I first met Ren a few years ago at a blogger event and have been an admirer of her blog ever since. Her recipes are always appealing, her writing is warm and engaging and her photographs show off a her very elegant personal style.
Hello and welcome, please introduce yourself and tell us a little about the kind of content you share.
Hello, my name is Ren, and I’m the writer and blogger behind RenBehan.com . My blog has just turned four years old, which is quite unbelievable really, given that I started it as a hobby/creative outlet whilst on maternity leave with my second baby. We’ve now got three children and the blog is growing from strength to strength.
Is there a story behind your blog’s name?
There is a bit of a story behind my blog name, in that it used to be called Fabulicious Food! – though the URL was always renbehan.com. For various reasons (mainly spelling issues and a book being release in the USA called Fabulicious) I decided to re-brand to my name, which meant that my blog name and domain name matched. I do slightly miss having a quirky blog name, but as I have gone on to become a professional food writer, I think it has helped to use my personal name across the board.
For those who specialise in a particular cuisine, diet or technique why did you choose to blog about your niche and does it present any particular challenges?
The biggest challenge for me has been narrowing down the topics I write about! When I first started my blog, I wanted to write about cookery courses I’d been on and about places that I had eaten. I quickly also decided to focus on seasonal and local food, as I had always enjoyed shopping at local independent places and food markets. I launched a community blog event called Simple and in Season, which attracted (and continues to attract) entries from all over the world. Hosting a blog event is always a great way of generating a community feel.
As a mum of three, I also share family-friendly recipes – really, the food we eat at home. And, since I also have Polish heritage and a love of Eastern European food, I have sometimes blogged my Polish family recipes and I’ve hosted a few pop-ups under the banner of My Polish Kitchen. As it happens, my Polish recipes are the ones that tend to attract the most attention, and I’ve had recipes published in delicious. Magazine, in BBC Good Food Magazine and more recently on my weekly features column for JamieOliver.com.
In 2015, I’ve decided I’m going to place a bigger emphasis on my Polish recipes as I love sharing them and have been receiving lots of positive feedback. However, at the same time, I don’t want to lose readers who enjoy the seasonal and family-friendly aspects of my blog so there’s a fine balance to be found.
I think that in order to stand out, it can help to focus on one topic or type of cuisine, but equally, I’ve been very keen not to box myself in. Plus, I just love any food so I will always have more things to write about than I have time to write!
What inspires you to keep blogging regularly?
The hardest aspect of blogging for me is being short on time! I’m constantly playing catch up with posts, there is so much more I’d love to write about and a whole bunch of recipes that I simply never seem to find the time to post. Also, writing for external platforms now takes precedence, which means that I have a bit less time for my own blog. However, what I would say is that blogging has opened up so many doors for me and so many opportunities. A blog can be many things; a personal diary, a place to share recipes, a creative outlet and increasingly for me, a professional portfolio. The work I do now (food writing, photography and styling) is flexible and I mainly work from home.
What are your earliest memories of cooking? Who or what inspired you to cook?
My earliest memories of cooking are at home with my Mum (Mama) and Grandmother (Babcia) who loved cooking and used it as a way to hold onto memories of their homeland in Poland. We kept Polish traditions (for example, a huge twelve course meal on Christmas Eve called Wigilia) and food was always central to any family gathering or celebration – and still is.
What are the biggest influences on your cooking at the moment?
At the moment, I’d say my children are the biggest influencers of my cooking. I want them to be healthy and to have a good appreciate of food and of varying cuisines. My mother always tells me that I was weaned on Polish beetroot soup, so at the moment I’m just debating whether or not to feed our youngest baby some beetroot as his first taste at six months. It didn’t seem to do me any harm!
Tell us the story of your most spectacular kitchen failure!
Gosh, I’ve had lots of kitchen failures. There have been a fair few #bingates in my time! Most recently, I baked a cake I’d seen on a friend’s blog and forgot to check whether the middle was cooked. When I took the cake out of its tin it collapsed into a big sloppy mess. I had a second go at making it and it turned out fine – my oven settings are not particularly reliable and I should have checked the middle. Baking and cooking disasters happen to us all!
Which food writers / chefs do you find most inspirational and in the same spirit, are there any particular cookery books you cherish above the rest of the shelf?
I adore cook books and have amassed quite a lot of them over the last few years. If I had to pick one author, I’d say that Diana Henry is incredibly inspirational – she’s a cook and writer who always pens and creates the most interesting recipes and anecdotes. A big ‘blog’ highlight for me was meeting Diana at her home and interviewing her. She gave me some very sound advice about food writing and has always been very encouraging.
I think I own every cook book written by Nigel Slater, Nigella Lawson and by Jamie Oliver – who were very much my early inspirations and they are the most thumbed and well-used books on my shelf.
For Polish cookery books I like ‘The Polish Kitchen’ by Mary Pininska, ‘Rose Petal Jam’ by Beata Zatgorska, and ‘From a Polish Country House Kitchen’ by Anne Applebaum and Danielle Crittenden.
I also love keeping up with ‘up and coming’ food writers and I’d say that Sabrina Ghayour’s ‘Persiana’ has inspired me the most this year.
If I were coming for dinner, what would you cook for me?
Ooh I’d love to have you over for dinner Kavey. I think I’d cook you a Slavic feast and introduce you to some hearty Polish food. We’d start with either a very rich and velvety beetroot soup or autumnal mushrooms soup, then I’d serve up some Polish Kopytka – little dumplings similar to gnocchi, with bacon and sweet onions, then we’d move onto either duck or venison with a vodka and cherry sauce. For dessert, we’d have a baked Polish cheesecake.
My Polish Kopytka recipe was recently featured on my column for JamieOliver.com.
What’s been your favourite destination thus far and why did you love it so much? Can you share a favourite memory from the trip?
I adore travelling, but having three small children has meant that the majority of our family holidays most recently have been spent in North Wales, which is where most of my childhood holidays were spent. However, I’ve also had some great opportunities through blogging, including a trip to Martell’s Chateau de Chanteloup to follow the process of making Cognac. That was really an amazing trip, a particular highlight being a Martell-inspired meal where I sat next to David Lebovitz.
I also flew to Seattle last year to join in with IFBC – an International Food Blogging Conference. Seattle is very special to me as I have a sister who lives there and I met my husband on a plane flying over there, so we’ve visited quite often. I loved visiting Pike Place Market and I still crave ‘Seattle Dogs’ – a street food made with Polish sausages. I also loved visiting my other sister and her family in Emilia-Romagna last year; the foodie city of Bologna was a particular highlight.
Which destination is at the top of your foodie travel wish list?
Next on my list is most certainly Poland. I’ll be working on a big Polish project next year and I’m very much looking forward to getting some more trips in.
What are you absolutely loving cooking, eating, doing right now?
At the moment, the burger trend has really caught my attention as a lot of new restaurants have opened up in St Albans featuring really good burgers. I also love street food, things like pulled pork, steamed buns, meatballs and so I look out for that type of thing, especially linked to farmers’ markets. I’m also hoping that Polish food will make a bigger impact, as it has always been huge in America, with big Polish communities – Pierogi restaurants and stalls for example. I also love a good mooch around a Christmas Market – mulled wine, Nutella crepes and roasted chestnuts all make me feel very warm and cosy!
What’s the single most popular post on your blog?
The single most popular post on my blog is my Polish Spiced Christmas Cookies – Pierniczki. I’m hoping to give them a bit of a revamp in time for Christmas this year!
What’s the one question you wish I’d asked you but didn’t?
Would you recommend starting a food blog and what advice would you give?
Please go ahead and answer it!
Absolutely, I’ve managed to forge a new career path by starting a blog – having left the law behind during my first stint on maternity. It’s quite a change, but I love what I do now and I find it allows me a great deal of creativity. My blog has enabled me to travel, make new blogging friends, meet chefs and writers I hugely admire and take on paid recipe work.
My advice for anyone starting a food blog would be to focus on a skill and to try to improve it. Don’t focus on trying to make money, or on getting free stuff, and don’t give up your day job! What pays is improving your skills, investing in yourself and working hard.
When I started my blog, I did so because I enjoyed writing and wanting to be a better writer. I found an online writing course and gained a Diploma in Food Journalism. Then I moved onto wanting to improve my food styling, so I took a short course at Leiths School of Food and Wine. Most recently, I’ve focused on developing my photography, so I asked a local family photographer to spend a couple of hours with me to teach me how to use the manual settings on my camera. Building a successful blog takes a lot of hard work, too, so don’t expect it to happen overnight, but do enjoy the process and only blog because you love it!
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Blog URL http://www.renbehan.com
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Enjoyed this interview? Read the rest of the series, here.