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More cooks say 'blog appétit!'

By Jennifer WolcottCorrespondent of The Christian Science Monitor / December 29, 2005



It used to be that, when you needed a recipe, you pulled out an index card, a cookbook, or the latest issue of Gourmet magazine. But increasingly, chefs and amateurs alike are turning to a new medium as a culinary resource: the online food blog.

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Short for "web log," a blog is a website written like a journal with regularly posted entries. As the Internet continues to lure self-publishers, blogs have proliferated in the past few years. About 9 percent of today's Internet users have created blogs, according to a recent survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project. Of those, about 10 percent deal with food.

Food blogs allow anyone with time and a computer to cook up and share their unedited thoughts with the online universe. Their number has swelled to at least 3,000 in the past few years, says Paul McCann, a blogger and judge for this year's 2005 Food Blog Awards, a competition that's in its second year.

"The explosion of food blogs is a result of exploding interest in food and cooking," says Clark Wolf, a food and restaurant consultant in New York. The success of the TV Food Network is an example of Americans' growing interest in culinary arts. "People are more comfortable with online searching, and the natural conduit for information is a blog," Mr. Wolf says.

Food - with its universal appeal and blend of art and chemistry - lends itself to blogging. Just as neighbors share recipes, bloggers can post recipe tips and recommendations, as well as flops behind the stove.

"Food is a topic everyone can connect with," says Derrick Schneider, a computer programmer from Oakland, Calif., who started his own blog, obsessionwithfood.com, in 2003 and is also a judge for the Food Blog Awards. "There's a little bit of a food writer in all of us."

Mr. Schneider launched his blog at the urging of friends who, he says, grew "tired of me clogging up their in-boxes with e-mails about great restaurants." Since then, he's cultivated quite a following, with about 2,700 people visiting his site daily.

But not everyone is ready to put away their cookbooks. Some cooks simply don't want to bother going online, or they question the credibility of blogs, knowing that cookbooks typically endure some editing.

"I want the physical experience of holding a book," says Mr. Wolf, the restaurant consultant. "The style of a blog is such that anyone can just blather on without liability for anything they write - sort of like chatting on the phone."

Still, more people are drawn to food blogs for their conversational style and wide range of topics. Besides recipes, some blogs feature restaurant reviews, tips for dining out in Tokyo, cooking with the kids - or how to forage for wild mushrooms. Someone looking for a carrot soup recipe might stumble upon a blog that not only provides the information they want, but also contains entertaining writing. Before long, they've bookmarked the site.

Take Naomi Baldinger, an American student who lived in Paris. While researching Parisian cafes, she found Clotilde Dusoulier's food blog, "Chocolate & Zucchini," helpful and posted a note praising the site's restaurant reviews. Ms. Dusoulier, who is French and lives in Paris, writes an elegant yet accessible blog in both her native language and English. She has become so popular and influential in the blogging scene that she recently clinched a book deal. But she has no plans to drop her blog anytime soon.

One of the first food bloggers started an online journal as a way to escape from the drudgery of her 9-to-5 job. In 2002, Julie Powell set out to teach herself a new skill by cooking her way through Julia Child's legendary tome, "Mastering the Art of French Cooking." She wrote in a witty style about the daily attempts she made in her tiny Queens, N.Y., kitchen to cook Julia's recipes - from soufflé to cassoulet. Soon after, her "Julie/Julia Project" led to a book deal. Powell has since dropped her blog, but her humorous blogging style has generated fast sales of her book, "Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, and 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen."

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