With thousands of food blogs now on the web, and it can be hard to stand out and achieve success in the food-blogging industry. Laura Hayes, however, has certainly beaten the challenge. Based in Washington D.C., Laura has established herself as a staple food blogger and critique in our nation’s capitol. Here, Laura shares her years of experience and expertise in the food world with us, and her advice will be sure to help those aspiring to follow in her footsteps.
Q: Why did you decide to become a food writer?
A: Food is an art, a science and also what connects people. It’s the one thing we all share and the possibilities for creativity are infinite. Through my work, I’ve come to appreciate how much work goes into a single cup of coffee, or a simple bowl of soup. I love capturing and telling the stories behind the food (and drink!) and thus making meals more memorable for diners.
Q: How much do you write?
A: I have two regular gigs with Thrillist and Dining Bisnow. I produce 2-3 stories per week for Thrillist and a Friday column as the editor of Dining Bisnow. At the same time, I’m writing stories and snapping pictures as a freelancer for other newspapers and magazines including Arlington Magazine, The Washington Post Express, Washington City Paper and Edible DC.
Q: How did you get the idea for bestthingonthemenu.com?
A: Oh yes, then there’s my blog, which is on life support. I try to post once a week, but unfortunately, publications giving me deadlines (and a paycheck) come first. There are plenty of sites out there guiding you to the best restaurants in town, but what about when you sit down to dinner to tackle the menu? Maybe the meal is your one shot to dine at the restaurant and you want to get it right. My goal is to share what I perceive to be the best thing on the menu at a restaurant. Sometimes it’s a well-known, craved dish that everyone goes there to try, other times it’s a dish with a cool story that deserves special attention. I then encourage my readers to “disagree” with me in the comments section by naming their favorite dishes. Food is so subjective, I’m just trying to get a conversation going.
Q: What kinds of articles are editors looking for these days?
A: Diners today are as hungry for knowledge as they are for dinner. They want a side of education served with their entree, and editors recognize this. That’s why stories about where restaurants source their ingredients from remain popular, for example. Similarly, I recently did a Bisnow issue called “Food School,” where I had industry professionals explain things like the different Italian pasta shapes, Japanese food other than sushi, Italian wine varietals, types of charcuterie and more. Trends pieces are also popular, as well as anything that provides insider info (off-menu things to order, how to eat at expensive places for less, how to get in to a speakeasy, etc.).
Q: What do you find most interesting about the Washington DC culinary scene right now?
A: The DC restaurant scene is booming. Not only have 100+ restaurants opened in the past year, but also we’re getting national attention from both the press and from famous chefs/restaurateurs. Celeb Chefs Daniel Boulud and Michael Schlow recently opened restaurants here and David Chang will open one in 2015. Bon Appetit Magazine selected a DC restaurant, Rose’s Luxury, as the best new restaurant in America, while Travel Weekly, Forbes and others have named DC as “what’s next.” What’s even more exciting is that the openings that are occurring aren’t replacing restaurants that have closed. Rather, new neighborhoods are become foodie destinations like Bloomingdale, Shaw and the Navy Yard. The result? DC is no longer just a “power lunch,” let’s split a steak spot. We have global street food, cozy Italian, authentic Ethiopian and some of the best Japanese food I’ve had outside of Japan.
Q: What’s the most unusual meeting you have had with a chef?
A: One of my favorite stories I worked on to date was a “Famous Chef Refrigerator Raid.” I got to check out what some of the city’s most well known chefs eat and drink at home. That was the first time I met one of my favorite chefs, Mike Friedman of The Red Hen. He invited me into his home despite being a brand new dad. Like DAYS brand new. Along with scoping out his containers upon containers of his mother’s matzo ball soup, I also met his new born, his wife, and his dog. My experiences at the other chefs’ houses were equally entertaining. Especially James Beard Award Winning Chef Vikram Sunderam who can’t get enough flavored Philadelphia Cream Cheese.
Q: What advice do you have for aspiring culinary writers?
A: Starting an original blog is worth the effort. Best Thing on the Menu helped me land my Thrillist job, which helped me land enough gigs that I could do this full time (a lifelong dream). Everything is visual these days, so I’d also learn how to work a camera (or at least master your iPhone) and to edit basic video. Also, get out there and network. When there’s a writer shuffle, there’s a better chance someone throws your name into the mix if you’ve been out mingling and getting to know others in the industry. Finally, read, read, read! Get to know the voice/style of all of the publications, blogs, magazines, etc. and the people behind them. It’ll help you pitch stories effectively and also inspire you to keep going!