Over the last few months, we’ve had the pleasure to work with David Lebovitz on his website https://www.davidlebovitz.com/. A food blogger (and author) for almost 20 years now, David has seen the industry evolve like few others. But through it all, his site has prevailed and fortunately, he’s willing to speak to us here today.
Hi David! Tell us about DavidLebovitz.com, what is your blog about? When did you first begin?
It was so long ago, I almost forgot how it all started! I had written my first cookbook back in 1998 and thought it would be a good idea to have a way for readers of my book to be able to communicate with me, and ask me questions about the recipes in it. (Now I put that in the “Be careful what you ask for” category.) Back then, I had forums and everything.
No one knew what a blog was at the time, not even me. I was just publishing recipes, stories, pictures, and other things that interested me on the internet, changing them every few days or weeks, whenever I had something to say. Because I have zero tech skills, I had to have someone publish my recipes and ramblings on my rather basic website. A few years later, Movable Type, which I think was the first blogging platform, came out and I could publish anything myself, whenever I wanted. So I started publishing more…and more. That coincided with my move to Paris, where I began to write about food and life in my new city. Everything was looser back then and people weren’t expecting as much as they are now (and I probably had seven readers, so the circle of followers was smaller) and there wasn’t too much emphasis on quality of photos, detailed recipes, typos, etc. I would just say things off the top of my head, or take a picture, and published them as posts.
Around 2007 I learned there were a handful – less than a dozen – “food bloggers” out there, such as Adam Roberts of Amateur Gourmet, Clotilde Dusoulier of Chocolate & Zucchini, David Leite of Leite’s Culinaria, Pim Techamuanvivit of Chez Pim, Elise Bauer of Simply Recipes, Molly Wizenberg of Orangette, and Heidi Swanson of 101 Cookbooks.
“We loosely got to know each other and linked to each other’s blogs to spread the word, and the love. We all helped each other grow; it was a different time.”
So that would be roughly 20 years you’ve been working on a blog, can you believe that! How has blogging changed over the last two decades?
Yes, 2019 will be the twentieth anniversary of my blog, and I can’t believe it’s been that long and now, there are probably hundreds of thousands of food blogs out there. (David Leite and I jokingly duked it out to see which one of us was probably first.) It’s been exciting to see the medium improve so much and get widespread recognition. And now, one can find any kind of recipe or food-related information online, from anywhere in the world.
The other change, however, is that big companies and corporations have muscled into the space, loading SEO-friendly keywords into their recipes, often written with search results in mind, not necessarily concerned if it’s a good recipe or even one that works.
There’s a lot of misinformation out there too, so you need to be careful what you read. I have confidence in an online recipe if the person talks about how they made it, what went into creating and testing the recipe. Then I know that someone actually made the recipe.
Another change to blogging has been advertising, which is why most of those big sites and food blogs exist. But it also let many of us continue to do what we love, and get compensated for it. I do like the free nature of the internet, but as your blog gets bigger, things like server space, RSS feeds, tech support, plug-ins, administration, and photo equipment, become bigger expenses and take more time than they used to. I think many of us who have been doing this a while struggle to keep up with all that stuff, including social media, of course.
You’ve written eight books, tell us about your most recent.
My new book is on French drinks. It spans the gamut from café au lait and chocolat chaud (hot chocolate) to café drinks and apéritifs, with recipes for homemade infusions and cocktails, ending with tasty snacks that go with drinks. Unlike other countries, the French spend a lot of time in cafés drinking, from first thing in the morning to well past midnight, and it’s a part of French culture that I wanted to explore, and share.
As I got into the subject deeper, I realized that each drink, wine bottle, glass of beer, as well as liqueur and spirit, revealed something about French culture that was unique, and revealed something about the country. I criss-crossed France learning more, and the book is an easy introduction to French drinks, with 160 recipes and a lot of photos, which we just finished shooting. It’s going to be a stunning book.
Being a writer, you must have a favorite book, can you share?
I love Toast by Nigel Slater. He’s primarily a food writer, but this is his coming-of-age book, and it’s not like any that’s ever been written. He reveals a lot, and he’s such a great writer, not just a great food writer, but his story is very compelling.
Living in Paris now, what do you like most about living there?
The access to food. There are five or six bakeries within a block from my house, a few wine shops, cheesemongers, butchers, and bakeries, all that I can walk to. There’s also a lively outdoor market that happens twice a week where I shop for most of my fruits and vegetables, and while America has a great network of farmers’ markets in many towns and cities, in Paris they’re woven into our daily life.
What has been your biggest success as a food blogger?
Making friends with people from all over the world. I have amazing readers who I learn a lot from when they leave comments, and I have a network of friends in New York, Turkey, Italy, Japan, and elsewhere who I’ve met through my blog. My books have also reached a wider audience, too.
What are your three favorite recipes on DavidLebovitz.com?
Salted Butter Caramel Ice Cream, Carnitas, and the Spicy Pretzel and Nut mix. Funny that as a pastry chef and baker, two of my most popular recipes of all time (the Carnitas and pretzel/nut mix) are savory, not sweet. But to be honest, they’re so good, why not?
If you could tell bloggers who are just getting started one thing, what would it be?
Be authentic. In a world where anyone can be anyone, or anything, online, it’s easy to fall into the trap of creating a different online persona. But as someone who’s seen things we once thought were infallible, slide toward irrelevancy (AOL, Netscape, Yahoo!, Flickr), social media will shift, but quality and talent will always endure.
Another thing I recommend to anyone with a blog or online presence is to start a newsletter. Most of us had no idea how important social media would become to blogging in terms of getting visitors to our site. It’s now de rigeur. But algorithms change and we have no control over them. We saw that with Google, Facebook, and Pinterest, and it’s likely going to happen with Instagram. But you have complete control of your newsletter, and the people that subscribe to it are your most loyal fans and followers.
Who are your favorite food bloggers out there today?
Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen, Heidi Swanson of 101 Cookbooks, and Luisa Weiss of Wednesday Chef. All are seasoned bloggers that have been doing it a while and their voice comes through their blogs. Reading their blogs is like sitting in the kitchen with them.
Where is your favorite place to travel?
Right now I’d have to say I love the south of France. It gets a bit packed in the summer, but off-season, the weather is mild, cities and towns have a lot less people, and since I speak the language, it’s easy to travel and interact with people. I also like Spain and Portugal which are different than France, but the food is excellent, the prices more gentle, and the people are really friendly.