Food, People, Fun: Interview with Food 52's Amanda Hesser

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Nothing brings people together like food. Just ask Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, co-founders of Food52. Amanda and Merrill started with a single project to create first crowdsourced cookbook in 52 weeks (that’s where the 52 in Food52 comes from). They used recipe contests as a way to vet recipes and bring together people for a shared purpose: to create something meaningful, valuable and enduring. And in no time they discovered they had built a passionate and growing community of talented, well-informed food people who love to contribute.

Food52 is now a place where members create cookbooks, take on food projects, debate food news, help others with our real-time food Q&A -- the Food52 Hotline -- and band together to support local food producers. The site also features a Food52 shop that partners with high-quality producers, shops and artisans to bring you the greatest in food and drink, kitchen and tabletop items, books and gastro-fabulous experiences. Yum.

We caught up with Amanda after her launch of the Food52 cookbook to see what surprising things she learned, what other independent food publishers she admires, and the food trends that excite her right now.

You've designed a seventeenth-century-style herb garden at a French chateau, developed the Twitter app Plodt, and appeared in the movie Julie & Julia as yourself. You're also a writer for the NY Times and have written several award-winning cookbooks. Phew. What made you decide to start your own independent publishing and commerce venture? We like creating and building things. I've always wanted to start a business, and Merrill and I had an idea that we felt was worth exploring, so we spent our first year doing a proof of concept, and once we saw the possibilities and traction, we decided to stick with it and build a business around it.

What's the most surprising thing you've learned in crowdsourcing a cookbook? We expected the recipes to be great, but had no idea just how creative home cooks would be, week after week. We've learned so many cool things from our cooks, like how to properly salt and cook a flank steak and how to use vinegar and sugar to season cooked greens.

What food voices and blogs do you read online and what do you love about them? I love La Domestique for her discipline and single-minded focus. Nordljus for her terrific eye. And Ideas in Food for their intelligent and probing approach to cooking.

How do you prefer to work with advertisers and brands with Food52? We like to work with advertisers and brands who trust us to understand our audience. We live on our site, and we created it, so we know what our audience is interested in and what they'll respond to. We don't like cookie cutter (oops - food reference!) campaigns - we'd much rather work on something that feels organic and not forced.

What are your all-time most popular posts on Food52? We have one very popular column called Genius Recipes, where we unearth recipes that are so terrific, they change the way you cook a dish, and these have just totally captured the attention of our readers. The recipes aren't "perfect" versions, they're just smart and thoughtful, and they usually contain a twist that sticks with you.

Why did you decide to work with SAY Media? Last year, I selected a group of the best food blogs for the SAY 100, and when I looked around and saw the curators they'd gathered for this campaign, I knew they were onto something. They were talking to the right people in a bunch of different verticals, and everything they did was filled with great energy, including their SAY 100 party!

What food trends interest or excite you right now? People raising their own food, and making everything - everything - from scratch. It's an exciting time to be involved in food because people are digging deep and learning an enormous amount, which means a strong foundation is being built for generations to come.

What ingredients do you always have on hand no matter what? Eggs from a local farm, olive oil, ricotta, olives, garlic, thyme.

What's your guilty pleasure when it comes to food? Fritos.

What's your next big project or adventure? We're thinking a lot about local foods, and have an exciting plan in the works.

Food52 is a SAY Media partner. Follow Amanda on Twitter @amandahesser