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Food blogger Sabrina Modelle talks blogging, burnout and the best Sriracha

Sabrina Modelle, otherwise known as The Tomato Tart, has been blogging since 2010 and knows a thing or two about the business.

We got her insight into the online world of food, which can be a difficult one to navigate whether you’re just starting out or a seasoned pro. From misconceptions about blogging, her best tips to turning your food blog into a business and avoiding the inevitable blogger burnout, she shares some great advice.

If you like what she has to say here (and you will), you can hear more from Sabrina at #BlogHer15, where she’s speaking on the panel Achieving Long-Term Blogger Happiness. She may or may not fill you in on her favorite cocktail, what’s in her fridge or her favorite Sriracha producer at BlogHer Food, though, so read on for those fun facts and the very useful bits too.

More: Michael Procopio talks writing, eating and his stance on pumpkin spice lattes

The three things you wish you’d known before you started a food blog?

  • My early recipes were complicated and had so many ingredients. I wish I’d known that people love simple recipes.
  • My photos, in the beginning, were so bad! I wish I’d known a few basic photography principles.
  • I also wish I’d known that I’d find my tribe through blogging. I would have started so much earlier.

The thing(s) you will probably fail at at least once when starting a food blog?

You will have recipes that don’t work. You will shoot something you think is beautiful and realize there was a smudge on your lens the whole time. You will be sure “this one recipe” will be so popular, and it will be your lowest trafficked recipe for the year. I don’t count these things as failing, though. They’re all part of the journey. Well, maybe the lens smudge is a FAIL.

The biggest misconception about food writing/blogging?

That it’s easy. Even for the most prolific writer, there are days when it feels impossible.

How do you stay motivated when you’ve been blogging for many years?

Blogging is a lot of work, especially with a full-time job and a thriving freelance career. For a while I was getting super burnt out. These days, I blog on a much looser schedule than many bloggers because most of my income comes from freelancing and not the blog itself. Since letting up on the pressure to blog on a tight schedule, blogging has returned to being a purely pleasurable activity for me now.

The piece of food writing you’re most proud of and why?

There are two pieces I love, and they’re polar opposites.

I love this piece because of the memory it evokes and the rhythm of it. And this one because it makes me laugh.

Best tip for turning your blog into a business?

Think creatively. Ads and sponsored posts are not the only way to make money. Look at your talents, and try to get work that highlights them. If you love photography, pursue photo gigs. If you’re a great writer, look at getting freelance food writing work for brands, magazines or catalogs that relate to food. I am so lucky in that each of my clients is someone I have met in person and have formed a connection with. I’d say: Pursue working with people and brands you love.

Now, on to the fun stuff…

The five most surprising things in your fridge?

sabrina modelle fridge
Image: Sabrina Modelle

I don’t know that there’s anything too surprising, but I have a lot of hot sauce. My current favorite is Burn Baby Burn made by The Black Panthers. I always have at least a dozen local eggs. Sometimes there are unidentifiable jars of stuff giving rise to full-on civilized societies. I’ve always got homemade jams and jellies whose lids didn’t properly seal.

Oh, I know what might be surprising. The band for our spearfishing rig has to stay in the fridge.

Your current favorite… 

  • Cocktail: I adore the French 75 (St. Germain, gin, Champagne, lemon, simple syrup).
  • Fast food: I love a good Double-Double Protein Style. In-N-Out is so careful with food allergies and restrictions. Love them.
  • Comfort food: Roast chicken.
  • Dessert: Anything creamy and eggy, like a great panna cotta or custard. Bonus if it’s got a citrus component.

Your stance on…

  • Pumpkin spice lattes: Nope.
  • Sriracha sauce: There is a small producer called Preservation & Co. out of Sacramento. I love their Sriracha. So far, it’s the only one that moves me.
  • Truffle oil: Real truffles, yes. Truffle oil, no. It’s too fake and pungent for me.
  • Ramen as a bun, pizza crust, etc.: Sounds fun, but I can’t eat it, so I’m not sure.
  • Cookie butter: Ditto.
  • Nutella: Too sweet, but I love homemade chocolate-hazelnut spread.
  • Kale: I love some varieties, others not so much. Red Russian kale for the win!

Favorite part of your kitchen?

Sabrina Modelle kitchen
Image: Sabrina Modelle

Well, there’s not a lot to love about my kitchen. It’s a very small galley kitchen. I do love my refrigerator and the amazing 1940s built-in cabinetry.

Your biggest influence in cooking?

It may sound cliché, but my grandmother was a huge influence on my cooking. She was a chef in Biarritz who made beautiful boxed lunches for soldiers and workers. When she came to the States, the terrible cooking of the 1960s was in full swing, but I’m happy to say she didn’t follow the trends. I grew up with truly beautiful French cooking, but my family was also full of world travelers who incorporated world flavors into everyday meals. From Moroccan to Vietnamese, you never knew what types of foods you’d find on our tables.

The craziest cooking hack you’ve ever tried (and did it work)?

I am a major improviser! As my mom used to say, “Make do with what have.” [sic]

As a result, I have made a ton of hacks and substitutions. The worst was the time I decided to make a multilevel tamale steamer basket out of foil. I spent hours making masa and wrapping tamales, only to realize I had no steamer in the kitchen. It was too late to go buy one, and they completely fell apart in my makeshift steamer.

More: 5 Fun things to do in Chicage at #BlogHerFood15

Check back for interviews each week as we lead up to #BlogHerFood15, and head over to BlogHer to get all the information you need. Register here, see the agenda and speakers, and sign up for the newsletter for announcements and opportunities.

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