Interview with Clay and Zach of The Bitten Word

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When I was younger, my mom had piles and piles of Food and Wine all over our house. I think this had an impact on my love for food. You can imagine my delight when I learned about Clay and Zach of the bitten word. In 2008, they resolved to put their food magazines to work and that they have. If you have not taken the time to check out their blog, please do. Our community voted the guys as one of the Best Food Blogs of 2011. It’s full of amazing recipes and the guys are great. I caught up with them to find out a little more about them, their blog and their lives.

FriendsEAT: What inspired you to start “The Bitten Word”?

Clay & Zach: We had several subscriptions to food magazines and they were piling up around our apartment and sometimes even going unread. So as a new years resolution, we said that we would either start using them or cancel the subscriptions. And we thought it might be fun to blog about using them, so we launched The Bitten Word. That was nearly four years ago.

FriendsEAT: For those who are not familiar with your blog, how would you describe it?

Clay & Zach: Our tagline is “Resolving to put our food magazines to use,” and that’s what we do. Each month, we feature recipes from new food magazines, show you how our version turned out, and sometimes discuss how we would change the recipe. We also post original recipes and discuss other things we’re interested in, like travel, books and our ill-fated attempts at gardening.

FE: I know about your favorite cooking magazines, what is your favorite cookbook?

Clay & Zach: The book we reach for more than any other is Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything — it’s such a great resource for just about anything you want to know. But we’re not sure it’s our favorite. Our favorite cookbook of the past year is probably A Southerly Course by Martha Hall Foose. She’s a great Southern cook — she was the food stylist for The Help! — and her cookbook is just bursting with mouthwatering dishes.

FE: How did you and Zach meet? Was your love of food a match made in heaven or were there some issues to sort out?

Clay & Zach: We actually met in a bar, through a common friend who introduced us. He said, “You’re both from the South, you should talk.” The food came many years later. It’s funny, we both loved to eat back then, but neither of us was really cooking. It’s only after we started the blog that we really began cooking in earnest.

FE: What is a typical day in your life like?

Clay & Zach: We blog as a hobby, so we’re busy with full-time jobs. Zach is an editor at a government policy magazine and Clay is the digital director of a D.C. based nonprofit called Share Our Strength, which is focused on ending childhood hunger in America. Besides work, we run a fair amount (Zach ran his first marathon last fall, and we’re both doing a 10-mile race this spring). And because we’re cooking so much, we have people over for dinner a lot.

FE: There are tons of cooking magazines with tons of recipes; how do you select the recipes that you will feature?

Clay & Zach: We go through each magazine each month and make a list of the potential dishes. Some are things that we know we’ll cook — others are things that are maybes if the right occasion arises. So usually at the beginning of a month there are some definites, but as the month wears on we just start ticking through them to see how many we want to make. There have only been a handful of food magazine dishes that we’ve made in four years that we haven’t featured on the blog — each time it was more a matter of timing more than anything else.

FE: Who was/is your biggest culinary inspiration?

Clay & Zach: Zach’s mom is a huge inspiration to us. She’s a fantastic home cook, can whip up a dish on a whim, and is very industrious when it comes to canning and preserving. She’s the kind of cook we try to be.

FE: What advice would you give to someone who is interested in starting a food blog?

Clay & Zach: We would recommend finding an angle you’re passionate about and just going for it. We launched our blog without much planning. We didn’t create a lot of content in advance, just a handful of posts. The most important thing is to just start writing, even if you’re not publishing it on a blog yet.

FE: Do you and Zach do everything for the blog yourself or do you have a team to help you?

Clay & Zach:  No, it’s just us. We split the work cooking, taking photos, and writing. Zach’s sister and mother have played sous chefs when we’ve done really big meals that feature 10+ recipes for the blog.

FE: What is the one thing you could eat any time, any place?

Clay & Zach: For Clay, pistachios. For Zach, peanut butter. And if it’s chocolate and peanut butter combined, we’d both eat it without hesitation.

FE: What has been the most exciting thing that has happened as a result of you starting “The Bitten Word”?

Clay & Zach: Without a doubt, the interaction we’ve had with our readers. We get the best emails and comments from people who have read the blog. Many of them are very personal, sharing favorite dishes, discussing milestones in the lives of their families. It’s all been so positive, and it’s also really motivating.

FE: If I came to visit you, what or where would we eat?

Clay & Zach: Well, we love to have people over for dinner, so we might do that. But if you hadn’t visited D.C. before, we’d show off our restaurant scene.  Our Ethiopian community is huge, and that cuisine is a fun experience for those who have never eaten it. But we have a lot of great new restaurants, too. We’re hot right now on Little Serow, a northern Thai restaurant with a tasting menu — it’s amazing.

FE: And your favorite ingredient to cook with?

Clay & Zach: We love Brussels sprouts. We could eat them year-round.

FE: How do you feel about Foodtertainment?

Clay & Zach: We don’t watch a lot of it. We occasionally turn on The Food Network (our DVR has quite a few episodes of Barefoot Contessa stacked up, and we love Food Network Star). And we follow Top Chef (though we’ve kind of given up on Texas). We’re actually very pleased to see so much food-focused content on television.

FE: If I say truffles, you say?

Clay & Zach: Chocolate!

FE: Where do you see food blogging in five years?

Clay & Zach: We assume that more food blogs will be video based in five years.

FE: And where do you see “The Bitten Word” in ten?

Clay & Zach: As an evil multinational corporation! Really, we have no idea. Ten years is a really long time.

FE: What do you see as the most important issue facing foodies today?

Clay & Zach: Foodies as a community can wield a lot of power in the personal food choices that they make. The sources of our food, and the methods used to produce them, can be influenced by these personal choices. Whether foodies embrace that power to make larger change in our food system that produces better quality meats and produce is a huge opportunity.

FE: Have you noticed that people make assumptions when they hear about your food blog that focuses on recipes from food publications?

Clay & Zach:  People often assume that because we cook a lot, we only like “nice” food. Nothing could be further from the truth! We can do some serious damage to a chili cheese half-smoke (a delicious sausage specialty that’s local to D.C.).  And faced with a bag of salt-and-vinegar potato chips, we lose all hope of self-control.

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Blanca Valbuena
I am one of the co-founders of FriendsEAT. Obviously, I love to eat. Other passions include A Song of Ice and Fire, Shakespeare, Dostoyevski, and Aldous Huxley.
Blanca Valbuena
Blanca Valbuena

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