Starting today, I'm launching an interview series that will feature female makers, writers, artists, and other creative entrepreneurs. I can't wait to share what I hope will be inspiring behind-the-scenes stories from some truly incredible women and artists.
Ashley Covelli runs Big Flavors from a Tiny Kitchen, a food blog that is filled with "tons of recipes, honest reviews, and drool-inducing photography."
She's the kind of person who's eager to share the names of the best Indian restaurants outside of the city (Swagat in Tarrytown is worth the visit) and who serves up homemade salsa at morning play dates (the perfect start of any day, in my book).
I was so interested to learn more about her creative work with Big Flavors, and how she manages to produce incredible meals and engaging content all while raising her son full-time. Here's how she does it, starting with her inspirations for launching her website...
What made you take the plunge and start a food blog?
Back in August of 2006 I needed a creative outlet after a long day at my “creative” job. Everyone has to eat, so I figured being creative with what types of food I prepare would help me to enjoy cooking as much as possible.
What is your process for researching and choosing recipes?
I subscribe to a gazillion food blogs. Whenever I come across a recipe I think I’d like to try I'll pin it to my Pinterest boards. When I go to plan my menu for the week, I'll try to have a protein in mind while I comb through my boards for something that stands out. I'm also a Cooking Light magazine subscriber and I use sites like Epicurious and Allrecipes, both of which are great resources for quality recipes. I also make an effort to be resourceful and not waste ingredients. For example, if a recipe calls for a small amount of fresh thyme I’ll plan a few more dishes to make with it. Sometimes inspiration will come from my very own freezer!
Are your dishes original or do you cook from other's recipes?
When I first started blogging I relied strictly on recipes. I had so much to learn about cooking and there was a fear of “messing up” a dish by not following the instructions. For the past year or so I’ve really started experimenting and coming up with my own dishes. I’d say that around 30% of the recipes I currently post are original.
How do you make money?
I make a very nominal amount of money by serving in-page ads on my site. I have plans for the future, once I perfect more of my own original recipes.
What motivates you to continue working, writing, and cooking?
I love to eat! I also enjoy making others happy, and one of the best ways to do that is by preparing something I know they'll appreciate. I enjoy making many different types of dishes and I feel like there’s always more out there that I haven’t yet experienced. I also find cooking to be a great creative outlet for me after a long day of "mommying".
What is your advice to someone starting out?
Be authentic. Do something you love. Don’t expect big changes overnight. Set goals, but blog because you love whatever topic you’re blogging about. Subscribe to other blogs/sites and read books on the topic. Keep an open mind; always be willing to learn. Try to keep things fun. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself; don’t over-commit. Reach out to companies for opportunities like sponsored posts or partnerships to help push you to create more content.
One of the most important things, in my opinion, is to work on your photography skills. People tend to be visual, especially when it comes to food (you eat with your eyes, right?). My high school & college photography professor always said, “the best camera is the one you have with you”. Now that most people have cameras on their phones it’s easier than ever, but there are important lessons to learn about composition, exposure, light and shadows, etc. Don’t post every blurry, underexposed plate of food that’s in front of you just to prove that you actually made or ate it. Take your time and make it worthwhile. Read up on photography or take a course if you can. There are plenty of resources out there to take advantage of.
How have you created and maintained your following?
In the beginning I simply posted recipes and photos of every dish I cooked. I didn’t promote the site; it was more of a personal cooking journal. As social media became popular, I began linking to posts of my kitchen success stories. Sites like Foodgawker and, Tastespotting came along that were great for gaining new followers and getting a bump in site traffic, but I admittedly haven’t been submitting much content there as of late. I found that commenting on blogs is a great way to engage with other readers of food blogs. I also occasionally participate in roundups with groups of bloggers in themed cooking/baking events; it’s a great way to gain exposure while also helping other bloggers.
What tools do you use to stay organized and manage the day-to-day of blogging?
I’ve been using the Bullet Journal method for a few months now, and I love it! Before that it was mostly scraps of paper all over the place driving me (and my husband) crazy. I try not to worry too much about how often, when, or what to post because I find that it adds unnecessary stress.
How do you stay focused and avoid distraction?
I have a toddler, so staying focused and avoiding distraction is practically impossible. I’ve started and stopped answering questions for this interview more times than I can count! If I really need to focus I have to wait until after my son's bedtime... unless Game of Thrones is on. ;-)
Tell us about your workspaces—where do you write and cook?
My kitchen is tiny (hence the name) but I love it! My husband and I remodeled it in 2009 to help maximize the usable space. We designed every inch of that kitchen. It’s easily my favorite room in the house. I actually have recurring nightmares where we move to a new house with a brand new, state-of-the-art kitchen that I don’t want! I’m cozy where I am. Ha!
As far as writing goes, my husband and I designed a co-working studio in our home. We have a desktop computer, a laptop, my art/design/photography gear, and his musical instruments/audio engineering equipment. It's great that we can both be productive in our own separate ways while occupying the same space. I take laptop on the go whenever possible, preferably to one of my favorite local coffee shops or a park with a view of the Hudson River.
How do you maintain work / life balance?
Luckily, I have a wonderful husband who helps out a lot when he’s not at work. Blogging isn’t what pays the bills, so I sometimes have to let it take a backseat to other priorities. I schedule time to do yoga, and I go running whenever I have the opportunity to. I find that exercise helps reduce stress and lets me clear my mind while I get some well needed “me time".
Are there any other projects in the works?
I’ve been developing recipes for Stonyfield Organic, which has been quite rewarding. We are big fans of yogurt in my house, so it's been working out well for all of us! I’m also working on a review/giveaway for a wonderful book about pies. It’s been a lot of fun baking-my-way through the book!
I have a to-do list of future projects that I hope to eventually check off. I’m definitely one of those people who gets great satisfaction from checking an item off of a to-do list! Once I develop and test more of my own recipes I plan to put a cookbook together. Being a Graphic Designer, it will be great to have complete control over the layout, design, photography, writing, etc.
Over at the Domestic Mixologist me and my partner, Mara, are always trying to make time to craft and photograph cocktails together. A book is in the works but we still need many more happy-hour brainstorming sessions.
Who inspires you right now?
Raghaven Iyer is one of my favorites. I think I’ve made more meals from his "660 Curries" cookbook than any other. There is such a wide variety of Indian dishes and techniques that it can feel quite daunting. I recommend this book to anyone who is curious about preparing Indian dishes at home; it's a fantastic resource. You can read about the Iyer recipes I’ve made here.
Yotam Ottolenghi always has such beautiful and creative dishes. It’s hard not to be inspired by that. His recipes make vegetables exciting for even the most dedicated carnivores. You can read about the Ottolenghi recipes I’ve made here.
Joy the Baker is a blogger that I’ve been following for quite a while. Her writing style is unique and engaging, and her photos are so tantalizing that you can practically taste them just by scrolling through her blog posts.
Naomi over at Bakers Royale always captures her food beautifully. She has an amazing eye for composition, color, and for taking drool-inducing food photos.
Thank you, Ashley! Where can we find out more?
All photos are courtesy of Ashley Covelli.