I’m honored that Jamie asked me to participate in the From Plate to Page blog. It has only been quite recently that I’ve started to think of myself as a food writer with a voice of my own. As many of you who read my blog know, I married into culinary royalty. My husband is Giuliano Hazan, a rather renowned Italian cookbook author and educator who regularly appears on national TV in the USA, and my mother-in-law is Marcella Hazan, considered the doyenne of Italian cuisine. For most of my married life I remained backstage in the food world. After all, what did this California girl know about authentic Italian cooking? I first had to learn that risotto was made out of rice rather than pasta.
front row left to right: Marcella Hazan, Gabriella Hazan, Jacquelynne Caplan
back row left to right: Victor Hazan, Lael Hazan, Michela Hazan, Giuliano Hazan
Although my circumstances might have been different, my many concerns were common. The refrain that raced through my head for much of my early years, wasn’t terribly original, it was “What if I am not good enough?” I’ve been fortunate to meet so many great writers and thinkers, how could I consider myself their equal? In addition to my own mind - numbing angst, I was born dyslexic. I was very lucky that my parents caught it early; however, the entire time I was in school, I never turned in a paper that hadn’t been proof-read. Even now, I plan to create a T-shirt with the statement, I don’t spell; I spell check.
I was fortunate to grow up in Sacramento, California to a family that was committed to the printed word. My mother was an administrator in the school district and my father was an antiquarian book dealer. Although it took me until second grade to begin to read, I began devouring books almost immediately. One of my father’s close friends was Darrell Corti, who is considered the “Foodies Foodie” who inspired a Facebook group site called Darrell Corti will always know more than you about Food and Wine. Listening to him, as well as, since the age of 6, attending meals of many cuisines with my parents and their friends in the late 70’s and early 80’s opened my eyes – and stomach – to an entire world of food.
Marriage to Giuliano has been an exhilarating gastronomic experience. I learned about buying the freshest products and the careful preparation of even the simplest meal. With him, I have been fortunate to meet some of the great Italian food artisans. Soon after we married, Giuliano was able to fulfill one of his life long dreams of opening a cooking school in Italy. Although I had helped research the sites where we take our students, it took a few years, and many people continually asking me questions, for me to realize I did have something to offer.
My undergraduate work is in Renaissance History and this was a great foundation for our cooking school. In college I remember trying to figure out a recipe of Cicero’s in Latin, and an exhaustive but delicious research expedition into the history of Tiramisù. So after a few years, I began teaching the historical component during our courses. I soon added myth and legends and our students suggested that I write them down.
Honestly, it took me until I was 40 to get over myself. I had what social workers sometimes diagnose as the “worried well” disease. There will always be those who have the ability to write more lyrically than I; however, not all of them will choose to write. At the same time, one wonders at some of the work that receives writing accolades. The same is true for expertise. No, I did not go to culinary school. Neither did many of the foremost food writers and editors. So why shouldn’t I, who has now had years of experience in the field, write? I would highly recommend to food writers that they learn about their subject. If you don’t know about an ingredient, research it! If you can, travel to the place where it is made. Also, you must test your recipes. As contributing editor for Saveur.com, I reviewed hundreds of recipes on blogs everyday, and some dishes were impossible to reproduce.
A few years ago, I decided “enough” with putting limits on myself. I had learned about blogging but wasn’t yet doing it. Although I wrote some short press releases and articles for the agencies where I worked or for our school in Italy, I wasn’t yet doing it for myself. I found our community’s weekly paper online and asked if I could write for them. They were delighted to get a person who would work for free. Since I wasn’t getting paid, it gave me the freedom to explore various writing styles and submit as often as my time would allow. I also took some continuing education classes in writing, and realized (again) it was mostly about self-confidence.
According to Malcolm Gladwell, author of Outliers, 10,000 hours of experience is what it takes to be an expert. And most writing instructors agree that practice increases your fluency and ability in writing. After writing for the weekly, I started submitting my work to other magazines and newspapers. I came to the attention of the online editor for Saveur Magazine and had a wonderful few months as contributing online editor. Unfortunately, like most periodicals, they restructured, and I was restructured out of a job. However, it gave me the chance to virtually meet amazing bloggers and writers. There is a wealth of talent out there, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for more. Recently I’ve been writing for Sarasota Magazine, Huffington Post, Edible Sarasota and our own blog, Educated Palate: Lael & Giuliano Hazan’s Blog.
I think most of us are in a rut and are often frightened of life. Clinical Psychologist and Parenting expert Dr. Wendy Mogel recently reported that it wasn’t the best schools or highest grades that made the most successful people, it was those who were flexible and had a positive outlook on life. As you know, that is easier said than done. I recently published an article online where I misspelled the name of an organization. OOPS! I did link to the organizations website. I was called on the carpet and told that if I were to mention them in the future the organization would need to check any reference of them for spelling. Yuck! Obviously, I’m not going to write about that organization again. Previously, that would have been a devastating experience. Now, I have much more important things in my life and… I get to write this post about the experience. Yes, it’s important not to let the little things get you down.
Our family straddles the bridge between new media and old. Years ago, I was fortunate to be at the Aspen Food and Wine Festival with Julia Child, Jacques Pépin, Marcella Hazan, and other greats. They were accessible people who loved talking about their passion. This past year, I met some of the bloggers with the largest followings: Jaden Hair, Elise Bauer, David Leite, Shauna Ahern, and Ree Drummond; they too spoke about their passion. I find it amusing that the net bewilders many of the well-known cookbook authors…they know they should “be out there” but are intimidated. They are very concerned that their book sales are declining and see social media as the only salvation. On the other hand, I have yet to meet a food blogger who doesn’t secretly harbor the idea of a book deal. Many have published, but only a few of the blogger books have been truly successful. Is it because they are truly two separate worlds? Is it because bloggers don’t buy books when they can get it free on the net? There are a few successful straddlers, however, they are grappling with whether to ever publish a hard copy again. Book deals and getting paid for writing is the subject of most of the conferences I’ve attended and are often the topics of many blogs.
For me the key has been overcoming myself. No, I’m not making tons of money, but I’m certainly enjoying myself. I get to meet wonderful people and enjoy delicious food. Those writers who get into this as a way to make money will probably be disappointed. However, those who wake up in the morning thinking about the discovery of some new ingredient or testing a new recipe and writing about their experience have a chance to go far.
What is my advice to a newbie? Do it out of love! Start blogging for fun and see if you can keep it up consistently. Network through social media and find like-minded souls. If you discover that this is your passion and want to expand your base, offer to write for others. This is a great community, participate! Then, begin keeping a record of the work you are most proud of… limit it to five articles. If there is a magazine, journal, or webzine that you have an idea for, write out a coherent, proofread, one-paragraph synopsis with attachments to your pieces and send a cover letter. If you have a loved one or close friend who is willing to review your work, please let them, you don’t have to take all of their suggestions, but another pair of eyes always is beneficial. The Internet makes it easy to find whom to submit to, but PLEASE, do your homework and make sure your idea fits with the concept of the magazine. It is your responsibility to do your homework. Also, don’t expect an answer right away, it may take awhile. Yes, a follow up e-mail after at least a week is fine, and a phone call to make sure they’ve got it is OK too. Your work may go into the black hole, but through perseverance and resubmission you may find success. Also, this is an INCREDIBLY generous community of people who may help you make the right connections. Just remember when you are rich and famous to share as well.