Food writing in the digital age: Aoife McElwain, I Can Has Cook

Bibliocook.com - Ottolenghi Inspired Eggs from Aoife McElwain, I Can Has Cook

Aoife McElwain's pic of her Ottolenghi-inspired eggs

Part three of a three-part series of interviews on inspiration, trends and recommended reading that I did with Irish food writers and bloggers for a recent Irish Examiner feature.

Food writer Aoife McElwain has used the ICanHasCook blog as a way of documenting her efforts at learning how to cook, from M&S sourced snacks in 2009 to catering for a recent hen party dinner for 23 people. As well as it being a springboard to professional writing work, she celebrates the community aspect of blogging and is, in fact, one of the best people to organise a food-orientated knees-up. Those have happened online – loved The Godfather Fat Clemenza’s meatballs cookalong – and in real life (remember the Dingle Invasion?) and she’s a person that it is always a true pleasure to share a table with.

She must have been reading John McKenna’s email as it arrived in my inbox for just a couple of days later she launched a video series on her blog. Forkful is a beautifully styled series of video recipes. Just Aoife’s hands, making the food, filmed by Mark Duggan and edited by Killian Broderick. It goes to show that you don’t need  a whole lot of people to make something that’s just simply gorgeous.

But don’t make the mistake of thinking that video is going to take over! Aoife sees them as a part of the whole multimedia aspect of food writing: “there will always be value to reading something on paper, even if it becomes a niche market.”  

Where do you get your cooking inspiration from?
I get my cooking inspiration from ingredients first before heading to the internet to find tasty things to do with them. I get an organic fruit and vegetable bag delivered every week which helps me change up my dinners by often having a surprise ingredient lurking among the tomatoes or spuds that I perhaps wouldn’t have picked up myself. As for websites, I often find myself on BBC Good Food or Jamie Oliver’s site looking for simple ideas that I can make my own. Or just use as they are! I get inspiration from bloggers like Orangette and Farmette, not only from their blogs but from their Instagram and twitter feeds too. As I’ve become more comfortable with cooking, one of my kitchen treasures is Niki Segnit’s The Flavour Thesaurus. It pairs up flavours that work together and is a more intuitive guide to cooking. There are also some stunning magazines out there like Kinfolk and CEREAL, which are food and travel magazines with lovely grainy paper and crazy good photography.

Where do you find information on new trends?
Twitter and instagram. I follow lots of food folks who post aspirational photos of food that make me want to run to the kitchen.

Recommended sites, blogs, apps?
Websites: It’s not cool or new but if you’re learning how to cook, I can’t think of a better place to start than BBC Good Food. It’s where I learned how to cook!
Blogs: I love Imen’s work at www.farmette.ie The recipes are wonderfully simple and she makes everything look so darned gorgeous.
Apps: The Green Kitchen (€4.49): a beautiful vegetarian app with stunning images and gorgeous food. Not just for vegetarians!

The influence of food blogs: positive or negative?
I can only think positively about food blogs because of my own experience – it was because of my food blog that I learned how to cook. As well as that, I was lucky enough to get some professional writing work out of it. But I also met a lovely community of other bloggers in Ireland that I feel so glad to know and to share recipe failures with.

I have however noticed a little bit of cynicism over the last few years that I don’t really like – the idea of starting a blog because of what kind of money or job you can get out of it. Maybe it’s unfair of me to judge that because that’s what happened to me organically but…I just think you can tell when a blogger genuinely wants to share their passion for whatever it is, as opposed to ticking boxes and doing everything right without having a real soul to it. There aren’t many blogs out there like that anyway and usually food bloggers are the loveliest of them all.

Do you think that it’s important for blogs/websites to include multimedia elements? Will all media become multimedia?
I think the most important thing for a blog/website to do is to find out what you’re trying to express to your readers and express that well. If it’s popularity you’re worried about, well, some of the most popular blogs are the simplest ones – look at Orangette for an example. It’s a simple blogspot template with photos and stories. Her way of sharing her life through food is what makes it so special. It depends on what the blog/site is sharing.

I think the traditional media model will (and is) incorporating a multimedia model and I do think that’s necessary for the bigger guys out there. I think print will be part of that multimedia model as there will always be value to reading something on paper, even if it becomes a niche market. The sensitive souls will still be reading cake on scrunchy old paper that smells lovely.

Food writing in the digital age interviews – a big thank you to John, David and Aoife!
Food writing in the digital age: John McKenna, The McKennas’ Guides
Food writing in the digital age: David Kiernan, Kitchen 72
Food writing in the digital age: Aoife McElwain, I Can Has Cook
Food writing in the digital age: Irish Examiner feature

Caroline

Caroline

Food writer. Broadcaster. Blogger. Author. Married to Eight Degrees Brewing. Member of the Irish Food Writers' Guild, founder of Irish Food Bloggers Association and co-author of Sláinte: The Complete Guide to Irish Craft Beer & Cider (New Island)

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