It’s no secret that we here at VA Foodie think food is best when it’s made with fresh, local ingredients. Our guest today is passionate about all things seasonal and she lives out this passion every day through her blog, Brooklyn Supper. Although she now lives in Virginia, Elizabeth Stark decided to keep her blog’s original name as it had already gained a lot of traction as an online destination for foodies.
Elizabeth shares with us how she turned a fun hobby into a successful business and the process that goes into creating the content for her blog, which highlights original recipes involving minimal steps and, of course, using only seasonal ingredients! We discuss the origin of Elizabeth’s love for local food, the brands she likes to work with, the importance of building good relationships with clients, and how she chooses to navigate the ever-changing world of social media. Elizabeth strongly believes in staying true to herself and her core values, and we can all take inspiration from her!
Get to Know Elizabeth:
Name: Elizabeth Stark
Years in the food industry: 13
Favorite Food: Every kind of pie
Least Favorite Food: Peanuts (I'm allergic!)
The last thing I ate and loved: A C&O cheeseburger (and I can't wait to have another one while seated in their iconic bistro).
Key Points Mentioned in this Episode:
Elizabeth’s passion for the food space and how she lives it through her blog, Brooklyn Supper.
Why Elizabeth’s blog is still called Brooklyn Supper, even though she is now based in Virginia.
How Elizabeth’s business has fared during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the contrast between this experience and her experience of the previous recession.
The role that Elizbeth’s husband plays in the blog.
Work that goes into creating the recipes and the photographs that make up Brooklyn Supper.
If brands request recipes with ingredients that are out of season, Elizabeth won’t accept them.
The process Elizabeth follows when dealing with companies, once she has accepted their requests.
One of Elizabeth’s favorite brands to work for, and why.
Why Elizabeth feels that building good relationships with her clients is vital.
The importance of avoiding too much overt branding of a product.
How Elizabeth’s blog transitioned from her hobby to her career.
Elizabeth’s opinion about the ever-changing world of social media and how she plans to deal with it going forward.
Where Elizabeth’s original inspiration for her career in food arose from.
How to turn spring turnips into something edible!
What Elizabeth puts into the Brooklyn Supper newsletter and how you can subscribe
Links Mentioned in this Episode:
Click Here for Full Transcript:
[00:00: 00] Elizabeth Stark:
When I was living in Brooklyn and my husband and I, we lived just down the street from the Williamsburg Farmers’ Market, and that was kind of this time when I discovered the beauty of local food and the beauty if fresh farmers’ market ingredients. That was really a time of inspiration, and sort of just learning about food systems in a more direct way
[00:00:34] Georgiana Dearing:
Welcome to The Virginia Foodie Podcast where we lift the lid on the craft food industry and tell the stories behind the good food, good people, and good brands that you know and love. If you’ve ever come across a yummy food brand and wondered, “How did they do that? How did they turn that recipe into a successful business?” then we’ve got some stories for you.
[00:01:02] Georgiana Dearing:
Hi there, foodies. Welcome to the podcast. I’m so glad you’re here, especially today because I’ve got Elizabeth Stark as my guest. You may not Elizabeth’s work already. She’s the voice behind Brooklyn Supper, where she writes, photographs and develops new recipes, giving us her favorite takes on seasonal food. One of the OGs in the influencer marketing community, Brooklyn Supper got it start in New York, but now comes to us from Charlottesville, Virginia and we are so glad she’s here.
Elizabeth is on a mission to help readers better understand all the foods of the season and how ingredients can change throughout the year, but your table can still be flavorful and plentiful. As a person who cares about healthy diverse agriculture, eating seasonally is a message I can really get behind. Today, Elizabeth shares with us all the work that goes on behind those beautiful photos of a shiny new recipe and what it’s really like to work with brands to promote their products, yet still keep an authentic voice. If you’re a brand considering taking the dive into influencer marketing or a foodie who wants to launch a new career, listen while she shares what it’s like to be Brooklyn in Virginia
[00:02:23] Georgiana Dearing:
Hi, Elizabeth. Thank you for joining me on the podcast/
[00:02:27] Elizabeth Stark:
Thank you so much for having me.
[00:02:28] Georgiana Dearing:
I feel like we have known each other for years and years, and we have talked off and on, but I’m so happy to sit down and have a really in-depth conversation with you today. Thank you for coming —
[00:02:41] Elizabeth Stark:
[00:02:42] Georgiana Dearing:
And sharing your story with the listeners.
[00:02:44] Elizabeth Stark:
I’m really glad to be here.
[00:02:46] Georgiana Dearing:
You are the blog and Instagram account Brooklyn Supper. Can you talk a little bit about what you’re doing for those who are listening who may not know you?
[00:02:56] Elizabeth Stark:
Sure. My name is Elizabeth Stark and I write the book Brooklyn Supper and it’s a recipe and cooking blog dedicated to home cooking, and fresh seasonal produce, and just kind of — yeah, just creating kind of simple, delicious food is really where my passion is.
[00:03:15] Georgiana Dearing:
You’re in Virginia now, but you started in Brooklyn, right?
[00:03:20] Elizabeth Stark:
Yes. I have a branding problem [inaudible 00:03:23]. I started the blog actually in 2008 in Brooklyn, at the top of a very ramshackle third floor walk-up that was yeah, very interesting building and you kind of get what you pay for in Brooklyn. We had [inaudible 00:03:42]. I started in 2008, and then in 2013, my husband and my two daughters and I moved to Charlottesville. At the time, even though at that point I was sort of — I was making a living from my work, but I had never — the blog was still something I saw as a hobby. So we briefly considered, my husband and I talked about potentially renaming the blog at that point. But right as I would have maybe realized I needed to rename it, I started getting some press, and some awards that made it very hard to switch at that point, so I just kind of have stuck with it even though it doesn’t totally make sense.
[00:04:23] Georgiana Dearing:
Oh, I don’t know. I think it just goes together as one name to me, honestly. At first, I think I thought your first name was Brooklyn.
[00:04:31] Elizabeth Stark:
Yeah. I get that sometimes.
[00:04:34] Georgiana Dearing:
Yeah. I’ve been starting all of my interviews lately just doing a little check-in, because we’re speaking in April actually of 2021. After a year of pandemic, the food industry has just been hit insanely hard. How have you been and how has your year been?
[00:04:54] Elizabeth Stark:
Well, I have to say that I feel really lucky. I’ve had a good year. When the pandemic first started last March, I lived through the first great recession in the 2010 in Brooklyn, my husband got laid off, I actually went back to work and we really struggled then. It was a really hard time, so we approached this pandemic with a lot of fear. I literally like planted turnips and stuff really early, because I just was worried about like I didn’t know if the food chain went holdup. It was very uncertain. But because so many people are home and cooking, the grocery industry, which is my primary niche is doing sponsored post for food products.
It’s actually been a good year for me, and I’ve had a surprising amount of work. Looking back, it’s actually been pretty good. I feel really lucky to have that security at the time of such great uncertainty.
[00:05:56] Georgiana Dearing:
That’s good news actually. That’s good to hear. If this is your primary income for yourself now, and having kids to feed. I’m sure it was a very uncertain time. I was going to ask you something before I get started. I did not realize that your husband was part of this, and I think it’s because I’ve only heard your voice mostly.
[00:06:22] Elizabeth Stark:
Yeah. When we first started, he did some of the writing and actually wrote some of the post. He never did any of the recipe development, but he’s actually a really great and engaging writer. These days, he’s just the editor, so he edits everything that I put up and we work sometimes together on things. Sometimes I pull them into be an assistant where I like yell at him and I’m very mean. I’m like, “No. No. Like that.” It’s always like there is a crisis. He doesn’t have a huge role in the blog anymore, and especially not the way he used to in the past.
[00:07:03] Georgiana Dearing:
Okay. You’re a recipe and you work with grocery brands. Can you talk a little bit about really the work that goes behind that? It looks so beautiful and seamless as a viewer, so can you tell me what it really, really means to be doing what you’re doing?
[00:07:20] Elizabeth Stark:
Yeah. It’s kind of funny. I think a lot of times people say, “Well, I bet you eat dinner so late because you’re taking pictures.” That’s the blog eats first is what we say in my house. The family gets like cold, cold food, and we’ll eat it and say, “I bet this was really good when it was hot.” First of all, it takes some effort to develop the recipes. Almost all my recipes now are unique and not adapted from other sources. I really try to create original recipes, especially when I’m working for a brand. That will start sort off with research. So many things now, the web is so saturated with content. I try to do a lot of research to find a unique angle or just a unique spin that might call to people.
Then another thing that I do is I like my recipes to be very focused and kind of like not have to do a lot of extra steps. Or if there are steps, they really need to all makes sense. I don’t want people using tons of pots or creating all these different elements that make a lot of work.
[00:08:29] Georgiana Dearing:
You went through my heart there.
[00:08:31] Elizabeth Stark:
Yeah. Well, in Brooklyn, we did not have a dishwasher, so I will never forget cooking for a family of four with no dishwasher and having a food blog. Been scarred for life, the hours spent doing the dishes every day. That’s part research and then a lot of it is just testing the recipes and doing several takes of the recipe. I probably test a recipe somewhere between three or four times. More if it’s too difficult, just not working. It depends on the project that it’s worth. It’s something I really have to figure out and get it to work, I’ll keep making it. But usually, if it doesn’t work after four times, then I just decide it wasn’t meant to be.
[00:09:16] Georgiana Dearing:
Do you do all four tests on the same day?
[00:09:20] Elizabeth Stark:
No, I’ll do them over time. In quarantine, my kids are home, my whole family, my husband’s working from home and we have a pretty small house. My productivity is not what it once was. It’s hard to remember what my life is like when just doing my work was my job. Now I have a lot of other jobs. I’ll make them for dinner nights or lunches and just kind of test them out over time. Because otherwise, you start wasting a lot of food, making more than can be eaten. I’ll test things and then a whole another part two though is the plating. Obviously, like it really needs to be beautiful. So sometimes, I’ll make something and it will be tested and ready. But then I’ll shoot it and it just won’t be there. It just won’t have the oomph it needs to, or I’ll learn something about plating it when I’m plating it for the shot, and I’ll go back and have to remake it, and replate it and reshoot it.
[00:10:22] Georgiana Dearing:
Oh my! I hadn’t really thought about that. I’ve worked with food photographers. We’re there for a day and there’s the home ec person who’s like — and they’ll make a dish a couple of times and plate it in a day, and I hadn’t really thought about that. I don’t know why.
[00:10:38] Elizabeth Stark:
When it’s just you, sometimes there’s also so many things at a home studio. This time of year, it’s thunderstorm season. I tend to shoot at night, like in the evening. Right as the sun is going down is the best light. So there had been so many times where you have something complicated, it’s just ready and then the sky turns like pitch dark and a thunderstorm moves in. There’s just a lot of different things like that that can complicate things. I’m a little bit of a perfectionist I’ve realized. Like the recipe I put up on my blog this week, I was like, “Oh! I’d really like to reshoot that, but I just put it up anyway.
[00:11:18] Georgiana Dearing:
Sometimes the deadline is there. What do you use for photography?
[00:11:22] Elizabeth Stark:
I have a Canon 5D Mark III and a 50 mm lens. I’m probably going to upgrade soon just especially because I also shoot video on that, and the quality, I’d like to get a better quality look out of the video. But I’m definitely not someone who’s very into the technical side of photography.
[00:11:45] Georgiana Dearing:
Now, I’m going to ask you a little bit about these brand partners that you’re working with, because if it takes you four or five tries on a recipe, like what is that relationship look like with the brand? Like I am in a world where sometimes deadlines are insane. What is a good brand partnership look like for you?
[00:12:03] Elizabeth Stark: Well for me, with some of my favorite clients and especially my long-term clients who know me and know my work, I can turn things around surprisingly fast if I need to. I work with a lot of people that have a really tight deadline sometimes. But usually, it starts with me sending them kind of a selection of ideas. My blog is about seasonal foods, so foods that are in season. Like if a brand came to me right now in April and said they wanted me to make something with fresh tomatoes, I would actually not take that, I wouldn’t do that. Because to me, those aren’t in season right now and I that’s not how I work. I’ll pick things that are in season and ask the brand what they’re looking for, and then create kind of three or four really delicious sounding ideas. Almost like, I’ll do a like a recipe title, and then a quick deck for the recipe that kind of tells you little bit about it. Then the brand will pick one of those and then I kind of hit the ground running.
But once they go from the idea phase to the development phase, obviously, sometimes things change. You learn a little bit more about how the recipes actually going to be and things like that. So things can kind of evolve in that process and I’ll be in touch with the brand to let them know if there are major changes. Then I sort of just send them my drafts of my blog post, and my social, and then the images and we’ll go into edits from there.
[00:13:34] Georgiana Dearing:
Who are you typically working with on the brand side?
[00:13:38] Elizabeth Stark:
I work with a pretty big range of clients. Right now one of my best most long-term clients is Farmer Focus Chicken. I’m really glad to be working with them.
[00:13:48] Georgiana Dearing:
I like them too. I think that’s where we first really cross paths, a nice Virginia brand.
[00:13:53] Elizabeth Stark:
Yes. Exactly. They’re local to Virginia. just over the mountain in Harrisonburg. Their ethos really fits with mine, and just their idea of creating better quality chicken that has the better life while it lives, and it also tastes fantastic because of that high-quality. But I’ve also been to their farms, and met their farmers. I’ve actually even been inside their chicken houses in the summer. I know what they’re doing really well, and I know it’s really high-quality, so it makes it really easy to talk about the food when it’s coming from a place of integrity and honesty.
[00:14:34] Georgiana Dearing:
You work directly with the company in that instance, but are you sometimes working with an agency representative or like a marketing person? Who is like the person that hires you?
[00:14:46] Elizabeth Stark:
Yeah. It’s usually through agencies and sometimes now, there’s two levels of remove. Now that the influencer economy has kind of taken off, I tend to work through a company that — I don’t know what they call themselves, but they connect influencers with agencies. Sometimes I’ll be working with someone from the influencer agency and then someone from the brand agency to kind of come up with content.
[00:15:14] Georgiana Dearing:
That’s like a broker really, who’s just out there making those relationships for you.
[00:15:21] Elizabeth Stark:
Yeah. But I also have, I think in the business, I’m sure as you know, building relationships is key. So I also have a lot of really good relationships with the folks that work both clients, and influencer agencies so that I can kind of email them on the side and ask them a question and learn more about what the client might be looking for. If something is like — sometime clients kind of give so many things, so many points that you need to do for something that it becomes really cumbersome. It’s almost just like ad copy and no one’s going to read something that sounds very tanned. I try to push back when I can.
[00:16:01] Georgiana Dearing:
That is a hard thing. We do a lot of content creation, and it’s really hard when the sales team is in there waving their flags saying, “Don’t forget. Don’t forget.” It’s like at some point, we can’t be everything. You can cram everything into one statement.
[00:16:18] Elizabeth Stark:
[00:16:21] Georgiana Dearing:
You need to remind them sometimes that the reason they hired you was for your voice, right?
[00:16:28] Elizabeth Stark:
Mm-hmm. One of the biggest I guess hurdles I guess, is that a lot of times, brands really want their packaging in the photo. They want that for understandable reasons, but I also try to help them understand that the more overtly branded the images, it’s directly proportional to how well it will do on social.
[00:16:52] Georgiana Dearing:
Oh my goodness!
[00:16:52] Elizabeth Stark:
No one is going to like it. No one is going to interact with it. They might see it in their feed, but they’re going to keep scrolling. That is a really tough one for me, also because if their packaging is ugly, then it has to be on my Instagram feed forever, and I don’t love that.
[00:17:10] Georgiana Dearing:
Now, we’ve been saying that over and over again. Like the packaging is like the last part that people want to see. It looks particularly on Instagram, my goodness.
[00:17:20] Elizabeth Stark:
Yeah, it’s very hard.
[00:17:22] Georgiana Dearing:
They want to see the dream. What can happen with this product? Yeah, you do have to put it. A brand needs to put their packaging in their content stream, but it’s more as like, “Yes, this is what we look like in the store, but it’s not going to do as well.”
[00:17:38] Elizabeth Stark:
Yeah. Absolutely. But one thing that I really love about Farmer Focus, sort of going back to that thing I said about how I want my recipes to make sense. I also want my photos to make sense, so I’m not going to show ingredients that aren’t part of the recipe. I tried to keep my styling really simple and approachable so people don’t feel like, I don’t know. I like things simple. But like for Farmer Focus, it would really not make sense and actually would be not gross, but a little bit, like raw chicken isn’t like, you’re not looking at that package and it’s not mouthwatering. But I love that they don’t pressure me to do that. I do take really beautiful ingredient photos that include the chicken in the package, but I don’t necessarily need to include it in the finished photo. So I can just let the finished recipe speak for itself, which is what I really love as a creator.
[00:18:36] Georgiana Dearing:
Yeah, that’s a really good point, that thing about attractive ingredients, and where do you put them and how the consumer encounters the content you want them to be drawn into what you’re doing. Rather than have this like in your face, “Tt’s an ad. It’s an ad.” That’s like the distinction I think between influencer marketing and straight up the old days slick magazine pages.
Well, you said a couple of things in here. One of them is, you’re working with a broker, and you’re working with bigger brands. But you also talked about the influencer economy, and like how long did it take you to get to where you are making a living from this? Because you are describing a process that is very, very time-consuming.
[00:19:24] Elizabeth Stark:
I would say that, I started doing editorial content for other websites probably in 2010. So that was like obviously a difference, a lifetime ago in Internet years. That’s where I kind of started. I did some sponsor work through the company I was writing for her, and that’s where I kind of learn about sponsored work. I would say, I probably got my first sponsored post in 2013, but I was just not knowledgeable about pricing and I can’t remember what I charged, but it was funny to me now.
[00:20:02] Georgiana Dearing:
Goodness! That’s five years though from when you started this. That’s a thrill.
[00:20:08] Elizabeth Stark:
Well, and I have to say, when I first started the blog, it was entirely a hobby. The archives are by time anymore, so you can easily go back. But sometimes in my anniversary post, I’ll post links to my old stuff and I would take pictures just with the flash, with my dining room light on. I have a background in photography, and so then it’s really shocking how terrible everything was and how casual I was about everything. Probably around 2010 is when I started taking it more seriously, and realizing that it was something I could do for money or for my job. So it did take a while, and then, I would say in 2015 is probably — I’ve been a full-time freelancer for 11 years now, but I was more doing like other kinds of gig work, other kinds of freelance writing.
Then in about 2015 is when I started making my money primarily from my blog, and really having enough income to sustain just the blog, and taking a few side gigs or writing for big sites that were good for exposure for me and things like that. Then in 2015, is also the year I won a silver blog award for most delicious recipes, and that was like life-changing.
[00:21:34] Georgiana Dearing:
Yeah, that’s a lovely honor. That’s really good. Well, you talked a little bit about like the growth of the influencer economy and I’ve been reading a lot. There is a time where it felt like we’re in a bubble, like everyone was opening an influencer account, and running around, posting everything. I’ve been reading a lot about how there’s going to be another rise in that because of some of the changes in paid advertising that are happening through social media. What are you anticipating, like what’s on the horizon for you in the coming year or so?
[00:22:11] Elizabeth Stark:
Yeah. I mean, it’s tough because you have to keep adapting and it’s like as soon as I learned to do video, videos over, now you have to do reals and each thing keeps changing. And TikTok recipes now as we know are all the rage. I’m trying to find my own lane outside of the kind of constantly evolving world of influencer work. I thought about going to more like a paid subscriber mode. I know a lot of people are thinking about that too now, like the subset model. But I guess, I want to keep doing what I do and I’m not afraid to change but I also just know that — I don’t know. It’s a really tough question, but I think that’s kind of staying true to myself is what I have to do, and sort of following all the trends is not true to myself if that makes sense.
[00:23:11] Georgiana Dearing:
Well then, that kind of leads into one of my closing statements is like, what is it in your life that inspired you to work with food, and can you talk a little bit about what it is that’s your Northstar, what keeps you moving forward?
[00:23:29] Elizabeth Stark:
It’s funny. When I was living in Brooklyn and my husband and I, we live just down the street from the Williamsburg Farmers’ Market, and that was kind of this time when I discovered the beauty of local food and the beauty if fresh farmers’ market ingredients. We had the income at the time to kind of buy almost all our main ingredients from the farmers’ market. That was really a time of inspiration, and sort of just learning about food systems in a more direct way. So I would say still that is still the thing I’m very passionate about. It’s kind of shifted over the years. Like now, I tend to grow a lot more food on my own, in my backyard. I’m learning that now.
[00:24:14] Georgiana Dearing:
We couldn’t do that in Brooklyn.
[00:24:16] Elizabeth Stark:
No. I did grow food in Brooklyn, but just very small amounts. That’s something that always keeps me grounded, is going back to the ingredients and sort of honoring the ingredients first. I don’t think my approach to that will ever change. Also bringing that to other people, like I always sort of say, everyone is like, “What is a kohlrabi and what can I do with it?” Or if you have a CSA and you don’t understand those ingredients, that’s a place I really want to be helpful and get people cooking food that they love with ingredients they may not be familiar with in the beginning.
[00:24:54] Georgiana Dearing:
Well, I have to ask you. What did you do with all the turnips you planted last year?
[00:24:59] Elizabeth Stark:
Oh gosh! It was real disaster because they’re disgusting.
[00:25:03] Georgiana Dearing:
They are. They’re terrible.
[00:25:05] Elizabeth Stark:
My kids were like, “We are not eating these.”
[00:25:09] Georgiana Dearing:
I’m so sorry turnip fans, but I’m with you.
[00:25:13] Elizabeth Stark:
Yeah. I’m sorry, they’re not disgusting. They have a place. But especially spring turnips don’t have that sweetness over winter turnips do. Turnip greens were delicious, and I learned why so many southern cooks favor those as the best kind of greens. But the actual vegetable, I learned fritters. I made turnip fritters and they were delicious and my kids ate them. That’s the secret. Fritter it.
[00:25:38] Georgiana Dearing:
Batter and fry it.
[00:25:40] Elizabeth Stark:
[00:25:41] Georgiana Dearing:
Oh my goodness.
[00:25:43] Elizabeth Stark:
It wasn’t battered luckily, it was just shredded with an egg, something like that. Not too bad, but definitely fried for sure.
[00:25:52] Georgiana Dearing:
Okay. Put a lot of fat in there.
[00:25:56] Elizabeth Stark:
Yes, and maybe a soup, you could do, I think. But yeah, the roasted ones, even I was like, “I don’t like these.”
[00:26:07] Georgiana Dearing:
I accidentally ate them at a family gathering, and thought, “Oh, these were turnips.” I’m like, “Hmm, don’t like those.”
[00:26:17] Elizabeth Stark:
Yeah. They have some bite.
[00:26:18] Georgiana Dearing:
Yeah. Well, can you tell people where to find you. This has been so — I mean, I could keep talking to you forever, but we do have to end at some point. Could you tell our listeners where to find?
[00:26:31] Elizabeth Stark:
Sure. My blog is brooklynsupper.com and I’m on Instagram @brooklynsupper. Those are the two best places to find me. I’m also on Facebook, but —
[00:26:42] Georgiana Dearing:
Can your followers like subscribe to a newsletter and get updates from you?
[00:26:48] Elizabeth Stark:
Oh, that’s a good point. I do have a newsletter. Yes, you can subscribe in the sidebar of my blog, Brooklyn Supper. I try to send it out just about every week and my newsletter tends to focus on what’s in season. So it says what to eat right now, and then sometimes I’ll focus on an ingredient, like recently did beets and cauliflower. Then sometimes I’ll also focus on like a holiday or cookout season or things like that kind of are on people’s minds.
[00:27:18] Georgiana Dearing:
That sounds delightful. I hope you get many more subscribers from this.
[00:27:23] Elizabeth Stark:
Well, thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it. I’m such a big fan of Virginia Foodie, so I’m really excited to be talking with you.
[00:27:32] Georgiana Dearing:
Thank you. I’m so happy to talk to you too.
[00:27:36] Elizabeth Stark:
All right. Thank you so much, George.
[00:27:37] Georgiana Dearing:
Thank you. Bye.
[00:27:39] Georgiana Dearing:
Thanks for listening. If you want to learn more about how to grow your own food brand, then click on Grow My Brand at vafoodie.com. If you’re a lover of local food, then be sure to follow us. We’re @vafoodie on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Join the conversation and tell us about your adventures with good food, good people, and good brands.