The plan was simple: Create a cookbook of family recipes to send to relatives for Christmas.
That project inspired Jen Perez to do something that would reach many more people than just her family. She created a baking blog, Beantown Baker, which has become increaslingly successful in the local baking scene.
“At the same time I was collecting recipes for the cookbook, I started reading other food bloggers and…taking pictures of food I was making,” she said. “I was kind of like, ‘I can do this.’ So I started my blog in August of ’07 and I’ve been doing it ever since.”
Three years after she and her husband started creating their cookbook, it was complete. In that same three years, Perez’s blog had grown considerably in popularity. While some people set out to use blogs to promote their writing or photography about a certain subject or hobby, Perez said her blog grew more organically to the size it is today.
“I do spend a decent amount of time on my blog, but it’s fun. It’s my thing. I don’t know that I ever consciously was like, ‘now I’m gonna take it to the next level,’ it just somehow happened,” she said.
Food blogs seem to have an especially large presence in the blogosphere. Although there is no definitive count of how many exist, one popular food blog community, Foodbuzz, features blog posts from more than 18,800 food blogs and has more than 95,000 members, or “foodies.”
One of the purposes of such food blog community websites is to give bloggers a platform to promote and display their work, and to meet other bloggers who share similarities, either in location, type of cuisine or other interest.
Megan Chromik, the author behind the blog Delicious Dishings, said as her blog gained in popularity, she found an unexpected scene of food bloggers to connect with.
“The biggest thing is the people you meet through it, the network of food bloggers I’ve connected with,” Chromik said. “I never expected I’d put my thoughts about food and writing and meet people who felt the way I did.”
Perez said this aspect of community is one of the biggest benefits she’s gained by having her blog.
“The cool thing is that I’ve been, within like maybe the last 18 months, meeting other bloggers, and going to blogging events and that’s been really neat just to meet other people who have a hobby similar to what I do,” she said. “Last weekend I baked with another blogger, and I’m doing some cake decorating with other bloggers in a couple weeks, so it’s been a cool way to make new friends, too.”
Chromik and Perez met a promotional event for bloggers sponsored by Eggland’s Best, which was held at Stella in the South End. Events like the one at Cellar are common in the food blogging world, as are events planned by bloggers.
Perez said that one of the best events she attended was a weekend at King Arthur Flour for about 10 baking and food bloggers that Chromik organized.
“It does seem like company PR people are figuring out that bloggers can really spread the word about a company. It’s great publicity for them.”
Yet while some bloggers choose to write about every event they attend, others have a more discerning style when it comes to events put on by corporations.
Katie Barszcz, the author of Small Boston Kitchen, said she makes her policy very clear on her blog.
“I think I’m pretty clear on my blog. I do have a disclaimer that if I do go to an event, I’m going to write a straightforward review for my audience,” she said. “It’s important to be honest and let people know I was invited to an event.”
Perez has a similar philosophy about reviewing events, and said she rarely reviews events she’s been invited to on her blog, since she defines her blog as more “recipe based.” Instead of talking about most events on her blog, Perez has decided to mention them on Twitter.
“What I’ll do, especially now that I’m on Twitter, is I’ll tweet about [the event] and say, ‘oh I’m excited to be going,” or I’ll tweet while I’m there,” she said. “That’s why I use twitter as a way to like give back a little bit so that I’m not just mooching for free food.”
Though new to Twitter, Perez said website has introduced her to another, different side of social media.
“In the beginning I definitely didn’t really know how to use it efficiently because I have a Facebook page and I figure a lot of people read my blog through Google Reader or something, so I thought ‘what can Twitter provide,’” she said.
Now Perez said she has learned to use Twitter to “keep the pulse on the Boston food scene,” and talk with other bloggers.
“What I’ve found is that it’s really just, the way I use it is to build relationships. So these other bloggers that I’ve met in person or just bloggers that I’ve met online…we can have these kind of conversations.”
Chromik said that for her, “getting on Twitter was huge.” She tweets about her blog posts in the morning and afternoon, and said that even just those posts have increased traffic to her blog, as she has amassed close to 2,800 followers.
For Barszcz, the benefits of Twitter go beyond building relationships.
“It’s a great resource,” she said. “I can ask if anyone knows where I can get this rare ingredient, or if anyone has been to this restaurant and what it’s like, and things like that.”
Yet no matter how many Twitter followers Beantown Baker has, or how many blogger events Perez attends, she said the most important thing for her is that she is constantly challenging herself and supporting her readers.
“Being known for baking on my blog kind of pushes me a little to push myself,” she said. “And to encourage other readers to say, ‘you know she has a range of simple things, and then more complicated recipes, and if Jen can do it, so can I.’”
As part of this project, I videotaped Jen Perez giving baking tips while baking brownies. I also tried my hand at her brownie recipe, and gave them to Northeastern students to taste.