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Steamy Kitchen is a family food blog, it’s actually a lot more than that. With nearly a thousand recipes, tons of cooking tips and how-to videos, not to mention three cookbooks, Jaden’s family blog is the family business.
Jaden is also the co-founder of food blog forum, an annual event for food bloggers and she’s been featured in numerous best-sellers including one of my favorites, Chris Guillebeau’s The $100 Startup.
I’m so excited to have Jaden Hair from Steamy Kitchen joining me on the show today.
On The Idea Behind Steamy Kitchen:
I grew up in North Platte, Nebraska.
So I’m Chinese. I’m from Hong Kong, I was born in Hong Kong, like the food capital of the world.
And when I was four we moved, we immigrated to the United States and we ended up in the middle of nowhere, it’s like the smallest of all small towns called North Platte Nebraska, and we lived there until I was 10 years old.
We were in this little strange food area where it’s all about beef, and cattle and mid-western foods, there were no Asian restaurants nearby that rivaled–came close to anything that I was experiencing in Hong Kong or anywhere in Asia.
We had to drive all the way to Denver, Colorado to go to the Asian market which was like hours and hours away, and so that’s the kind of environment that I grew up.
Then we moved to California luckily, and I got exposed to amazing types of all different types of food not just Asian food.
Long story short, when I got married, my husband and I decided to move to a small town in Florida because it was near the ocean, it was near the Gulf of Mexico, it was affordable, unlike in California where you can’t even afford a one-bedroom apartment, and we wanted to start a family so we moved to the small town.
When we got here, we bought a home, and I looked around like, “Oh my gosh where are my Asian restaurants? Where is my Chinese restaurant? Where are my markets? And I just realized I need to do something about this because it was just – I was getting homesick.
It turns out that right by, right in town, there was this restaurant called Bangkok Tokyo.
I went in waiting for my to-go order, and I overheard this lady sitting at the sushi bar with her beautifully manicured nails and her Gucci handbag and she’s like, “Oh, I’m having Sushi at the Chinese restaurant, come join me.” I’m thinking, “Sushi at the Chinese restaurant.” This is so weird, this is so strange.
First of all this is Bangkok Tokyo and you know Bangkok and Tokyo are not in China. I got really upset, and my husband’s like, “Okay, you can get upset about it, but we’re not moving, so you’ve got to find something to do about it.”
So I started teaching cooking classes at a local cooking school, and I started teaching people the difference between fish sauce and soy sauce, and the difference between Laotian food and Chinese food.
It wasn’t just all oriental recipes or oriental food and not all stir-fries and sweet and sour with a goopy sauce.
That’s how the blog started, it’s been eight years now, almost exactly eight years old.
On How Steamy Kitchen Evolved Into a Business:
Within three months of starting the food blog I said, “You know, I would love to make this a full-time business.”
If I was going to create a business, this would be it, and back then eight years ago, blogs weren’t businesses and there was no such thing as social media.
There was no such thing as creating an online business, very few and far between. So I said, “Well, there’s got to be a way.” What if I apply basic business principles and marketing savviness into a food blog and let’s see where I take this, so that’s how I started steamykitchen.com as an actual business.
I designed it specifically as a family business and within six months I got a book deal, I was offered a book deal, so it happened really fast, it was combination of one, I’m awesome, I’m a business and marketing rockstar. I know my stuff, I know how to sell, I know how to create and design a business, that was part of the equation.
The other part of the equation was just great luck in timing. This was right when the blogs were just starting to come up, so I was one of the early ones.
On Designing Steamy Kitchen as a Business:
A lot of people create business plans and when you start a business everyone always says, “Create a business plan, you need a business plan, a marketing plan and a financial plan,” but in all honesty those are the must boring documents in the world.
Business plans are meant for you just to put your thoughts down and not meant to really inspire you. I’m a very visual person and I need something a little more inspiring than a 49-page business plan.
What we did instead was we went back to our days when we used to do Tony Robbins, actually my husband used to work for Tony Robbins for like seven years. He traveled around the world with Tony Robbins and was his lead trainer for the three-day events. So, we went back to the Tony Robbins days and started creating a vision board, cut out pictures and magazines, cooking magazines, business magazines and created the business plan out of that and framed it, hung it on a wall and that was in front of me every single day.
It was like, you see something like that, that’s so inspiring, so specific, that evokes emotion of wanting to ignite my passion of cooking and being able to create a wonderful family business out of something I love to do.
On Her Love of Cooking and Feeding People:
I’m fearless in the kitchen, I love to play and experiment and that’s part of it. Cooking to me is not just about following a recipe, one, two, three but, cooking to me is about looking for a recipe that serves as the basis and the foundation that I can play off of.
It’s a playful spirit, it’s fearless, being fearless, being absolutely playful and being okay to fail. If the recipe doesn’t work, I had fun trying but I also know next time how to fix it. That’s one part of it.
The other part of it was honestly in college after moving to my first apartment, I went to UCLA, and after the first year, I moved to an apartment with three other roommates and I was the cook. That was my job.
I would cook for everybody and they would go do groceries, they would buy the groceries, they would clean the apartment and all I had to do was cook? Really? How fun, right?
I made my way through three years of college just cooking for my roommates and friends.
Tips For Those Cooking Asian Food for the First Time:
I think there are some basic, basic recipes that just with a couple of pantry ingredients that you can buy, store in the pantry or store in the refrigerator, and you can make so many dishes.
I call these four condiments, I call them masters of Asian flavor. One of them is soy sauce of course, the other one’s oyster sauce, there’s fish sauce and then there’s miso paste. With those four ingredients you can make hundreds and hundreds of dishes.
Sometimes it can be intimidating when there are different types of condiments and ingredients that you’re not familiar with, but if you pair these four basic condiments that you can store in your refrigerator for months and months and months, and then with what I like to call the Chinese trinity, the holy trinity of garlic, green onion and ginger, you get the really amazing fresh Asian flavor.
What I also like to do is to take familiar dishes. Everyone knows what beef broccoli is, a lot of people know what sweet and sour chicken is, how do I take that, some flavor that they are already familiar with, and create a recipe that’s so easy with limited number of ingredients that use fresh ingredients, vibrant vegetables and make it so delicious at home.
Another way is if I’m trying to introduce something that’s a new ingredient like a preserved radish, I’ll make the recipe so super, super simple maybe three or four ingredients at the most, so that you’re not too confused. The only variable is this one ingredient that I have never played with, but I know what asparagus is, and I know what broccoli is and so I’ll try to make sure that I don’t overwhelm anybody with too many variables or too many new things.
On Her Cookbooks:
The first book The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook, that was when I first started the blog.
I got a book offer within six months of starting the blog and it was amazing. Each of these big books they take about two years to produce, one whole year for writing and testing the recipes, photography and creating all the content, then a whole other year for editing, layout, design, printing, shipping, and distribution. And then tack on another six months for promotion and media and so it’s a lot of work.
I did that first book with this small publisher called Tuttle publishing, and they’re amazing to work with, they’re very small, extremely focused on Asian cookbooks, and that was a fun experience.
The second cookbook I did with a big publisher called Ten Speed Press, and I had an agent and you know it was a pretty big production.
That was fun too, but the e-book I decided to do because we live in the social media world, we live in the blog world. If I wanted to post something, I’ll write it and then post it tomorrow. It was really hard for me to grasp a lead time of two years. It’s really hard for me to create something and have the patience to see it through and keep up the enthusiasm for something that’s taking two years, two and a half years to create.
I decided I’m going to try doing an e-book and it took me about a month to produce it. Within a month it was up for sale. I think I put in 15 recipes for Chinese takeouts that were made healthier, made more delicious, and that you can make at home. I plan on doing a lot more.
On Appearing in Best-Selling Books:
I got Tim Ferriss‘ 4-Hour Chef book, that giant book, and I had this book sitting on my desk and it’s so big, it’s one of those books where you’re like, “Oh I don’t have time to read it now, I don’t have the time to start it now, I’ll do it later, I’ll do it later.” It literally sat on my desk for six months.
I finally said, it’s been on my desk for six months and I should just open this book up.
I open this book, I look down, there’s my name. I had no idea I was mentioned in his 4-Hour Chef book. I don’t really remember how he got in touch with me, his team asked me to contribute a recipe for the 4-hour body cookbook that was an e-book and that was a long time ago, and it’s also funny once I saw my name in the 4-Hour Chef I’m like, “Hey, I remember I was mentioned or I contributed a recipe for 4-hour body. Maybe I should look that up and see if I can find it and it wasn’t until just recently that I said, “Oh yes, now I remember, this is what I contributed.” I’d never even seen it.
With Chris‘ book, I’ve known Chris for quite a while now.
I first got onto his website, we met on Twitter, and this was in the early days of Twitter. I’m a big fan of what he does, his work. I was hosting another food blogging conference in Austin that piggy backed south by southwest and Chris was there. I’m like, “Hey come to our party, we’re going to have an after party, just come, I’d love to meet you.” So he brought Johnathan Fields to my party and we just spent a few minutes together because we had a whole ton of people there, but that was the first time I got to meet him in person.
When he went on his book tour, the past two book tours he came to this area, did the Tampa area in Florida, and I just hung out with him. I had dinner with him, he interviewed me for his book, which is an awesome book. The $100 Startup is one of my favorite books of all times.
The Pressure Cooker:
Which food shows or cooking shows do you watch?
None. I really, really do not watch cooking shows especially because my world is cooking, I can’t do cooking 24/7.
The only one I’ve actually sat down and watched was The Pioneer Woman Show on the Food Network but I was at her house watching her show.
That was the only time I was there. It was Nathan’s 10th birthday at her house and I think it was right after we got a massage in the morning and then turned on the TV and there’s Ree and I was like, “Oh, that’s this kitchen right here, it was kind of weird.
That was the last cooking show I watched and that was probably two years ago.
What are some food blogs or websites that we have to know about?
Some of my favorite sites that I go to regularly. I just rely on all the time, simplyrecipes.com is one. Elise is one of my dear, dear friends and she started her food blog probably close to over 10 years ago. Her recipes are tried and true. If you want to know a recipe for green beans or roasted turkey, mashed potatoes, that is a site to go to. If I’m looking for a recipe I’ll go to her site.
And then there are a couple of new ones that I’m just enthralled with. One of them is called Lady and her Pup, I’m probably saying that wrong- Lady and Pups-an angry food blog, she’s Asian as well, she’s Chinese and oh my gosh she’s absolutely amazing.
She’s got a recipe right now for Sesame noodle salad, the photography just draws you in. I’ve never met her, but I love looking at her food. Those are two that I really love.
Who do you follow on Pinterest, Instagram or Twitter that make you happy?
The funny thing is, I used to be Miss Social Media.
I started Twitter early on and I used to be all over social media and if there was a food conference and they needed somebody to talk about business and social media, they always called me and said, “Oh, could you talk about this?” I’m like, “Absolutely I can talk about social media all day.”
And then about a year ago I decided, I quit. I quit social media, actually I quit Twitter with like almost 135,000 followers. I decided, you know this is not for me. I’d rather spend time with my kids than do social media.
With Pinterest, with social media now, it’s more for me as a marketing tool, rather than a consumption tool. I use those as business tools, I think I’m on the computer entirely too long already. So I decided to quit Twitter, and use Pinterest if I need inspiration for some decorating idea.
I use Pinterest to market Steamy Kitchen. They are our number two referrer for Steamy Kitchen so I use them to make sure that people know how to pin and can unpin the photos.
I’ve never done Instagram and with Facebook it’s more like friends and family and private groups, so I’m in several private groups and I host a private group for food bloggers for coaching but that’s really all I do.
What is something all home cooks should have in their pantry?
It would be my homemade Sriracha. It’s so easy. You could make it in a blender and you can just leave it just like that. Or, you can just put it in a crock pot or even just on the stove top for 20 minutes and the result is this rich incredibly complex bright flavor that you can never get off the shelf.
So I would say make your own, it’s so, so, so easy.
Name one ingredient you cannot live without?
That’s a tough one. I’m going through my refrigerator right now in my mind, I’m going through my pantry right now.
Okay, right now it’s not necessarily an ingredient but it’s something I always have to have in my kitchen and that’s homemade beef jerky.
I’m not a big breakfast person, and I’m not a big snack person, but when I get hungry, I have to eat something. We’ve been making our own beef jerky at home, it’s always there in the kitchen everyday and it’s healthy. I cannot live without that.
What are a few cookbooks that make your life better?
Cookbooks with photos, like I said before, I’m a very visual person and I don’t necessarily read but I scan really well. I look at pictures and when I’ve got a moment, I will take just an armful of cookbooks from my library, sit down on the couch and just flip through them.
The photos just really inspire me and make me happy.
What song or album just makes you want to cook?
There’s this movie called Big Night, and it’s not even about Asain cooking, it’s Italian.
It’s a story of how these two brothers came to the United States and started this famous restaurant and it’s a must see for anyone who loves Italian food or loves movies.
That album, the soundtrack from Big Night is my favorite because it’s fun and it’s lively. It’s got lots of instruments in it, makes you want to sing and dance, and it’s just a beautiful beautiful soundtrack, so that’s one of my favorites.
Keep Posted on Jaden:
Steamykitchen.com and then out of all the social media that I do, the only one I really do check is Steamy Kitchen on Facebook, it’s a Facebook fan-page. I post on there maybe once a day, once every other day but usually I will check in there.
I respond to any email that comes in, we have an email newsletter that I send out once a week, and I love it when people reply and I get to know some of the readers.