America at work
From Blogs to Riches: 6 Cooking Enthusiasts Turned Chefpreneurs
Free Enterprise Staff | March 30, 2015

At-home cooking has not been the same since Julia Child published “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” in 1961. Part how-to, part encyclopedia, the expansive cookbook introduced the “servantless American cook” to an entirely new kind of cuisine and way of cooking. Entrepreneurial chefs have taken their cue from Julia ever since, with today’s ‘chefpreneurs’ earning fame—and sometimes fortune—from their cooking empires.

It’s not hard to understand why chefpreneurs are so popular. There’s something intoxicating and strangely calming about cooking shows: For instance, it’s physiologically impossible to watch Ina Garten’s “Barefoot Contessa” and not slip into a state of serenity and contemplative tranquility. Who else in your life can help you achieve inner peace and simultaneously teach you how to prepare a three-course meal in under 30 minutes?

Yet today’s chefpreneurs aren’t merely confined to television personalities. They’re also online, in the form of cooking blogs and home cook-focused websites. Among this latest crop of chefpreneurs, some have even managed to parlay their web-based influence into real world endorsements and book deals.

Have we convinced you to start your own cooking blog? Before you purchase a domain name, check out some of the chefpreneurs we admire.

Deb Perelman, the brains behind  Smitten Kitchen

Deb Perelman is the kind of servantless American chef that Julia Child was talking about more than 60 years ago. The New York City native chronicles her home cooking adventures through her Smitten Kitchen website.

Yet what started as a simple blog has become a truly successful brand unto itself. Perelman, who writes about her attempts to cook everything from simple appetizers to intensive French entrees, has attracted a fiercely loyal fan base since she first launched the site. The more than 800 recipes now found on Smitten Kitchen attract thousands of comments each from her devoted readers, whom Perelman treats like old friends, replying to them individually.

These same fans have made Perelman a household name to a certain group of at-home cooks, helping her gain the notoriety necessary to publish a cookbook, appropriately titled “The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook.” Not bad for someone who told The New York Times that she had never trained as a chef or worked in a restaurant.

Ina Garten and her  Barefoot Contessa  brand

Ina Garten is the quintessential chefpreneur, so there’s no way we could not have included her in this list. Garten began her career as an analyst in the Carter White House before starting a catering business in New York that ultimately paved the way for her popular television show and her series of best-selling cookbooks.

Garten, who released her ninth cookbook, “Make It Ahead,” late last year, is extremely careful about how she grows her brand and is very hands-on when it comes to her image and business—something all entrepreneurs can relate to.

“I’ve been asked to do everything from dining tables to clothing — who would want me to do their clothing? — to soy sauce,” she wrote on the Food Network Blog. “I don’t have a lot of people around me,” she added. “I do it all myself, so that limits what I can do. But for me, I find that very satisfying.”

Sarah Kieffer, the creator of the Vanilla Bean Blog

Recently voted the best baking and desserts blog by readers of Saveur Magazine, the Vanilla Bean Blog is the brainchild of Sarah Kieffer.

The self-taught baking whiz kid writes her extremely popular baking blog from Minneapolis, Minnesota, where she lives with her husband and two children. The home baker’s website has become a fan favorite thanks in large part to her appealing writing style, and the beautiful photographs she takes. Like fellow blogger Perelman, Kieffer has cultivated a very close relationship with her fans. She’s also leveraged her blog’s success into other endeavors, contributing recipes to popular cooking and baking sites and expanding her brand.

Vivian Howard and Ben Knight, the wife-husband team on “A Chef’s Life” 

Fans of the PBS television show “A Chef’s Life” will immediately be familiar with Vivian Howard and Ben Knight, who left behind New York City to start a farm-to-table restaurant in Kinston, North Carolina.

Since opening that restaurant in 2006, Howard—who trained with some of the country’s most esteemed chefs during her time in New York—has continually increased her brand awareness while building relationships with farmers and local business owners in the small town she now calls home. Now in its second season, “A Chef’s Life” remains one of the most popular shows on PBS and continues to chronicle Howard and her husband’s ongoing entrepreneurial journey.

Gina Homolka and her Skinnytaste empire

Much like Perelman, Gina Homolka has created a sweeping, cooking blog-based empire.

Skinnytaste, the cooking blog Homolka founded, has provided healthy eating recipes to readers around the world since it was created in 2008. It now garners some 3 million unique monthly visitors and has spawned a sister site, Skinny Bits, where Homolka offers health tips and answers her readers’ cooking-related questions.

The healthy, moderate approach to eating that Homolka promotes on her site has clearly resonated with her voracious readers: Published last year, “The Skinnytaste Cookbook: Light on Calories, Big on Flavor,” was a #1 best seller on Amazon.com.