Q&A: Deb Perelman, Author of “The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook”

February 25 2013, 10:04 AM

Tonight at 7:30 p.m., Deb Perelman, Smitten Kitchen blogger and author of the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook (Knopf), will speak at the Tattered Cover downtown. We had a chance to chat with the ever-humble Perelman before she traveled to Denver for the event. Perelman is refreshingly modest, so much so that it almost conceals the fact that her cooking blog registers eight to ten million views per month. Her loyal following translates to the cookbook too, which landed on the New York Times’ best-seller list in November. With so many accolades, it’s difficult to believe that food blogging and cookbook writing was something that Perelman simply lucked into. 

5280: Explain to me a little bit about the beginning of Smitten Kitchen?

Deb Perelman: It started as a life blog, back in 2003 when blogging was a little newer and you didn’t have to have a focus. In 2006, I decided I wanted to start a food site instead.

5280: What was the following like the first few months?

DP: It was very slow and I was kind of wondering if it was going to pick up. I didn’t really expect it to because I’m not a food person. I’m not a trained chef and I’ve never been to cooking school and I’m not much of a photographer. So I just kind of thought I would do it for a while then be done. Done with the Smitten Kitchen blog project. That wasn’t what happened at all.

5280: How did you realize your love for food?

DP: There was definitely no fear of cooking in my house growing up. My mom cooked, but she wasn’t crazy obsessed, she taught herself to cook from Julia Child. I didn’t really start cooking more until I met my husband because there was someone to help with the dishes (because, of course, I didn’t have a dishwasher), someone to help lug the groceries up the stairs (because, of course, I lived in a walk-up), and someone who was happy to help me with the leftovers. It became a lot more fun to cook and do experiments.

5280: When did you realize your blog was a success? What there a specific moment?

DP: I never had a big “aha” moment. Everything was very gradual. But I did leave my day job in 2008. I was a little worried about going solo with the site so I was doing a lot of freelancing. But by the end of the year, I dropped it all because it was just distracting me from the site.

5280: Your blog has an extremely loyal following, what do you think makes your readers so devoted?
DP: I’m honestly not sure. It’s very hard for me to see my site from the outside. I’m very much in it, on this side of the computer. But I’m trying to create recipes that I consider accessible, that don’t use too many saucy ingredients. For example, I would never call for pink salt. That’s beautiful and lovely if you have it, but nobody should feel like that is a prerequisite to cook. I try to test recipes to see where you can streamline or use fewer dishes. I try to write [recipes] in plain English because I don’t really see the point of using some sort of educational language—or talking down to people—when they are just trying to make dinner. We are all in this together.

5280: How were you approached for a cookbook and what was your first thought?

DP: I didn’t have the book bug. I have e-mails to agents where I said “I’m sorry, I really appreciate your multiple e-mails about why you should publish my cookbook but I don’t have the book bug; I love the Web.” I’m sure they keep them around and they are snarking at me now. I just didn’t have it and I didn’t see that the Web was failing in some way. I didn’t want to take away from the site. I was very loyal to it and I loved doing it. But I had a friend who was a cookbook editor at the time and another friend who was a cookbook author and we were supposed to meet for dinner. I found out they had met an hour before and were discussing how to get me to write a book and I was like “you too?” That was it.

For tonight's event, a limited number of free, numbered tickets will be handed out starting at 6:30. Seating is first-come, first-served. The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook is available for purchase in the bookstore. 1628 16th St., 303-436-1070