Post-grads find creative outlet in food blogging

Justin Perry

For recent graduates, simply finding a job can be hard enough, but finding a job that provides a creative outlet and is tailored to personal interests can be nearly impossible.

Fortunately, in the Information Age, there are a lot of more opportunities for creative release, particularly in the blogosphere.

“There are more than 20 million bloggers in the U.S., and 1.7 million of those are getting paid to blog,” said writer Amy Bell in an article published in Forbes. “Surprisingly, there’s quite a bit of upward mobility in the wonderful world of blogging.”

Michael Story never had intentions of creating a blog. Story, who graduated from Appalachian State University with a B.A. in anthropology, has been a vegetarian and an avid cook for 10 years, but it was only three months ago when he decided to share his adventures in the kitchen with the public.

“Dude, She’s Vegetarian” began as Story’s personal archive of his most trusted recipes. A couple of weeks after he started compiling his favorites, his girlfriend Emily Poppen, a graphic design major at Appalachian, revealed that she had been taking pictures of all of the food he made her since they started dating.

On her iPhone she had more than 100 photos of Story’s vegetarian fare. Right then, he said he decided to create a blog to share the photos and recipes with his friends and family.

Since its launch in September, the blog has received more than 2,000 hits and people from all over the world – from as far away as China and Uzbekistan – have viewed and shared his page with others.

“I had no idea it would take off like it did,” he said.

Story’s girlfriend is the original “she” in “Dude, She’s Vegetarian,” but the blog really applies to anyone who wants to learn how to cook food that vegetarians can eat.

Some of Story’s favorite recipes are bizarre pairings, including spicy cheese and chocolate mini muffins.

“There’s something about a mini muffin,” he said. “It’s a one-bite flavor explosion.”

Nina Montalto graduated from Appalachian last year with a degree in technical photography, and has since tried to make it on her own in the blogosphere.

The aptly named “The Grassroots Couple” is run by Montalto and her boyfriend Josh Trusler, who works as a chef in Charlotte.

A global studies minor and a frequent traveler, Montalto was fascinated with taking photos of food and comparing different food cultures around the world. The couple got the idea for their blog after attending a farm-to-table dinner party in Vilas.

After a meal of farm-fresh meat and vegetables, Montalto and Tusler went home with a pile of food and created their first recipe: a pork belly, chorizo and chicken thigh gumbo dish. Photos and a recipe went online only a few days later and the blog was born.

“It helps us be creative outside of a job,” Montalto said. “We looked at a lot of other blogs and got an idea of what would be appealing.”

The WordPress blog features recipes passed down in Montalto’s family, given a modern twist by Trusler.

Occasionally she cooks, as well. In a recent entry, the couple staged a cook-off and each adapted Montalto’s grandmother’s eggplant caponata recipe. In the spirit of good sportsmanship, the competition was considered a draw and the entry ended with a plea for reader submissions of family recipes to add to the project.

Initially, Montalto and Trusler were attracted to the idea of a human-interest food blog. They felt that traditionally cookbooks and online recipe archives were too cut-and-dry and uninspiring and they wanted to change that by creating blog that reads more like an ongoing story.

“The Grassroots Couple” presents artistic, filtered photos that show the cooking process as well as the final product. The recipes are written in a style that is simultaneously flowery and instructive.

“Blogs are gaining popularity because they’re accessible to millions of people,” Montalto said. “Given time and money, we would look into publishing a cookbook.”

Besides serving as a creative outlet for post grads, the two blogs share one important thing in common: A passion for the community aspect of food. On their “About Me” section, “The Grassroots Couple” said, “soul food is not just fried chicken and collard greens; it is anything that is made with love.”

“I have a love for food and sharing food with people,” Story said. “Anyone could get a flour tortilla and microwave some cheese on it, but it’s about emitting feeling while you’re cooking and reciprocity with food.”

Story: EMMA SPECKMAN, A&E Reporter
Photo: PAUL HECKERT, Senior Photographer