What Makes A Great Food Blog?

While getting ready to speak on The Meaning of Identity and the Value of Voice in a Crowded Foodblogging World at BlogHer Food '09 this Saturday, I looked back to one of my very first posts on my blog, in which I looked at what makes a great food blog. The number one characteristic was:

A strong personality. We want food bloggers who are fun, intelligent, opinionated, creative, make us think, and make us learn. No matter what they're writing about, we want them to be passionate and well informed.

This is a good part of what defines voice. The bloggers I read are people I want to know. What draws me is their ability to tell a story or create a discussion that informs me, entertains me, or makes me think.

If you write a food blog, you know that it takes skill to get readers interested in your exploits, because you're not generating news in the traditional manner (ex. you robbed a bank or gave birth to octuplets). You're cooking, baking, going to a restaurant, or relating the details of your life. Writing about your ordinary day has to engage the reader in an extraordinary way. Here are three food bloggers who excel at detailing their lives:

1. David Lebovitz. In his blog, Living the Sweet Life in Paris, he writes as though he's my best friend: intimate, funny, charming and sweet. There's a reason he's a headliner at BlogHer Food 09. Read why the Washington Post calls him the number-one food blogger.

2. Heidi Swanson, 101 Cookbooks. For a post on Pineapple Rice, she got 83 responses. Why? Read her lead and see if you can figure it out:

"I've been to Hawaii two times. Once when I was sixteen, and again when I was twenty. Once to Maui, once to Kona. I remember it being lush and vibrant, achingly beautiful. The more miles you put between yourself and the resort areas, the better it got. I think I'd like to go back at some point, so when I realized there was an Edible Hawaiian Islands publication I subscribed to it with the hope that I'd discover farms, producers, markets and restaurants to seek out when we finally get around to going. The latest issue arrived in the mail the other night, and while flipping through it, I came across a recipe for a pineapple rice salad. I rarely cook with Hawaiian flavor profiles, but this looked too good to pass up..."

Suddenly it's not about the rice. It's about being young again, traveling to exotic places, remembering the beauty and lushness of a tropical place, subscribing to a magazine to be reminded. We've all been there. These universal themes are what draw us in.

3. Elise Bauer of Simply Recipes, a super-successful recipe site. For her lead recipe on Tomatillo Chicken Stew, she writes an evocative and knowledgeable headnote. She understands I haven't used tomatillos much, and she puts me at ease, informing me not only about what they are but how to use tomatillos to bring out the best flavor:

"September is tomatillo season around here. Little green lanterns hang from our tomatillo plants like ornaments on a well-decorated Xmas tree. Do you ever cook with tomatillos? They look like smallish green tomatoes, and are even called "tomate verde" in Mexico, and are used for making salsa verde and chile verde. Tomatillos are typically boiled with some chiles to make the green salsa, but roasting them, as I've done in this recipe, will bring out more flavor."

All three of these food bloggers are also speakers at BlogHer Food '09. I hope you'll come introduce yourself. See you Saturday!

Dianne Jacob blogs at Will Write for Food.

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