brought tears to my eyes. This is probably the best anniversary post I have read, Lydia. I am so proud of you and am so grateful to know you and to get to soak up your wisdom.
You have always stayed true to yourself, which is hard to do in this blogging world. You are one of my "Food blog heroes". I admire you greatly. Thanks for bringing your fresh voice and style to us!
PS - I can't believe you said Mayonnaise. The "Miracle Whip" breaks! ;)
Thank you, too! I have subscribed and unsubbed from many food blogs over the years, but yours -- yours is a keeper! Thanks so much for all you've inspired and all the food-pleasure you've induced.
(But I miss the pantry photos!)
Happy big 6 Lydia! A lovely post ... you are a person I greatly admire and cherish for being so genuine. A rock in my eyes. All the best and here's to another 6 (?)
Isn't it wonderful how someone like Julie Child has inspired so many of us? I'm so glad you started The Perfect Pantry and that through blogging we could meet and become friends. Congratulations on 6 wonderful years! (Ted's illustrations are delightful!)
Congratulations on six wonderful years!
Thank you for such sound advice. Julia was the heart of the modern home chef movement and, even those of us with formal training, are forever in her debt.
Happy anniversary, Lydia! And thanks for sharing such an inspiring post. I'm so glad we had the chance to first meet when I was still a new blogger - I've learned so much from you. Ted did a fabulous job with the illustrations!
Wonderful, 100% true lessons and a beautiful post. Happy 6 years!
Congratulations! I learned of your blog through Kalyn and have followed it every since. Julia Child was a mentor for me. I too would run home and watch every episode of her show. It actually reruns on The Cooking Channel and I catch it whenever I can. Thanks for sharing your knowledge and recipes with us!
Congratulations on your blog anniversary! Great tips!
Happy Blog Birthday! Such an inspiring post and the illustrations are fantastic! Thank you for this. : )
Wonderful, Lydia -- the advice, the fabulous drawings -- all of it. Congratulations on your accomplishment here and where ever you've left your mark. I know you've had a big impact on me since I'm leaving with the uncanny feeling you were directing this particularly in my direction. Ha! Duly noted!
Julia Child was an inspiring mentor! You've learned your lessons well, including the lesson to pass along the teaching. 6 good years, Lydia -- thanks!
Congratulations on six delicious and satisfying years! I would venture to guess that Julia would have loved visiting the Perfect Pantry for the wisdom and insights that you serve up each day!
Great post! I agree with all of it!
My blog turned 7 this month and it's amazing to see how much the food blogging world has changed.
Happy 6 years!!! So happy to have gotten to know you and your lovely blog! :)
What a beautiful post! Julia has a special spot in my heart...like you, I devoured every episode!
Congrats! Looking forward to more great posts!
What a wonderful post. Beautifully written and very inspirational. Thank you.
What a lovely tribute to Julia! I used to see her at the farmer's market in Santa Barbara and it was so refreshing to see how down to earth she was to all. I'm a new reader and congratulate you on a great blog....keep up the great work! :)
Congratulations on six years! I love your blog. Thank you for all of your great posts!
What an inspiring and beautifully expressed post. I, too, learned how to cook by watching the French Chef, and I shudder to think what awful food my family would have been subjected to without Julia's guidance. I had the pleasure of meeting her, and she, like you, was genuine and wonderfully down to earth. I love what you're doing--long may you blog!
A beautiful and thoughtful post. Loved watching Julia, and Jacques Pepin too. I also love Ted's illustrations! I am a newbie food blogger, and posts like this give us all hope. Thank you for keeping it real.
Very inspiring, a touching and beautiful post to read :) Congratulations on the 6 year mark!
Such encouraging tips to remember, even for those of us who've been around a while ; ) Happy Birthday to PP!
Great post Lydia! I really enjoy visiting your blog, reading your posts, savoring your recipes and taking a look at your pantry. Congratulations and I here's to 6 more years!
What a wonderful inspiring post written by a person with a grateful heart. Congratulations on your 6th anniversary. May you celebrate many more and may we always be invited to celebrate with you.
Congratulations on your anniversary. I enjoyed this thoughtful post and appreciate your generosity. I hope this next year brings you much joy and inspiration.
Wow, what a great post. Blogger or not, these are words to live by. Thank you for sharing.
I arrived to the U.S. too late to watch Julia on PBS, but I managed to see an episode or two in later years. Her life has always been an inspiration and I am with you on every single lesson.
I have read your blog from the beginning and turned to it for guidance once I started my own (and why I did not do it earlier, I have no clue:)
As a pantry hoarder (do we need a support group?), I enjoyed the trip throughout the years and look forward to many more! You have always been a constant, a reliable source of information and a good example to follow.
Lydia, you are an inspiration!!!! Thank you for everything you do. I love sending friends to The Perfect Pantry.
Thank you for sharing your experiences. It is encouraging to us new food bloggers to hear how other people have stuck at it and what has helped.
I have been amazed at how friendly the blogging community is!
I loved Julia too, but you my friend have fueled my continuing love of cooking (especially with friends) to make real food, often inspired by the basic, every-day food from many cultures.
Happy birthday -- hope your gift to all of us continues!
You're the first thing I real each day in my reader and always take away an inspiration for something.
*Of course it so makes sense it would be Julia who you found as a mentor. She is someone who will go on challenging and giving voice to cooks the world around. However, *you* are in that great company because now this tiny alliterative blog you've introduced to the world is challenging a new generation. (I also love alliteration!)
We love the Perfect Pantry.......
Hats off to you!
Happy Anniversary! And wonderful words for new bloggers (like me) to live by. Your blog was one of the first that I started reading and it has encouraged me to branch out and explore. Thank you!!!
What a wonderful article, Lydia. Your blog has been a source of information, inspiration and pleasure and I hope to continue reading it for a long time to come.
All the best always.
Congratulations and thank you!!!
Congrats on 6 years! What a thoughtful and encouraging post. I grew up loving Julia Child since my mom was such a fan of hers. When I was in college in NYC, I was an intern at the (then very new) Food Network and was fortunate enough to meet Julia and get an autograph for both my mom and myself. I still treasure it!
A great list and so true. I love Julia because of everything you mention and I love this list; it's a road map for being authentic.
I offer that I also have the added 'benefit' of cooking at high altitude. When asked the secret I always say, 'Learn how to punt.' I've lived here 25 years yet still have the occasional snafu...and some fruit to fill it! :)
Congrats to you and here's to many years more.
Happy 6th Year of Blogging, Lydia. I love all your advice and how you keep your blog posts always new and exciting. Here's to many more years!
Perfect words for a perfect anniversary for Perfect Pantry. DId she mention anything about alliteration? Congratulations. Kalyn and Kristen have both been so supportive of me as well. Love that about people.
Happy Six Years,a and here to six more . . .
Thanks for all your inspiration and knowledge about ingredients I otherwise wouldn't have know existed!!
Julia would be 100 years old this year - Rest In Peace!
What great advice. I'm sure Julia would be very proud of what you've learned from her, but even more important, that you've shared that knowledge with your readers.
Everyone: thank you, from the bottom of my heart. Julia must be smiling down on us!
A 'delicious' post, Lydia.
I appreciate, consistently, all that you do.
Congratulations on six successful blogging years.
Congratulations Lydia and I love all the points you've made in this post, especially #6.
Totally excellent! You are simply spot on.
Happy anniversary, Lydia! Yours is the only food blog I read faithfully - I come for your warmth, wisdom, knowledge, and passion for food. Your writing comes clearly from your heart. I also know that I can trust your recipes implicitly, and that when you lead me in a new direction I can feel confident that I won't get lost.
Happy Blogiversary! I have to admit.... I skipped classes to watch 'The Galloping Gourmet' LOL
Three cheers for the Perfect Pantry! You and your blog have definitely enriched my life and I thank you for it.
Congratulations on your six years of a wonderful website.
Loved the story about Julia at the Pine Street Inn graduation.
I am with you on #2: 'use real ingredients'. At the end of the day it is what makes a big difference in the final dish. This is what will wowed your family and guests. I have six years of blogging and still learning from great food bloggers like you. I am a big fan of Julia, what an inspiration like your blog. Congratulations!
This post is wonderful. I am trying to hard to give my blog value AND use whole ingredients, but I'm also trying to be honest, too.
I'm sorry I missed this back in June. I learned a lot from it.
I came across this post and your blog today. Like many of us (if not all!) I too am inspired by Julia Child and not only enjoyed reading your 6 lessons, but felt inspired as well! Especially about working hard and being yourself! Thank you :)
Just passed 1 year & still cooking and publishing!
Ideas worth sharing. Thanks.