This month we congratulate Jeanne, who writes the food blog Cook Sister, as our blog of the month! Jeanne moved to London from her native South Africa in 2000 and four years later, late one Sunday night, she started her blog Cooksister. Little did she know that twelve years later she would be the UK’s longest-running food blog – testimony to the fact that quality content stands the test of time. Despite having a full-time job at a law firm, she continues to run her award-winning blog as well as being a popular speaker and teacher at blogging conferences and workshops in the UK and internationally.
Over to Jeanne…
What inspired you to start your blog?
I have always said that food bloggers you fall into two camps: cooks who write and writers who cook. I have always been the latter – for me it has always been primarily about the writing. I love how food is always connected to a story (where you first had a dish, the person from whom you got the recipe, the trip that inspired a dish) and that you can relate almost any story you want to tell back to food. The blog started as a weekly newsletter home to my family in South Africa – everyone always said the best bits were my descriptions of food – so starting a food blog (back in 2004 when nobody knew what a blog was!) seemed like a slightly eccentric but natural thing to do.
Has your content changed much since you started?
If you can believe that, I used to be more verbose! Not possible, I hear you say 😉 But it’s true – I distinctly remember a post called “four braais and a barbecue” or something along those lines, where I tried to cram a detailed account of four events into one post. Madness. Now, although I always start with a story, my editing is tighter and I stick to one idea or event per post. Also, when I started blogging, no PR had realised the value of a blog yet and so there was no such thing as sponsored posts, events to go to, or invitations to restaurants. Although I do now write about restaurants and press trips, the majority of my content is still not brand-led and I’d like to keep it that way.
What have your learned since starting your blog?
I actually wrote a post about what ten years of blogging has taught me back in 2014 – you can read it here. As for life skills, I have definitely learnt that you can’t please all the people all the time. People complain about the weirdest things and sometimes it is hard not to take it personally, but twelve years of blogging have taught me to roll with the punches. I’ve also learnt to trust my own instincts – I don’t have to do what everybody else is doing or jump on every passing bandwagon – I need to do only what I need to to stay true to myself and how I want my blog to be. And of course, since the advent of blogger events, launches, parties and trips, blogging has indirectly also stripped me of my reluctance to attend events alone or travel with strangers!
What has surprised you about blogging?
The biggest unexpected pleasure has been how many real-life friends I have made through blogging – the first blogger I met back in 2005, Johanna of The Passionate Cook, remains one of my closest friends, despite having moved to Singapore and topped blogging. I am also surprised at how something that was so niche and unusual when I started has become so mainstream and how blogs have made the transition from hobby to career for many people.
How do you balance blogging and real life?
Not always very well!! I have a full-time day job and sometimes when I leave work after a full day and have to haul my heavy camera to a restaurant to take pictures, notes and do a review, I do feel as if I have two jobs and no downtime. I think there is also a real danger that if you don’t set a time limit on your blogging and social media activities, they do tend to take over your life (and annoy your family!) I try to work with the concept of a daily “Enough list”. Each day I can list three blog related things that I need to do (e.g. finish a post; submit an article; and spend 30 mins doing social media sharing) and when I get to the end of the list, that’s enough for the day and I can go off and do other things with a clear conscience. Otherwise you are always chasing your own tail!
What’s the best thing about writing your blog? And the worst?
The best thing is the creative energy required to come up with a recipe; cook it; photograph it; edit the photos, and write a story to go with it. My day job in a law firm requires close to zero creativity, so the act of creating something for my blog and being able to look at the finished product with pride is a constant source of pleasure to me. It also pleases me immensely to go back to an old post, especially one where I talk about my parents or my childhood memories. It really is a memoir in instalments! The worst thing is never having enough time to devote to the blog – I am always a few steps behind and there are never enough hours in a day. The relentless need to spend as much time promoting every post on multiple social media platforms is also not my favourite part but these days there is no getting away from it.
What advice would you give someone starting a foodie blog now?
Have a niche. When I started, simply being a blogger meant you were bit geeky and niche. The food blogging community was so small that everybody knew everybody else. These days, it seems at least half the world has a food blog and the overwhelming majority of them have no niche. With a market this crowded, it is becoming increasingly hard to stand out from the crowd – so either you have to have a totally novel way of presenting recipes, or you have to have a defined niche (e.g. Cajun cooking; muffin mania; 5:2 diet recipes) – and stick closely to it.
Has blogging brought you any amazing opportunities or experiences?
Blogging, more specifically the many press trips that I have been on, has meant that I have met some incredibly passionate chefs and producers and have had access to people and places where I might not otherwise have been able to go. Standouts were meeting 2-Michelin-starred chef Norbert Niederkofler on a gourmet ski safari in the Dolomites; and flying Business Class on Singapore Airlines to Singapore for a behind-the-scenes look at airline food; and accompanying a film crew to Toronto for the weekend to meet and interview instagram sensation Chef Jacques la Merde – who was at the time still totally anonymous.
Which have been your most popular posts?
Hard to believe, but sometimes the simplest things do best! Years ago I did a post on how to sautée Brussels sprouts. It has minimal ingredients and it childishly simple – and yet people have loved it for years. Another hugely popular post is my recipe for peppermint crisp tart – a real South African classic that everyone remembers from childhood. My most popular non-food post is the Singapore Airlines business class review.
And which are your personal favourites?
For writing, I adore this post about the romance of objecthood (and a jewelled couscous recipe) and this one about self-portraits (and a recipe for a Moroccan lamb shank tagine) – I think they are some of the finest writing I ever did on the blog.
How does it feel to be chosen as Foodies100 blog of the month?
Fantastic – and it’s a special honour to be featured in the month that my blog turns an astonishing twelve years old! Thanks to all at the Foodies100 team for their hard work 🙂