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TV Host and Food Blogger Claire Thomas Talks Food Porn, Social Media and Go-to Date Recipes
Though only 27 years old, Claire Thomas is the prolific blogger behind The Kitchy Kitchen, host of ABC's Food for Thought (on Saturday mornings on KABC-7 in LA) and a food commercial director. As if that weren't enough, she also recently launched a cooking tip YouTube channel 10 Second Living and Simon & Schuster is set to release her first cookbook next year.
LAist had a chance to interview the local "food enthusiast" via email about food blogging, social media, go-to date recipes, her fav LA hotspots and food porn photo tips before her appearance/cooking demo at this weekend's West Hollywood Book Fair:
When did you launch The Kitchy Kitchen? Did you have a social media strategy to help break through / stand apart from the number of other food blogs out there?
Honestly, I was the WORST blogger when I started [in 2008]. I would post inconsistently and totally didn't get on the social media bandwagon until very late in the game. I was a bit of a blog disaster, haha. But once I started playing around with Instagram about a year and a half ago, it finally clicked. Now I'm posting what I think sets my blog apart—even in those early days when I was still just trying to figure it all out—was that it was entirely original. I wasn't reviewing other people's work, or making recipes that belonged to someone else. I was creating original recipes for cooks like me, who weren't maybe the most experienced, but wanted to eat well and have fun in the kitchen. That combined with the food photography, I think attracted a lot of fans. Now I have new content six days a week, a YouTube channel that posts three times a week, and a super active Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts where I'm constantly interacting with people. That has been my favorite part of blogging, honestly, getting to talk to readers and answer their questions. When I was starting out, I wished I could call up Ina or Nigella for advice, but obviously couldn't, and so with my readers I made the decision to make myself available. So if you message me a question or want a recommendation or a kitchen tip, I'll jump in and help you out.
How did you make the transition from bored office worker and part-time food blogger to cookbook author/TV host/food commercial director? Was there a tipping point where you decided to "go for it"?
I grew up in a food family where my mom was an amazing cook, so I never felt the need to step into the kitchen. Right out of college, I got a not-so-great job that wasn’t very creative, and my parents saw me struggling. By this time I had started baking my feelings, so the remedy for my creative muddle was obvious: Food blog! I spent three months to develop my own recipes and practice shooting food photography. I was able to quit my job and started working as a food stylist. From there, I worked as a food photographer in LA, and after about a year started playing around with the idea of producing recipe videos shot like tabletop.
You see, everyone in my family works in commercials or advertising [her parents founded Green Dot Films, a media production company], so I grew up thinking of things in 30 second increments and obsessing over European commercials. Lurpak Butter ads are what first got me thinking, "What if I could shoot my recipes like this?" One day a guy friend of mine came over with a 5D and mentioned that it shot HD footage. We struck a deal where I'd feed him if he'd man the camera. So I bought a lens adapter, threw my Nikon class on the Canon body, and framed up the shots. My hands are the ones in the videos, so between takes we would cut, I'd watch playback and give notes, then we'd continue. I then edited the videos together and posted them on my blog. After doing a few of these, the executive producer at Green Dot films asked if he could show them to a few agencies. My first thought was, "Who cares about my little blog videos?" but they clicked, and six weeks later I was shooting my first national commercial. At the same time, my videos were getting popular and were noticed by ABC and Litton entertainment. That same summer I started shooting my show, Food for Thought with Claire Thomas. That was about two years ago, and I now have about two dozen spots under my belt, two seasons of a show, and my friend is a commercial DP. It's crazy what messing around in your kitchen can lead to.
Care to share any pro-tips about taking the best food porn pictures?
Whether you're shooting on a fancy pants DSLR or your phone, a lot of the principles of food photography and styling are the same. First, look at what you’re shooting. Is it colorful? Is there a lot of texture? Does it look delicious? Some things taste delicious, but shooting it is a whole other thing (chili and beef stew, I’m looking at you!). So take a good hard look at what you’re snapping, decide what you want to emphasize, and then focus on that.
> Don’t use flash. EVER.
> Turn off the other lights. This sounds silly, but in the beginning I kept getting a weird yellow spot on some of my images, and it took me forever to realize it was from overhead lights I had forgotten to turn off. Natural light is clean and white, so if you’re indoors watch out for fluorescent light, which can cast a greenish pall over everything, and incandescent lights, which will cause yellow shadows.
> When in doubt, shoot overhead. This can be beautiful with a colorful plate or something geometric looking. I like to sometimes push the subject to one side, creating asymmetry that lends itself to graphic elements.
> Don’t go crazy in post. If you bump the contrast and press “enhance” one too many times on your iPhone, it really doesn’t help the food look better. You might want to adjust the contrast subtlety, making sure the white balance is accurate, and possibly mess with the color correction a bit, which is fine, just use restraint. The simpler the color correction, the more you can look at and enjoy the food. Don’t get in the way of the deliciousness.
Tell us a little about your new YouTube channel 10 Second Living and how does it differ from your TV show Food for Thought on ABC?
I am on the show's Food for Thought's Facebook page every weekend answering questions, making recommendations, and just hanging out with fans. A common theme that came up was they wanted a quick and easy way to learn basic kitchen techniques that I had covered on my show, but not in detail. Their questions inspired me to create a forum that answers them, and where they can request more tips. So 10 Second Living is a constantly evolving series, where fans' questions get answered. The format is that I give a little explanation, and then demonstrate the technique in 10 seconds, and then finish up with some extra tips or clarifications. This keeps the videos short, easy to understand, and shot the way I want my "how to" videos shot—close up, where the action is. I love the suggestions everyone makes because they're not necessarily ones I would think of, like "how to clean with vinegar" or "how to season a cast iron pan." I'm actually learning a lot just researching for each of the videos.
What recipes do you fall back on when you're cooking for a date?
Oooooh. Good question! It depends on the date. Is it my third date, my 30th? Whether I want to impress or be all snuggly and cozy on the couch has a lot to do with what I serve. For me, a go to recipe is Shrimp Fra Diavolo. I can get it ready until the last five minutes before I serve it, even though it's shrimp it's great with a bottle of medium-bodied red wine, and is so satisfying. I don't want to bother with courses or even sides when I'm nervous or worried about looking cute, so this dish can be the main event without any accompaniment. For dessert, it has to be chocolate. If I want to get everything done ahead of time, I'll make this decadent bunt cake, if I want to appear mildly impressive, I'll do a molten chocolate cake with whipped cream. It seems fancy because it's hot and gooey, but it takes under 15 minutes to make, start to finish.
Name your go-to spots in LA for breakfast (or brunch), lunch and dinner
You can find me here…
Lily's Cafe and Pastries, Malibu: This is the go-to spot for breakfast burritos among surfers. They're so simple, just beans, cheese, bacon, and scrambled eggs, but douse them in "diablo sauce" and you have a thing of beauty.
Restaurant Cortez, Echo Park: I love the minimalist space, fresh mint tea, simple kale/fried egg bowls, and the basque cake. Oh my gosh, that basque cake. It's tender and crisp on the bottom and top, but almost custardy in the middle.
Cicis, Tarzana: I'm usually a little suspicious of spiral bound menus, but I give Cici's a pass. The pancakes, crepes, and waffles here are just too good to care. I love keeping it traditional and going with the buttermilk pancakes. Fluffy, barely sweet, and just a tiny bit tangy, what's not to love? But you can be adventurous and try the red velvet pancakes, or one of their 20 other varieties.
Reddi Chick, Brentwood: When I dive into a basket of fries and roitsserie chicken, doused in top secret seasoning salt (which looks suspiciously like Lawry's) I can't help but feel happy. Reddi Chick is an institution of my childhood and one of those places I hope will always exist so I can take my children there. It's not that the cuisine is earth shattering--it's fries with delicious rotisserie chicken elevated with excellent seasoning salt--it's that I have so many memories there. Everyone has that one comfort dish, that security blanket that makes everything ok, and for me a basket of Reddi Chick is that.
Ricky's Fish Tacos, Downtown: My favorite fish tacos. Perfectly seasoned, golden and crisp yet mysteriously light, and perfect with a glass of super sweet agua fresca. Ricky is there, his straw fedora tilted jauntily back on his head, ready to serve you up a plate of delicious tacos. The shrimp were my favorite, and if you're lucky, he'll be frying up lobster tacos too.
Forage LA, Silver Lake: This is the perfect California lunch for me. An updated menu every week, entirely dependent on the season and farmer's market, and they serve Blue Bottle NOLA Iced coffee. It's basically perfect. The avocado sandwich is one of the best I've ever had, but make sure to check the specials for Salmon Belly tacos with chipotle aioli or grilled try tip steak.
DinnerNight + Market, West Hollywood: If you follow me on twitter, you know NIGHT+MARKET, a Thai street food restaurant in west hollywood, is one of my favorite places to eat. And no, it's not just because they play Kanye and project episodes of The Wire or the Godfather on the wall (well, maybe a little bit?), it's because Kris is a badass in the kitchen. The beef tendon panang with roti is the best I've ever had and the Thai ice cream sandwich is such a unique savory dessert.
Superba Snack Bar, Venice: Jason Neroni, other than being one of the best chefs in the city (in my humble opinion), is a first class guy. He's super sweet and laid back, and self effacing when I gush all over him every time I come in. Here's the deal: smoked bucatini carbonara; the most insanely delicious kale salad; s'mores pot au creme with a smoked marshmallow. Boom. Done. Also, his somm Ben is a sweetheart with impeccable taste. Go now!
You're slated for the culinary stage at the WeHo book fair on Sunday. What will you be demo-ing? And, more importantly, will there be samples?
I'm think I'm going to make Townies, which are brownies + a tart. I combine a dark chocolate shortbread crust with gooey brown butter brownies baked on top. The result is this tender, dark cookie crust with perfectly underdone brownies on top. I will definitely bring samples ;)
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