As a new bride living in Tampa, Jessica Segarra wanted to make her husband, Jorge, happy. She didn't know how to cook, but she did have a bunch of new pots and pans she picked up at their wedding reception.
"I decided I was going to figure out how use these really expensive gifts," she says. "I found I really loved it."
In 2008, she started a blog called The Novice Chef (thenovicechefblog.com) to track the new recipes she tried. She'd never written a blog before, but inexperience didn't stop her.
"I plan on using it to gripe about life, and share life!" she wrote on Dec. 10. "A bit of both, depending on the day and need!"
First recipe: Mountain Dew Apple Cobbler.
That Jorge is a lucky man. And patient.
"I know it sounds crazy, but give it a chance," she wrote. "I promise you will not be disappointed!"
Looking back now, she's a little embarrassed by that first post. The cobbler photo was snapped with a cell phone. Then there was the recipe which, although tasty, came off as "rednecky."
Almost two years later, Segarra, 23, is vying for a $10,000 grand prize through Foodbuzz, a site that promotes thousands of food bloggers through reciprocal advertising.
Her repertoire of dishes gradually moved away from baking with soda pop. The Pumpkin Whoopie Pies with Maple Cream Cheese Filling she posted last month were as beautifully crafted with a piping bag as they were droolworthy.
She's also shooting sumptuous food shots now with a Nikon DSLR D-80. After a year of blogging, Segarra realized blog readers love photos and that the more beautiful the photos - preferably of desserts - the more traffic she gets to her siteTaking beautiful photos is "something I've grown to love and to strive for," she says.
Segarrra's story is similar to what I heard repeatedly two weeks ago in Las Vegas at the BlogWorld new media expo. TECHmunch, a wing of the world's largest social media convention, offered seminars and demonstrations by food bloggers for food bloggers.
Brett Erlich of The Rotton Tomatoes show on Current TV moderated a panel on how to generate profits from a food blog. Panelists included Babette Pepaj, founder of the fantastic site BakeSpace.com, Jaden Hair of SteamyKitchen.com, a contributing Tribune food columnist. Also speaking was Nadia Giosia, better known as Nadia G., host of the blog Bitchin' Kitchen.
In the food blog universe, Giosia is a massive star. Not only did her punk-rock approach to food become a huge hit as a blog, she turned it into an attitude-choked comedy show for Food Network Canada. The show recently debuted in the United States on the Cooking Channel. It airs at 10:30 p.m. Wednesdays.
Few food bloggers have found that level of success. But with an estimated 30,000 writers out there doing their own recipes and photos, odds are that the next wave of food stars will come from the blogosphere.
Segarrra's goals are a little more modest. Winning the $10,000 would be a nice start.
"If I could one day have a cafe and just do what I love every morning, and get up every morning and make cookies and cakes and have sandwiches and snacks, that would be the dream," she says.
"Oh, you know," she adds, "if I became the next Paula Deen, I wouldn't hate that either."
Three words of advice, Jessica: Just add butter.
Even a novice chef knows that.