Thursday, June 9, 2011

Renee Kohlman: sweetsugarbean

The art of food – from gardening and cooking to blogging and photography

Food is such a sensual pleasure. My mouth starts to water as I read about rich chocolate desserts or admire a photograph of a plate heaped high with fruits and vegetables. So it’s no surprise that food blogs are popular.

Renee Kohlman’s blog, sweetsugarbean, is delicious. Renee loves desserts so she appeals to anyone with a sweet tooth. She’s also a strong believer in using fresh, local produce and is a regular shopper at the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market. Her enthusiasm and enjoyment of all life has to offer is contagious, and she’s a wonderful photographer.

The fine art of cooking
Renee grew up in Saskatchewan moving to Montreal to attend art school at Concordia University.

Now came the tough part – finding a job. Renee wanted something creative, that she could feel passionate about. She wanted to enjoy life as well as earn a living.

Renee had always loved to cook so when a friend suggested cooking school, it made a lot of sense and she thoroughly enjoyed her two years at NAIT in Edmonton.

Heading north
Renee’s first job was at a wilderness fishing camp in the Yukon, and she spent four summers there cooking for a staff of 16 to 30 people. “The Yukon is magic,” says Renee. “Go at the end of August or the beginning of September when the bugs are gone. The colours and the northern lights are amazing.”

Renee then moved on to a full-time job at The Arbour Restaurant & Tea Room in Edmonton’s Rutherford House and enjoyed the creativity and independence of developing the lunch and high tea menu.

Renee was at The Arbour for four and a half years, but family ties were calling her home to Saskatoon.

Moving home
Three years ago, Renee purchased her brother’s house in Pleasant Hill, just a few blocks away from her mother’s house. Her sister was having a baby, and her brother lived nearby. It was good to be home and surrounded by family.

Renee soon settled into a job as executive chef for a local catering company. She planted a big garden this spring and, although she enjoys the occasional trip back to Edmonton, Saskatoon is definitely home.

Writing about food
Given Renee’s degree in Fine Arts, it’s not surprising that her enjoyment of food has expanded to include a blog. The primary hurdle was feeling more comfortable at the computer, but once sweetsugarbean was up and running in January 2011, Renee added a Facebook page.

I shamefully admitted that I enjoyed Renee’s blog but was unlikely to make any of the recipes. Renee reassured me by saying that food blog readers rarely make the recipes. They enjoy looking at the photographs and following people’s lives. As a result, Renee always tries to provide some back story about what’s going on in her life so that people can feel connected.

Renee says that about half her followers on Facebook are friends while the other half are strangers who are becoming friends. “It’s really neat to get comments,” says Renee. “You develop a rapport.”

The majority of Renee’s posts are recipes, but every few months she posts a restaurant review, and she includes some additional information and sneak peeks on her Facebook page.

Food photography
Renee says she has an idea in her mind of what she wants her photographs to look like, but she may take as many as 150 shots to come up with 6 or 7 shots for her blog. She has successfully submitted a number of photographs to Tastespotting, an extremely popular food photography site.

(A recent article in the Los Angeles Times reports that TasteSpotting receives over 5 million clicks each month and the site receives as many as 1,000 submissions a day.)

Renee enjoys blogging and reading other people’s blogs. And occasionally she weaves a dream of making it big like Julie Powell (Julie Julia) or The Pioneer Woman whose food blog has turned into a book and a movie. “She’s just a Mum with four kids in Oklahoma, but now she’s a millionaire,” exclaims Renee.

My dream is a little simpler. I hope that one day I’ll actually eat one of Renee’s amazing desserts. In the meantime, I’ll drool over the photographs.

Postscript: From Blogs to Books, a recent post on The Guardian’s Word of Mouth blog, is an interesting account of what it takes to turn your blog into a book.

Photos by Renee Kohlman: Curried Quinoa Salad with Mango and Black Beans, Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie, Red Velvet Cupcakes

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great article. I, too, hope she makes it big. She is a fabulous woman.