By Carly DeFilippo
This month, ICE had the pleasure of co-hosting a very special event with the New York Women’s Culinary Alliance: a conversation with renown home cook, food writer, francophile – and new bakery owner – Dorie Greenspan.
The first time Greenspan attempted to cook, she burned down her parent’s kitchen. It wasn’t until she became a young bride that she returned to the stove, and when she first pursued a job in professional baking, she was fired for “creative insubordination”. Greenspan’s entry into food writing was something of a fluke. A friend introduced her to a contact at Food & Wine, who invited her to submit a proposal. She naively mailed a basket of samples to the magazine’s office, with a hand-written note stating that she’d like to publish the recipes. Needless to say, her innocent strategy worked, and her first piece was published in 1983.
Despite Greenspan’s unconventional, lucky first steps in food writing, her career wasn’t all eager acceptances from national magazines. After her initial big break, she wasn’t published again for a full 2 years. “There have been plenty of dry spells,” she explained, “It always looks good on paper.” Greenspan also openly admitted that while she “said yes to everything”, she would have felt more comfortable in her abilities had she pursued professional culinary training.
Today, after writing ten cookbooks, winning six James Beard awards and receiving numerous other awards and recognitions, one would assume Greenspan would have overcome any insecurity in her culinary abilities. Yet, enmeshed in the opening of her first bakery, Beurre & Sel, Greenspan claims she still feels scared by the responsibility of consistency and of trusting other people with her product. Opening a cookie bakery was her son’s idea, Dorie explains, “[and] because we don’t know what we’re doing, we can dream – if we were smarter, we wouldn’t have gone into business.” If irresponsible, this dream has garnered Greenspan even more support from her loyal followers and fans – not least of all the “Tuesdays with Dorie” baking club.
In fact, Greenspan’s success as a blogger was one of the subjects of most interest to the NYWCA members, many of whom are successful writers or food professionals in their own right. “Tuesdays with Dorie” grew out of a request from two women who wanted to blog about baking her recipes. The group continued to grow, and with it, Greenspan’s interest in “the power of the Internet…to really connect people with like interests”. She credits the incredible success of her own blog and social media presence (more than 128,000 Twitter followers) to this genuine love of connecting with other cooking enthusiasts. “You can’t just talk about your work…[you] need to really consider yourself a part of the community.” Just one example of Greenspan’s dedication to her many fans? She personally answers every question posted on her blog.
That said, the Internet has also been a source of increased pressure on Greenspan, especially when it comes to testing recipes. The regular feedback that her fans provide is “both gratifying and terrifying.” To this point, Greenspan tests her own recipes several times and always sends a finished copy to a recipe tester for further refining.
Beyond the importance of hiring a tester, Greenspan had very practical thoughts for those interested in the competitive field of food writing. “Everybody who tastes food thinks they can write about it.” A blog is a great way to create a presence, a portfolio that editors can reference. But you may also need to write – for free – for another publication, to get your foot in the door. “To say, ‘I’ve done this work.’ counts for a lot.”
Hard-working, humble and obviously passionate about her work, Greenspan’s most telling remark was that which concerned her motivation: “I’m not proud of my work. I’m happy it’s being used.”