Welcome to episode 118 of the Food Blogger Pro podcast! This week on the podcast, Bjork talks with Gaby Dalkin from What’s Gaby Cooking about understanding your brand, developing a product line, and working with a team.
Last week on the podcast, Bjork interviewed Maria Lichty from Two Peas and Their Pod about how blogging has changed in the past 10 years. To go back and listen to that episode, click here.
How to Discovering Your Brand Can Help you Grow
Gaby’s blogging story isn’t the typical blogging story. She started as a private chef for Jessica Simpson, built a team, and even worked with Williams Sonoma on a product line. Oh, and she also managed to build a hugely successful food blog, What’s Gaby Cooking.
But all of her success is rooted in a strong understanding of her personal and blog brand. She has an acute understanding of her audiences across all of her platforms, and that understanding influences how she interacts with those audiences.
In this episode, Gaby shares:
- How she got interested in food
- How she got hired as a private chef for Jessica Simpson
- What it was like working with a brand consultant
- Her advice for doing live content
- How she keeps organized
- What it’s like working with a team
- How she decides how personal to get on her blog and social channels
- How she launched a salsa line with Williams Sonoma
- Her advice for working with a brand manager
Listen to the Food Blogger Pro Podcast below or check it out on iTunes or Google Play Music:
- What’s Gaby Cooking
- Gaby’s salsa line with Williams Sonoma
- Follow Gaby on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter
If you have any comments, questions, or suggestions for interviews, be sure to email them to [email protected].
Be sure to review us on iTunes!
If you’d like to jump to the comments section, click here.
Bjork Ostrom: In this episode we talk to Gaby Dalkin about what it was like to hang out with Jessica Simpson. What happened after she worked with a branding strategist, and the story of pitching Williams Sonoma on selling her salsa in their store.
Hey, everybody. It is Bjork Ostrom, and you are listening to the Food Blogger Pro podcast, and we have an incredible interview for you today with Gaby Dalkin from What’s Gaby Cooking, and she has some awesome stories that she’s going to share with you, not only about how she has grown What’s Gaby Cooking to successful brand and a successful business, but also some fun stories about what it was like on her journey of discovering her passion for food. It’s going to be an incredible interview with lots of takeaways, so let’s go ahead and jump in. Gaby, welcome to the podcast.
Gaby Dalkin: Hi, how are you?
Bjork Ostrom: I’m doing great. Yeah, thanks so much for coming out today.
Gaby Dalkin: Thanks for having me. I’m excited to be here.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, so the first thing that I want to talk about is pre-blog, pre-social media, there was a point in your life where you made a decision. You said, “Hey, I want to go into a career in food,” but before that, you wouldn’t have predicted that your path leading up to that point would have led you to food or recipes. Can you talk a little about that inflection point in your life and what led you to decide to go to culinary school?
Gaby Dalkin: Sure, so not exaggerating from age zero to 17 I ate pasta and grilled cheese pretty much for every year. Maybe there was a bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios, maybe.
Bjork Ostrom: For variety.
Gaby Dalkin: I was a carb-loving kind of kid and then when I went to college, I quickly gained the freshman … It wasn’t even the freshman. It was the freshman 25 for me, and I was like, “Oh my gosh. I better start learning how to cook and feeding myself.” So I would obsessively watch cooking shows and I just started learning. I learned how to make chicken Parmesan. That was the first thing I made, and I made it five days a week for a couple months straight, and I just started feeding myself and my teammates. I played on the tennis team in college. I started feeding my then boyfriend who is now my husband.
Through all that I was pre-med in college so it was really just a passion project for me. I loved feeding people, and then I decided I didn’t want to be pre-med. I ended up switching to business school, and then after college I got a job in L.A. and within six months of working there, the whole company folded and rather than get another job I was like, “I’m going to go to culinary school and just learn how to cook better and make fish and beef and all these different things,” and that same week I started my food blog, I started culinary school, and I randomly got a job as a private chef. So that’s what set it all off.
Bjork Ostrom: So curious to know for those three things, obviously the blog is something you can start on your own. Culinary school is something you can start on your own, but as a private chef, there would have to be some type of previous history for them to come to you and be like, “Hey, we see that you’re really good at this. We’d love to hire you.” How did that first job happen as a private chef?
Gaby Dalkin: So I was actually interviewing to be a nanny for this incredible family in Malibu. My mom was like, “You can go to culinary school, do what you want, but you have to have some form of income,” and I said, “Not a problem. I’m going to be a nanny for the year while I’m in culinary and pastry school,” and while I was there interviewing with this family, we hit it off right away and they were like, “What can you work? What are your hours?” I said, “I can do everything except for these times because I’m going to culinary school.”
They said, “Whoa. Hold the phone. We just lost our chef last week. Would you rather be our chef?” I was like, “Can I charge you more?” “Sure. Of course.” So it was really amazing, and I starting cooking for them, and I cooked for them for a number of years before I got poached by a fairly well-known celebrity in L.A., and I cooked for her for a number of years and then as the blog picked up steam and was making probably equal amounts of money as my private chef salary, I walked away from private cheffing entirely.
Bjork Ostrom: Got it. So what year was that?
Gaby Dalkin: 2012 I believe.
Bjork Ostrom: Great. Can you say who the celebrity was? I know people would be so curious.
Gaby Dalkin: I cooked for Jessica Simpson for a while.
Bjork Ostrom: That’s one of those things where … and that’s very humble of you not to say it. I feel like it’s kind of a name drop, but that’s incredible. Can you talk a little bit about, both for that family before as well as literally being a celebrity chef, what that was like? Were there things that you learned in terms of how you approached food or obviously for these people, these people that are really intentional about how they’re eating and their diet? How did that inform the decisions that you made or how you understood food and recipes?
Gaby Dalkin: Yeah, so the first family was a family of six, and it was a really quick introduction to cooking under pressure because I’d come over prepared to cook for six people. One had a gluten intolerance, one was a vegetarian, one was a pescetarian, so I was making six or seven things a night, and then some days I would show up and there would be 20 people there, and I’d be like, “Oh my gosh. I have to throw a party together within 90 minutes.” So I got to be really good at cooking under pressure and it’s still my … I mean I don’t private chef anymore, but I have to throw something together really quickly, I really love that. So the first family was very … Their roots are German, but they eat a very Mediterranean diet, which was great because I learned very quickly how to perfect fish dishes and I would shop predominately at the farmers’ market so it was an amazing opportunity.
Then when I cooked for Jessica, she actually eats very similar to how I eat, which is a little Tex-Mex Southwestern influence, but mostly clean, still farmers’ markety food, and they were both amazing clients to work for. I have plenty of friends in the industry that had awful clients, so I feel very fortunate that these two families took really good care of me. When you’re cooking for someone in their home, you’re in their kitchen and that’s kind of the heart of the home I think so you’re really involved in their family and you’re there for dinner parties and everyone gets to know you. So I just loved every second of it.
Bjork Ostrom: I’m sure that these are all questions that are questions you’ve had to field 100 times when people learn that you do this. It’s like-
Gaby Dalkin: No, ask away. Ask away.
Bjork Ostrom: When you’re sitting next to somebody on a plane and you reveal what it is, it’s all of those common questions. So were you in the kitchen and is somebody like Jessica Simpson just hanging out in the other room, or what does that look like in terms of that relationship, and also are you just saying like, “Okay, I think this would be a good fit,” or is she coming to you and saying, “Here’s what I want to eat,” and then you’re trying to create that?
Gaby Dalkin: So for Jess, she surrounds herself with people who are awesome people. Everyone that’s in her life is incredible. So we were in constant communication. We would text every night and come up with the menu for the next day. She would hang out in the kitchen with me. We’d all sit down and have lunch together most days. I mean I really can’t say enough good things about her. I was getting married when I was working for her, and she sent me on my bachelorette party with clothes and shoes and all these things she just gave me. She’s just such a kind individual. So you’re really involved. After the first couple months, I know what a family’s tastes are, so it’s easy for me to be like, “This, this, and this is what’s happening tomorrow,” and normally they just say, “Yep. Sounds great,” or, “Surprise. 47 people are coming over for the football game. Multiply that by 10.”
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. So when you’re working with somebody like Jessica Simpson and you also have your personal brand that you’re building on the side, was there anything that you learned from her being that she obviously is really intentional about her business and you’re working on your business. Anything that you learned from that process that you’re like, “Oh, I’m going to apply this in terms of how I communicate with my followers or the people that are fans of mine,” based on interactions that you had with her or was that pretty separate?
Gaby Dalkin: No. Looking back now I can say definitely I learned a lot from her, but at the time, I don’t think I was thinking about it. I wasn’t thinking about What’s Gaby Cooking as a really lucrative business at that time because I was really focused on cooking for her family, but now I talk a lot about on my blog and my social about being on brand. I know very much what the What’s Gaby Cooking brand is, and I stick to it, and every post or whatever I’m doing somehow threads that through, and looking back and watching Jessica on a late night show or doing a press interview or something, she knows exactly what her brand is, and she’s super intentional about it. So I think subconsciously I picked up on that even though at the time I probably wasn’t thinking about it.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Can you talk about that? I think that’s a really important concept that not a lot of people maybe process through or think about as it relates to what they’re doing. So for you, what does it mean to be on brand, and has that changed over time?
Gaby Dalkin: Yeah, it definitely changed. So the first couple years of What’s Gaby Cooking, I mean I’m pretty positive it was my mom and my grandma reading it every day, and then a couple years in I hired someone to help me really flesh out what the What’s Gaby Cooking brand was, and for me it’s the everyday California girl, and that means you could have smoothies and salads for breakfast and lunch and blow it out on enchiladas and fudgy brownies for dinner. It’s all about balance. It’s all about color and freshness and not taking yourself too seriously, and that’s really what I figured out a couple years into the blog, and ever since then, I’ve stayed very true to that, and that’s when my audience really started growing and my Instagram got bigger and all those things snowballed once I had a very precise message that I was giving to people because I think that allows people to grab on to something and they know exactly what they’re getting when they come to What’s Gaby Cooking.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Can you talk about what that process was like? Did you work with … it was like a consultant, a brand consultant, and what was the takeaway from that?
Gaby Dalkin: Well the takeaway was I knew exactly what it was all along. I just couldn’t formulate it into words by myself, but I hired a brand consultant. We worked together for four weeks, and I basically just word vomited to her hours and hours, like, “This is what I think I stand for,” and we would make lists and group things together, and finally she’s like, “You’re the California girl.” I was like, “You’re right. I am, and I’ve known that this entire time, but you just put it in this beautiful little package for me. Thank you.”
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. For sure, and it’s-
Gaby Dalkin: That’s why I’m paying you.
Bjork Ostrom: In some way it’s somebody holding up a mirror and saying … or not even holding up a mirror but looking through a window and saying, “Here’s what I see after downloading all of this information. In a very simple way, you are the California girl,” and it’s like, “Oh yeah.” For you, you hear that and you’re probably like, “Yes, I am.”
Gaby Dalkin: Yeah, but sometimes we’re so close to it. I’m so close to my personal brand, I don’t always think about these things that I’m saying or doing on a daily basis, but an outsider’s really helpful when it comes to that.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, so can you talk about how that impacts the type of content that you share, knowing that the content that you’re sharing is across the board different? So blog post versus Instagram post versus Instagram story versus SnapChat. All of those things fall under your brand, but it’s a different type of content, so how do you … Do you have different ideas for how that plays out on those different platforms?
Gaby Dalkin: Yeah. It all gets fed differently. So the blog is my longest form content that I do in terms of writing. On Instagram, it’s very like short, sometimes hopefully witty captions. Not always. Then Insta stories and SnapChat, which are my two favorite platforms far and away, are a lot more personal. So it’s a little bit less refined. You see me in the kitchen and I think you see more of my personality that way. I’m not a writer, so writing the blog post is not my favorite part of the whole process, but showing people how to cook and interacting with them on Instagram Live or Facebook Live or something like that, I think I have an opportunity to tell more of a story, and you get to see more excitement about the food and just how easy a recipe can be even though it looks beautiful on the blog. Let’s show you how easy and simple this actually was via live video.
Bjork Ostrom: Can you talk about the interaction piece? I think that’s such a cool thing that you’re able to do with Instagram and SnapChat now where you’re able to engage in a different way. It’s like a real-life comment interaction, but how do you do that and how do you not get overwhelmed by just a bunch of people always following up with you?
Gaby Dalkin: It’s my favorite part of my entire job. I mean I think as food bloggers, we spend a lot of time alone or with one or two other people on our team. So when I actually get the feedback immediately from my audience, I feel like I’m hanging out with my friends, and I think it’s very important to respond to each and every person if they have a question or a comment. On Live sometimes it’s a little bit more difficult because you’re bombarded with questions, especially on Insta Live, and some of them are incredibly inappropriate, so you’d have to block them.
Bjork Ostrom: Pro tip is don’t respond to those.
Gaby Dalkin: No. Have someone helping you that’s blocking really inappropriate things as they come over, but I think it’s really important. I think as people who spend so much time cooking, we forget the little tips and tricks we do along the way, so when someone is watching me make a mushroom risotto and seeing how I clean a mushroom … Instead of getting it wet, I just rub it with a little damp towel or whatever. That’s a mind-blowing thing to some people. So feeding that kind of information to someone and hearing their response and answering any questions, I think you’re empowering them, which gives me joy.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. One of the things that I love that you know about yourself, and I think it’s important to point out to people that are listening is you said, “I’m not a writer naturally. It’s not where I go, and it’s not my happy place.” You didn’t say that, but I’m kind of inferring that from what you said.
Gaby Dalkin: True.
Bjork Ostrom: Knowing that the stories piece, the more live, engaged element, it ties into you saying, “I love cooking under pressure.” Some people would be like, “That would be the worst thing ever,” but for you it’s this fun challenge, and that probably translates into some of the live element of Insta stories and SnapChat as well. So I think it’s really important to point that out to people that are listening that you don’t have to be a content … Being a content creator doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to really do a lot of writing or that has to be your thing. Obviously that’s a piece of it, but finding the places where you can really thrive and understanding personally where that is I think is really helpful, and it’s fun to hear you talk about knowing that about yourself and then leaning in to those different places.
Gaby Dalkin: Yeah. I think it’s important to know what you’re really good at and then do it really well, and there’s so many people out there consuming content who sometimes want video content and sometimes want a hands and pan style video. Sometimes they want to read a really long, beautiful blog post or something along those lines. We consume a crazy amount of content on every day, so there’s room for all of it. You just have to figure out what you’re good at and then go kill it.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. So talk to me a little bit about doing the live content that you’re doing. What does that look like in terms of getting set up, doing the shoot, interacting with people? What’s your advice for people that are interested in doing live content, and are you doing that across all the platforms or is there really one that you’re focusing on?
Gaby Dalkin: Yeah, so I just started this week. I do Instagram Live on Mondays, Facebook Live on Wednesdays, and SnapChat, which is semi-live, on Fridays. So there’s a little bit on every platform because I know not everyone’s on every platform. I have actually very different demographics across those three, and every day, whatever I’m doing, I will make sure I have all the ingredients ready so I don’t look like I’m running with a chicken with my head cut off, and just go for it. I usually with have someone here helping me film and field questions, just hold my phone so they can zoom in on if I’m doing a technique or something with my knife, or they can pull back if I’m just talking to camera and answering people’s questions.
Then I just run through it, start to finish. I answer questions as I go. On Instagram and Facebook Live, the questions pop up for everybody to see. On SnapChat, they come via private message, and I stop as those come over and answer them live because a lot of people sometimes end up having the same questions, and some people watch two hours later, whatever, so I’ll answer their questions in the process. Then at the end of every one, I have a finished dish. It’s normally dinner, and then I say goodbye, and then I sit down and feed it to my husband, and we eat dinner.
Bjork Ostrom: Nice. Yeah. It works out well. That’s a great little process. So have you ever thought about doing both? I’ve seen people that … and I’ve never tried this, but doing both like a Facebook Live and an Instagram Live at the same time, so doing it Monday and Wednesday both of them live. Would that be overwhelming to try and manage both of those?
Gaby Dalkin: I think it’s definitely doable. I just don’t have two phones. I don’t even own an iPad. I guess I could use my husband’s phone, but sometimes he’s at work, so it doesn’t always work out. So I just haven’t ever done that because I don’t have two phones.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, and there’s something about … I’ve been thinking about this … focus and simplicity in content creation, and there’s I think one side would say, “Hey you try and do as much as you can with content and put it into as many places as you can,” and there’s another side where it’s like, “Hey, focus in on what you’re doing, what you’re really good at, in one single platform at a time and really go deep into that.” So I think there’s something to be said for both.
So on the different platforms, do you notice that people respond differently? Are Instagram people responding differently than Facebook or does that look pretty similar when it comes to live video?
Gaby Dalkin: It is a little different. I think Facebook and Instagram are pretty similar. My SnapChat response is crazy. It’s so much fun. My audience on SnapChat is much smaller than it is on Instagram or Facebook, but I get the most engagement there, and that’s because I think I was really diligent about doing my Snapisodes every Friday at noon. I’ve been doing it now for almost … I think maybe almost over two years, and so I have a really solid relationship with these people, and I’m there to answer everything from what I’m cooking to what nail polish I’m wearing to all these different things, and they get to see other people in my life, which are these characters. I mean everyone has questions about cooking. Everyone wants how to adapt a recipe for different dietary needs.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. When I was researching through and looking through before our interview, one of the comments that I saw was somebody said, “My husband and I look forward to Fridays because of your Snapisodes.” I imagine them kind of like Netflix, sitting down with a bowl of popcorn and just being so excited to watch it, and I think that speaks to not only you being skilled at doing that, but also the consistency of people knowing that that will happen, like every Friday at noon this is something that you’re doing, which actually leads into the next question that I had was you …
From the outside you seem like somebody who’s very spontaneous. You are not somebody who’s rigid, but also you seem to be really consistent with your schedule and wondering how, as a creative person, you balance the right brain, left brain where you allow yourself to be spontaneous, creative, but also are consistent with the content and consistent with your audience?
Gaby Dalkin: Yeah. I live and die by a to-do list and a checklist, so I know that I’m posting blog posts six days a week, and I want to try and post on Instagram at least once a day, and Facebook is a little bit more often than that. SnapChat is when I’m doing something a little bit exciting and I can bring people along or if I’m on a trip or something like that. I guess doing this now for the past seven odd years, being a food blogger, I’m always thinking about what’s going to create good content, so I’m just always aware of it.
When my husband and I were in Africa earlier this year, I took everyone on safari with us every day for two weeks, and it was not necessarily on brand, but it was on brand adjacent, and they got to see a whole different part of my life and my husband actually … You actually saw my husband, which he rarely makes an appearance, and the rest of my family and all these different things. So did that answer the question?
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, it does for sure, and I’m the same way where if I didn’t have a to-do list, then I would be totally thrown off. I have a morning checklist, literally everything that I do in the morning, a routine, and then I also build out my day and say, “Okay, these are the things that I’m going to do today,” so I’m the same way where I need that checklist, that consistency." Do you do that just in a note app or what does that look like for you in terms of where you keep track of that?
Gaby Dalkin: Well, I have an app called TeuxDeux. It’s T-E-U-X-D-E-U-X, and I’m obsessed with it, but I will also say one of the reasons I can stay consistent is because we shoot our content for What’s Gaby Cooking … Yeah, so the first couple years of What’s Gaby Cooking, I was doing everything on my own, shooting, styling, the whole nine yards, and then three years into that, I brought on a team, Matt, who’s a photographer, and Adam, his husband, is a food stylist, and so we shoot all the content four to six weeks out, and on the wall in the What’s Gaby Cooking office, I know what’s going up on what day, so if something comes up like this … Yesterday or two days ago I had to go to Sonoma and host a golf tournament for a company I work with all the time. I can do that because I’m not beholden to creating content for the blog that specific day.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. When you talk about doing your videos, Lindsay and I were watching you. I think you were on a golf cart, cruising around, doing a hole-by-hole analysis, which was pretty awesome. So I think people are always interested to hear routines, scheduling, things like that, the process that you use. So you have a calendar, you’re shooting four to six weeks out, which I think is really interesting, and also now you’re working with Matt and Adam, Matt is a photographer, Adam is a stylist, and can you talk about what that’s like? Are you doing a bunch of recipes in a day or two and then going back and then doing the posts more in real-time or all you also then writing that content in batch and scheduling that out?
Gaby Dalkin: Sure. So I develop all the recipes for What’s Gaby Cooking in my own personal kitchen. I test everything at least four to five times before it goes up on the blog, and then I will send probably 10 to 12 recipes to them at a time. We’ll grocery shop, and then one day we’ll all meet at the studio with everyone’s respective assistance, and we bang out at least 10 recipes. Then we shoot all of them, and then I bank all that content, and then I write blog posts the night before or the morning of when I’m posting them. So the stories are always very current, but we might have shot it four weeks ago.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, so the recipe’s been established, the shoot’s already been done, but in terms of the content around it, that’s going to be a little bit more relevant and closer to the actual publish date, which makes sense that you’re not waiting three weeks and then maybe it sounds not relevant when you publish it.
Gaby Dalkin: Exactly. Especially because there’s so much going on in our world. I want to be respectful. If something terrible were to happen or if some … Whatever it is. I don’t want to be like, “Hey, look at this prosciutto and melon salad.” I try and be a little aware of what’s happening.
Bjork Ostrom: I feel like that is always the fear in scheduling things too far out is that … I feel like right now the most relevant things are the awful hurricanes that have happened. I don’t know what the analogy would be, but just being informed of current events, maybe making mention of that, or not making mention of something within the content as it relates to things that are happening within the news or even with your own life, if that makes a lot of sense.
Gaby Dalkin: Yeah, and I think it makes you really human to share that kind of stuff. For example, with this last hurricane, it went right over my grandparent’s house, and they were in real danger. We didn’t think they were, because we thought it was going to hit on the East coast, but then it ended up hitting on the West coast and they were like point-blank, and so I shared that on Insta stories, and I was like, “You guys, I’m really concerned about this. If anyone’s in the Fort Myers area, let me know. I’m thinking about you,” and the response I got was insane. I think, because a lot of times people are just scrolling through their Insta feeds or whatever and they’re looking at beautiful pictures. They don’t always think about the person behind it, and so I think it really brings this nice human quality that we get to share … It’s less curated and I think it makes it more approachable.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, and I think in general it makes a better world where people can be transparent, authentic, and realize, “Oh, this is somebody that I can relate to,” on the other side as opposed to a feed that is potentially seems like that life or that lifestyle isn’t attainable.
Gaby Dalkin: Absolutely.
Bjork Ostrom: So can you talk about the … You talked about sharing some personal stories tied into the hurricane, your grandparents. How do you decide how personal to get? I know that’s something that people process through a lot and they think about not wanting to get too personal but also wanting to be authentic and connect with their audience. How do you know where that line is and how do you approach that personally?
Gaby Dalkin: Yeah. I think it’s just really dependent on how comfortable you are sharing whatever story it is. I don’t have children, but I know some people choose not to share the routines with their children because that’s their lives or whatever, or if someone’s having trouble in their relationship, they might not share that because that’s really personal and there’s another person involved that maybe doesn’t want the spotlight. I just share things that I’m comfortable sharing and that I know my family or my husband isn’t going to be like, “Really, Gaby? You did that today?”
Some things I definitely keep sacred, like when I’m on a girls’ trip with my girlfriends, I’m not Insta storying it the entire time. I might throw up a picture here and there but I’m really spending time with my friends and just bonding with them and having a good time. So I definitely don’t share everything, but I love sharing, and I think people really enjoy hearing these stories. It’s whatever you’re comfortable with in my opinion.
Bjork Ostrom: For sure. A few more questions about social media just because you do such a good job with it and obviously a really important piece of building a business online. So one of the things that you say on your site is that you’re obsessively on social media, and I feel like it takes a little bit of an obsessive response to social media in order to do it really well. Not across the board, but do you feel like for social media, whether it be Instagram, SnapChat, Facebook, is that something that you’ve had to learn and apply and craft, or do you feel like because of who you are that you’ve been able to fit into the social media world really well? That relates to this idea that I process through or think about being runners, and they say that you can only train somebody to run so well. Runners are runners. I’m curious if you think that’s true for people that are especially successful with social media. In some way it’s just part of their DNA, not something that they’ve had to learn.
Gaby Dalkin: That’s a great question. I mean I think when we all started blogging, we were all just behind our computers. Instagram didn’t exist. Twitter barely existed. We weren’t doing video work at the time, so you could really just hang out behind your computer and do your thing and create content. I am by nature a very social person, and I like talking to people and I smile at people when I walk down the street in L.A., and they all think I’m crazy because they’re just like, “Why are you smiling at me?” I’m alone a lot of the time at home when I’m recipe testing, so I love interacting with people on whatever platform it is.
People SnapChat me from their kitchens on the weekend when they’re making my recipes, and I will snap them back with my face and try and troubleshoot a problem or whatever it is. I think, yeah, it might just be in my DNA, but I also think it can be learned if you want to learn it.
Bjork Ostrom: What do you feel like the most important pieces to learn for people that feel like they’re not natural at it? What are the most important elements they need to implement?
Gaby Dalkin: I would say it’s about repetition. When I first got on camera, it was bad. It was really bad, but I did it for six months. I would just film myself cooking, and I’d be like, “Oh my gosh. You say like every other word, Gaby. Clean that up.” Watching it back and learning from myself was really helpful, and I think maybe if it’s not something you’re comfortable with in terms of interaction, setting aside an hour every day at the end of the day or in the middle of the day, when you wake up, whatever it is, to just respond to people and just make it part of your checklist or to-do list or you can split it up, 15 minutes here, 15 minutes there, and just write back. No one’s, for the most part, going to get mad at you if they don’t like your response. I think it’s more important that they see there’s actually someone on the other side of their screen.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, and Lindsay, so my wife, Lindsay, food blog, Pinch of Yum, creates content for that blog. We were recently talking about that, and she said she’s going through this shift where she’s really viewing her time on Instagram or creating stories for Instagram … She doesn’t do SnapChat, but same idea as work, and it seems like such an obvious response. Well of course this is what you do. You’re a content creator, influencer, whatever you’d want to call it, but sometimes I think societally and as a culture we view holding your phone and doing stuff on it as not work, but it is such an important part of the work that you do and the work that Lindsay does, and so really viewing that as dedicated work time so when you say setting aside an hour of time and just doing whatever it is that you want to do, whether that’s engaging with people on Instagram or creating video I think is really valuable and scheduling that time and giving it the time that it deserves and that you need in order to really grow. I think that’s a huge takeaway.
Gaby Dalkin: Yeah, and you know what’s really interesting about that point you just made is I can’t tell you how many friends of mine from college and high school have seen what I do and they’re like, “Oh my gosh. That looks like so much fun. I’m going to start a fashion blog,” and they quit within four weeks because what I don’t … Our lives look like fun. They look like we’re playing house all day or we’re always on vacation. I do a lot of press trips to South America and Europe and stuff like that. I work with a couple different travel boards. They look like vacation because it is my job to make them look like vacation, but they don’t always feel like vacation. So it’s work. This is our full-time job. I’m supporting my family on this income, so yeah, I think it is part of our job to … I mean not everyone has to create Insta stories or SnapChat or whatever it is, but whatever we are choosing to invest our time in, that is actually work. It just so happens that we’ve managed to do that around ourselves and our lives.
Bjork Ostrom: I love that phrase, and I will use that and give you credit for it in the future where you said, “It’s my job to make it look like a vacation.” I don’t know if you’ve used that phrase before-
Gaby Dalkin: I have, yeah.
Bjork Ostrom: … or if it just kind of came out, but that is so spot-on, and I think it’s such a good thing for people to keep in mind as they look and observe and say, “Oh, this would be the best thing ever,” but you’re like, “Well, it is really great, and it’s awesome, and also it’s work.”
Gaby Dalkin: I mean there are plenty of times where I eat hummus for dinner and that’s it. My meals aren’t always beautiful and colorful and stuff like that, and these trips that I go on, I’m going from 7:00 am until midnight. I am being force fed sometimes, and it looks beautiful and I will take everyone along for the ride and share it, but it’s a lot. You come home and you’re exhausted.
Bjork Ostrom: Can you share just maybe a few examples at a high level behind the scenes what that might look like and in ways that people might not fully understand?
Gaby Dalkin: For the travel portion of it?
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.
Gaby Dalkin: Sure. So for a number of years, I worked with a South American airline company that took me down to all sorts of places in South America. They flew us first class. They put us in the five star hotels. It was incredible, but we would wake up at 7:00 in the morning and we would be going until midnight because you’re there on their dime and they’re paying you, and you have to see everything. They want to cram in an entire day, so you have breakfast and an event and an event and shopping and you’re meeting this person and that person and then lunch. Then you do that all over again, and then you sit down, which I mean this might sound a little obnoxious, but you sit down to a 17-course meal and that’s four hours long. It’s not pleasurable because you’re full by the end of the day.
Bjork Ostrom: And you’re potentially with … It’s not like you’re with your friends or with your family.
Gaby Dalkin: Right. Yeah. You’re with colleagues.
Bjork Ostrom: In some ways, it could be viewed as a four-hour business meeting with really good food.
Gaby Dalkin: Absolutely, and you have to create content the whole time, so you have to be shooting everything and thinking about different angles and what’s going to be the best storyline for this, and then you get home, you go to bed, and you have to do it again in six hours, and you have to get on a plane and go to this other location. So don’t get me wrong. I love my job and I feel very fortunate that that’s part of it, but it is not always vacation.
Bjork Ostrom: It’s the difference. It’s not saying not being grateful. It’s saying realistically here’s what goes into it, and I think something can still be really hard work. It can be exhausting. It can not be a vacation and still be something that you totally love and enjoy doing, but it’s just looking at it from a realistic perspective and saying, “Hey, it’s not a vacation. It’s my job to make it look like a vacation,” which I think is great.
Gaby Dalkin: Yeah. I was at a conference this past weekend and we were talking about boundaries or balance and how you balance your time on social media and all that, and I said, “I don’t have a lot of boundaries,” because I will talk to people and communicate with them on SnapChat or Insta stories or wherever it is all weekend long, and I’m working 24 hours a day except when I’m sleeping, but the thing is is I never feel like I’m actually working because I love what I do so much, it’s okay.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, and Lindsay and I have said that too where we said we have a really strange job in that we’re always working and we’re never working, and obviously there are things that come along with it where it’s like, “Okay, this is definitely work, feels like work, and it’s the grind of owning a business,” but also there’s this weird reality of from when you get up until the end of the day, there’s always things that are happening that are related to your work. It’s not like you have a hard end time and then you transition into your personal time. There’s always some type of work to be done.
Gaby Dalkin: Totally.
Bjork Ostrom: Really interesting and appreciate your insight on that. That was really fun, and for me, a big takeaway as well. So curious to hear you talk about the brand side of things and specifically working with other brands, and what I’d love to hear you talk about is this relationship that you have with Williams and Sonoma, and you recently released a new product line with them. So curious to hear you talk about how that relationship came about, and what went into that and how that works as a blogger, content creator, but also now you as a brand partnering with another brand.
Gaby Dalkin: Sure. So I am an open book, so I will be very transparent about this entire process. I about two years ago decided that the next stage of What’s Gaby Cooking should be a product line or some sort of product. I wanted people to have What’s Gaby Cooking in their kitchen. I can’t be in everyone’s kitchen physically. I can only be there digitally. So I wanted everyone to be able to buy something that I produce and have it at home. So I called a couple different places and I said, “Hi. Here’s what I want to do. Do you want to do it together?” Some people said no, and Williams Sonoma was like, “This is really interesting. Can you come up to San Francisco?” So I went up to San Francisco. I cooked lunch for 30 executives or whoever was there for the day, and I was like, “This is what I’m doing. This is what What’s Gaby Cooking’s all about. Here’s my demographic. Here’s who I touch. Here’s my message. Take it or leave it.” They were like, “This is incredible. Let’s do it together,” and I was like, “Great.”
So we started a very new process for me. I had never done product development before, and they are the best partner to work with. I’m obsessed with them, and it was super collaborative. They had never really done a successful salsa line before, and my first cookbook was all about avocados. I’m from Arizona. I’m a self-proclaimed salsa snob, so it was a really natural … It was natural to come to salsas and a guacamole starter, and I developed all the recipes in my kitchen. I sent them to corporate Williams Sonoma. They tested them there. We found a producer and manufacturer and a shipper, and they launched in April.
Bjork Ostrom: So first important question, if people want to purchase them, can they get them in Williams and Sonoma, like any retail store?
Gaby Dalkin: They’re in every Williams Sonoma domestically and in Canada, and they’re available online as well.
Bjork Ostrom: Awesome. So that’s good. We’ll pick some of those up. We are actually, and I’ll try and remember to do this … I’m getting a new computer tonight. There’s also a Williams and Sonoma at the Apple store at the mall, so we’ll pick some up on our way home. So some questions to dig into that a little bit. First of all, you talked at a high level your desire to do product lines, but what was the reason behind doing that? Was it more personal, like, “I want to be able to connect with my audience in a way that my digital brand can’t,” or was it a business decision of saying, “I want to expand this business outside of digital and have a physical product”?
Gaby Dalkin: I think it was a combination of both of those. I was in business school for most of college after I dropped out of pre-med. I want What’s Gaby Cooking to live offline as well. I know the heart of my brand is going to be online forever, but I also want to connect with people in real life, so whether that’s doing events or dinners or having a salsa line or some sort of product line that people can eat that actually came from my kitchen that they didn’t have to make, I knew that was part of my long-term play.
Bjork Ostrom: In a follow-up question, to dig deeper in, so you had mentioned reaching out to these people. How do you find those contacts? Is that the contact page at Williams and Sonoma or friend of a friend that you know that has their contact-
Gaby Dalkin: I had a friend that was working there in the test kitchen, and she introduced me to the head test kitchen, Amanda, and Amanda said, “Come on up.” Amanda Haas is a Arizona girl. She went to U of A. I’m from Tucson. We’ve met multiple times, and she said, “I can’t make any promises, but come up and we’ll do a lunch and see what happens and I’ll invite everyone.” So yeah, there was a personal connection there, but I think people can reach out on social media and find the right person for who they’re trying to connect with, whether that’s for a collaboration like what I just did with Williams Sonoma or for trying to go find sponsored work with a brand. Reaching out on Twitter you’ll usually nine times out of ten get the right contact information.
Bjork Ostrom: Got it. With Williams and Sonoma specifically, you said they were really interested in it and they were excited about it. What specifically was it that they were excited about? Was it the type of product? Was it you being able to promote it as somebody with influence? I’m curious to know what they were excited about.
Gaby Dalkin: Great question. I never actually asked them that, but my guess would be I have a much younger demographic than they do, so I think that was of interest to them, and I think working with someone fresh and new and who … like I haven’t been on Food Network or anything like that, so I think this was a huge trial for them, and the salsas ended up selling out. They’re all back in stock now. It was a huge success, and I don’t think any of us knew that. I’m not a fashion blogger. I don’t move product on a daily basis, so I didn’t know what my conversion was. So it was pretty cool all the way around.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, and then in terms of a relationship with Williams and Sonoma, and you don’t have to share specifics, but does it work like a book where you say, “Hey, we’re going to partner on this,” and then for every single salsa that sells, there’s a split that happens between or are they leasing your brand in order to put in on there? For people that are interested as they get into the contract stage, what would your advice be for them and what should they expect?
Gaby Dalkin: I’m trying to remember back to our contract. I have a killer lawyer who helped me with all this, but they licensed What’s Gaby Cooking and the recipe, and it’s a royalty type situation. So for every jar of salsa, I get a percentage.
Bjork Ostrom: Sure. So we will buy 10 jars of salsa tonight.
Gaby Dalkin: Thank you.
Bjork Ostrom: It reminds me of … So I did music in college and put the music on Spotify and all of these streaming services, and I’ll still to this day get a check for seven cents. It’s this leftover royalties from these songs that are playing because I think they’ll get 10 streams.
Gaby Dalkin: It’s just like surprise money.
Bjork Ostrom: Exactly. Well that’s really cool. Is that something that you think that you’ll continue to do, and if so, do you have ideas of what that will be, the next product line or TBD, stay tuned?
Gaby Dalkin: Yeah. We’re already working on the second launch. I can’t say what it is yet, but we are knee-deep in talks, and then I think we’ll continue to expand from there. I’ve got pretty big plans for What’s Gaby Cooking. I think we live in the wild, wild West. No one’s done this before. How long has Pinch of Yum been around for?
Bjork Ostrom: 2010, April 2010.
Gaby Dalkin: Yeah, so same here. So we’ve both been around for seven years. There isn’t someone who’s done this for 17 years where we can follow their career path. We’re blazing our own trail.
Bjork Ostrom: Yes, and that’s one of the things that’s so exciting about it and also potentially overwhelming because you have all of this potential and it’s really exciting but there isn’t necessarily a clear path to follow. So related to that, wondering … There’s a lot of decisions that come in every single day. You’re having to make really significant decisions, “What is your relationship with Williams and Sonoma,” and small decisions as well like, “Will this recipe work if I use a certain type of flour instead?” All of these different decisions that you’re having to make throughout the day. I’m terrible with recipes, so I was searching so hard and I came up short, but point being you’re having to make a lot of decisions every day. As a business owner, do you have any advice for people that feel like they’re overwhelmed by the crushing amount of decisions and things that they have to do in a day?
Gaby Dalkin: Yes. Two things. One, I would say nothing is life-threatening. The worst that can happen is it doesn’t go well, and you have to redo something or if you ask for something and someone says no, you move on and you ask the next person. I think that’s really helpful. The second one is to surround yourself with really incredible people, whether that’s a management team, an agency, coworkers, people that you employ, or just people that are familiar with your brand. For example, I will call my mom, who is not employed by What’s Gaby Cooking, although she probably should be for … She should be a therapist on retainer … for advice. I’m like, “Is this brand … I don’t think this brand is on brand for What’s Gaby Cooking. I don’t know if I would actually … ” Help bounce ideas off of someone like that. That way it takes all the pressure off of me because … or I’ll call Matt and Adam. I’ll be like, “X, Y, and Z wants to work together,” and Adam’s like, “Absolutely not. That is not a California girl. You’re crazy. You’re off your rocker.”
So having people around you like that that you can have this open dialogue with I think is really important, whether it’s someone that you’re actually paying or your significant other, your sister, your brother, whatever. I think that’s really key.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah the sounding board, somebody to help field some of those decisions to bounce it off of them. I think that makes a lot of sense. Can you talk about other people that you would have on your team? It sounds like you have some really incredible people. Obviously talked about Matt and Adam. You have resources in family and friends. You said you had a great attorney. Are there other people that you’re working with that are part of your team?
Gaby Dalkin: Yeah. So I do have Matt and Adam. I have my lawyer, who I’m obsessed with. I’m trying to set him up with my sister. I need him to be a part of my family forever. Free legal advice. Who else? I have a manager, and she has a team so she helps negotiate all of my contracts for brand work, and there’s a team of four of them within that little segment, so they’re in contact with me every day about pitches that come in. If something comes directly to me, I will … I’m really hands-on with What’s Gaby Cooking. I know a lot of people that have agents that just … don’t want to interface with brands. They just want the creative brief and then to do their work. I want to be on the phone. For every kick-off call, I want to talk to the brand before I signup to make sure we’re on the same page. I never want to sign on to a campaign that I know I can’t deliver the end result that they’re going for. So I’m on the phone with them all the time talking about ideas and having calls with brands and seeing if this is going to work for What’s Gaby Cooking.
So I think besides that … Oh, and I have someone that helps me with social media. So I do all my own. No one touches Instagram or SnapChat except for me, but I do have help scheduling some of my content on Facebook and Twitter.
Bjork Ostrom: Yep, and that’s the same for Pinch of Yum. Lindsay is … Instagram is really something that she’s excited about, likes to be there. We have some people that help with video so it’s not necessarily Lindsay doing that, but she’s always writing the captions and doing that for Instagram.
Gaby Dalkin: Oh, good point. I do have people helping me with video because if I was doing that on my own, it would just be SnapChat everywhere.
Bjork Ostrom: Can you talk about how you found the people that are acting as managers, kind of agent manager person?
Gaby Dalkin: Yeah. They actually reached out to me, and I was incredibly nervous, and I’ve told them this before so if they’re listening this is nothing new to them. When you’re running your entire company by yourself, giving a percentage of every paycheck away to a management company or an agency is really scary, but I was just like, “I’ve been in business school. What would I tell someone else if they were asking me for this advice?” I was like, “Giving 10 to 15% of something away is better than 0% of nothing.” So for me, it was a game-changing experience to start working with them because they took all the back-and-forth nitty gritty off of my plate so I could just be there for creative calls with brands. I wasn’t negotiating financial terms. I don’t want to be that person that does that. I don’t think I … That’s just not who I am, so having someone that can speak to that on my behalf has been amazing.
Bjork Ostrom: I think as the creator, it’s nice to protect yourself from the negotiations of what the price of the creation should be. It’s really nice to have a third-party person defending you as opposed to you having to defend yourself. It just feels more natural.
Gaby Dalkin: Absolutely, and it doesn’t have to be a manager, an agent. It can be someone that you hire that works underneath you that just deals with all the back-and-forth with brands. Just because you have a … A fancy manager and agency is not necessarily mandatory to succeed.
Bjork Ostrom: For sure. So we’re coming to the end here, Gaby. I would love it if you share two things, two questions I’d like to end with. Number one, if you were to go back and do it again, what would you do differently? So let’s say if you were starting over today, what would you do differently than your story as it is today or said differently, what are the most important things if you were to start today?
Gaby Dalkin: Well, I think, and I tell people this all the time, nobody can tell your story but you. Whatever you do, you have your own story and you have to own that. So I would say, figure out your voice, figure out what you stand for, and then go out there and do it. Don’t wait for your blog to look perfect. Don’t wait for your photography to be perfect. Nobody cares. Just start. You have to start somewhere, and then you can build on that.
Bjork Ostrom: That’s great. My second was going to be advice for somebody that’s starting today, but it’s close enough and I feel like that covers it really well. So what I’ll end with is I would love to hear from you where people can follow along with what you’re doing across the different platforms, and also if you’d do one more plug for your salsa and your guacamole.
Gaby Dalkin: Yeah. So What’s Gaby Cooking is ww … blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Www.whatsgabycooking.com. I’m at What’s Gaby Cookin across all social media because Instagram cut me off so I didn’t have-
Bjork Ostrom: Yes. For sure. Isn’t that the worst?
Gaby Dalkin: There’s no G. Now I think you’re allowed to, but whatever. It’s too late to go back, soo that’s where you can find me online. You can find my product in store or online at all Williams Sonoma locations, and yeah. I think that … Was that it?
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, I think so. That’s awesome, and we’ll be sure to link to those in the show notes for the podcast as well. So Gaby, thanks so much for coming on the podcast. Really great to chat with you.
Gaby Dalkin: Thank you. This was so much fun.
Bjork Ostrom: Thanks. That’s a wrap for this episode. One more big thank you to Gaby for coming on the podcast. I will say this, since we did the interview, I went out and I bought some of her salsa and guacamole starter at Williams Sonoma and indeed it is wonderful, so be sure to go and pick it up if you have a Williams Sonoma close by, and if you don’t, you can order it online, and if you’re international, then next time you’re in the US, be sure to stop by at a Williams and Sonoma … or Williams Sonoma. Williams and Sonoma, Williams Sonoma, no and, and pick some up. Thank you for listening to this podcast. Obviously we wouldn’t do this podcast if it wasn’t for you, the person that listens in every single day or every single week when we have a new episode, and it means so much to us that you would tune in. We really appreciate it. On that note, I am signing off from St. Paul, Minnesota. Make a great week.
I am wondering if Gaby can share who she used for her branding consult? Thanks in advance.
I’m wondering this too!