Passion and Personal Branding: An Interview With The Amateur Gourmet

2009 September 16

Rogue Models highlights interviews and discussions with diverse twenty and thirtysomethings who are putting their money where their mouths are when it comes to pursuing happiness and personal/professional fulfillment on their own terms. Today’s guest is Adam Roberts, the brains and personality behind The Amateur Gourmet.

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I’ve been reading The Amateur Gourmet for years and have watched Adam Roberts morph from a law student to a playwright to a published author and most recently, a Food Network e-personality. All things considered, his site should hold little interest for a vegan with celiac who has only been to NYC once and could cheerfully eat the same rotation of low-maintenance staple meals for weeks on end. But Roberts has a voice, a very strong, very readable voice and a knack for crowd-pleasing antics such as videos starring his cat, posts in the form of comic strips and highly topical baked goods. Oh, and he digs musicals. That might be the deciding factor.

P.S. It took all my willpower not to title this Food for Thought. Must not be a cliche whore. Must resist.

Of the professional or personal opportunities that you’ve experienced in the last few years, which ones would you directly attribute to blogging? Do you actively pursue new ventures (for example, the FN collaborations) or do people tend to approach you?

Almost everything that’s happened to me in the food world has happened because of my blog. For example, the Food Network connection was forged when I went out to dinner with my parents to a restaurant called Anthos. The next day I noticed that I was getting traffic from the Food Network website. When I clicked through, one of their bloggers named Lia had written that she’d spotted The Amateur Gourmet eating dinner at Anthos the night before. I wrote her an e-mail, she asked if I’d be interested in blogging about The Next Iron Chef for foodnetwork.com, I said yes, and that led to the FN Dish and my current show on Food2. Similarly, my book came about because a literary agent happened upon my blog. The blog is a powerful calling card.

How conscious are you (if at all) of the Amateur Gourmet as a brand and managing it as such? Do issues around increasing traffic and responding to the perceived needs of your readers enter into content decisions for the site?

When I first started, I spent 0% of my time thinking about any of that. Now, since I’ve been doing it for five years, I do wonder if I should eventually transition from Amateur Gourmet to just my name (Adam Roberts, in case you forgot). But the brand works, I think, because it’s a very simple, straightforward premise: “this guy’s not an expert, so if he succeeds at something I can, too.” As far as studying traffic and responding to my reader’s needs, there’s no rhyme or reason to any of that. There’ve been times that I’ve done posts that I was sure would be a huge hits and they’ve fallen flat, and other times I shot a post out thoughtlessly and found the next day that it was linked all around the web. So I don’t worry about it anymore and just blog.

As someone who has jumped off a traditional professional track (i.e., deciding not to practice law), what advice would you give young workers who dream about leaving their cubicles for more creative pastures?

I like this question because it’s something I’m passionate about. People are very timid when it comes to following their dreams; I think the best advice I can give is to be brave. Take a chance. Risk failure. Most importantly: put yourself out there. There’s a quote I like by Kenneth Tynan that goes: “Talent apart, what enables one to exercise that talent is the ability to impose oneself.” If you want to be successful at anything, you’ve got to impose yourself.

Has there been one specific Amateur Gourmet related moment that you would never have believed would actually have happened if someone had told you about when you were still a law student in Atlanta?

Oh wow, there’ve been many. When I got hired to host The FN Dish last year, I found myself face to face interviewing Rachael Ray, Alton Brown and Bobby Flay all on my first day. It was surreal. Otherwise, getting invited to big-name events like Gourmet Magazine‘s parties, for example, is always mind-boggling. The crowning moment came at one such Gourmet party when I stumbled upon and met Sarah Moulton, whose show, Sarah’s Secrets, was the very first cooking show I ever watched and the thing that got me interested in food in the first place.

And on a less serious note: Is a book deal the new standard by which one can be deemed to have made it as a blogger? How do you feel about the growth of this trend, i.e. for every Julie Powell, there seems to be a Look at this F*cking Hipster: the book?

I think you have to judge it on a book-by-book basis. For example, my friend Molly Wizenberg’s book A Homemade Life, which came about because of her blog Orangette, is one of the most beautiful food books I’ve read about food and family and how they intersect. If blogging can produce a book like that, I think it’s ultimately a very good thing.

Are you a Rogue Model? Do you know someone who is? We’re always interested in suggestions for future interviews.

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