The Food Blog That Sparked Delancey Celebrates 10 Years

Award-winning Orangette has helped Molly Wizenberg land two books, two restaurants and a husband
| Posted
 
 

Girl starts food blog. Girl meets boy through blog. Blog wins awards; girl and boy get married and start a restaurant. Girl gets magazine contract and publishes two books. Girl and boy have a baby and start another restaurant. Girl continues writing blog.

If this story of Molly Wizenberg’s last ten years is making you salivate as much as her pizza does, you’re in good company: Droves of foodie bloggers want to emulate what seems to be, let’s say it, quite a delicious existence. Wizenberg’s own take, as published on her blog, Orangette, is that the last decade has been “insane, mostly in a good way”—and that none of these "happy accidents" (she never imagined the blog would cook up so much) have come without tremendous work. This Throwback Thursday we look at the site that started it all—and share the blogger’s advice to writers wanting to build their own homemade lives.

Butterscotch Pots de Crème in a January 2008 Orangette post; photo credit: Molly Wizenberg

Named for chocolate-dipped orange peels, Orangette was born in July 2004, just after Wizenberg left a Ph.D. program in cultural anthropology at the University of Washington. Her father, a doctor, had died of an aggressive cancer a year and a half earlier, and when he died, he was 73 and by choice, still working.

“I liked cultural anthropology but I didn’t love it enough,” Wizenberg says. “The thing I wanted to do was cook and immerse myself in all things food.”

Raised in "a home of cooks" in Oklahoma, Wizenberg had had a strong interest in home cooking and writing both since childhood, and on a writer friend’s advice, she decided to start a blog. “In creating this public place to write, I found a way to make myself accountable. It helped me take small steps toward the life I wanted."

In the beginning, she wrote what she calls “pseudo-restaurant reviews, poetry-esque stuff, [and] ecstatic accounts of sausage” with no real strategy. In time, though, she realized she enjoyed writing posts that told more stories. “I started to realize that what interested me most was not really food; it was the lens food gave me of looking at my life. I’m not that interested in analyzing food to death . . . [but] in food as a marker of our days.”

In 2004, the world of food blogging was much smaller—when Wizenberg started Orangette, she was reading Chocolate and Zucchini, then stumbled on a few other sites that she liked worldwide and grew relationships with those bloggers. This shared support felt organic, not a concerted effort to grow her readership, but it grew anyway: In 2005, Orangette won Best Overall Food Blog in the Well Fed Network 2005 Food Blog Awards, and in 2009, it won Best Food Blog in the World by the Times of London. Editors started contacting her through the site with magazine writing offers, including a monthly column for Bon Appetit from 2008 to 2011.

How has she done it? Not by posting daily, for starters—for the majority of Orangette’s tenure, Wizenberg says she has posted at most once a week. Instead, the key to progress has been to read and write a lot, and work to “keep matching my own standards,” which continue to escalate. Above all, she says, “I always try to write what I would want to read, and I think I have made an implicit agreement with my readers that when I do post, it will be worth their while.”

Alongside her writing, the other defining part of Orangette is Wizenberg’s photos, which she has also worked steadily to improve. She has no formal photography training, and her first photo on the blog appeared after about a month of writing, in August 2004.

 

Wizenberg's first photo on Orangette:an "ill-tempered Parisian flan"; photo credit: Molly Wizenberg

After taking digital photos from 2004 to 2008, Wizenberg switched to a film camera for better quality of light, and she believes that shooting manually in this way has taught her a lot about the craft. She has only very recently switched back to digital again for its speed, now that she’s juggling a two-year-old. 

Wizenberg and Pettit's daughter June in an October 2012 Orangette post; photo credit: Molly Wizenberg

On the topic of Wizenberg’s family, they are a particularly charming part of the Orangette story, as her husband (and restaurant co-owner) Brandon Pettit found her through the blog. Pettit was living in New York and a friend turned him onto Orangette with the line “I found a woman for you.” In agreement, Pettit emailed Wizenberg in April 2005 and outlined what they had in common: they had both lived and studied in Paris, they were both in their early twenties, they both loved to cook.

They began emailing and three weeks later, Pettit tagged along on a business trip his dad was taking to Seattle. He moved to Seattle in July 2006 and they married a year later (three years to the day after she started Orangette). In 2009, the couple opened their pizza joint Delancey and in the same year, 2012, they opened their craft bar Essex and (three weeks later!) had their daughter, June.

Wizenberg and Pettit's wedding in an August 2007 post; photo credit: Michèle Waite

Through it all, Wizenberg has blogged on, though her style of posts have changed some. For her first six years, she says she “stumbled into a formula” that worked: She came up with a recipe she wanted to share (mostly adapted from cookbooks) and created a context for it. Around 2010, when life was hectic with the just-opened Delancey, however, she made an effort to drop these rules she had created and just let herself write.

Delancey in the makings. See more early photos of the restaurant in the Orangette August 2010 archives; photo credit: Molly Wizenberg

“The longer I’ve been blogging, the more I’ve come to understand that what I really care about is the writing,” she says, adding that many of her favorite posts today don’t have recipes. In her writing process, she remarks, “I have very intentionally diversified my career so I can keep my blog as my practice space. For my sanity, it’s really important that I not try to make money from it—I just show up and keep practicing.”

She may not have tried for it, but income has come: Wizenberg says that every paid writing job she has ever gotten has come from Orangette. Her advice to writers who would love a taste of such opportunities?

“In any creative field," Wizenberg counsels, "consume a lot of what inspires you and keep trying to get better.”

For her own part, she says, “I’ve been tremendously lucky," feeling she has profited from timing and a range of other factors. "But the other thing is that I've worked really hard." In her opinion, such dedication is inherent for all bloggers achieving success. “I work really hard to do work I can be proud of and married someone who feels the same way. It’s an awesome thing.”

Plums soon to become jam in an October 2014 post; photo by Molly Wizenberg