By Christopher A. Pape
Claire Thomas is not a name you may know, but it’s one you should. And it’s likely that in the near future it is one you may hear quite often. Creator of the ultra successful food blog, Kitschy Kitchen and host of the new hit show, Food for Thought (produced by Litton Entertainment and airing on ABC on the weekends; check your local listings), Ms. Thomas has been on a roll.
We are very happy to introduce you to her and ecstatic to announce her as our special guest at our Food Festival on March 24 at the Flatiron Hotel. I hope you find her as fascinating as I do; come out to meet her in person at Tasting New York. For tickets: flatironhotel.tix.com.
Tell me a little about yourself.
I was born and raised in LA and grew up very much a California girl - I don’t look it since I’m pale and a redhead – but I have always been surrounded by delicious, wonderful food.
My mother and aunt are amazing cooks and we just grew up eating really wonderful California cuisine. I wouldn’t say my mom was a super creative cook, she would just draw from a Betty Crocker or Martha Stewart recipe, but I always really enjoyed it. I never felt like I really needed to be in the kitchen because it always felt like I was taking up space when my mom was in there – and why bother when your mom and aunt are such great cooks!
I’ve also always loved film. My dad is a commercial director and owns a production company, so I’ve been a Production Assistant since I was 12 years old. I did everything from organizing location files, to getting coffee, to doing runs to Burbank to pick things up - I absolutely loved everything about film making and advertising.
When I was in high school I thought I wanted to be a director. The more I thought about it, the sillier it sounded because it’s so hard to break into. I ended up being interested in development work since I love storytelling and working with directors. I worked a few jobs in college and after I graduated I got my first official job as an assistant to two producers. Unfortunately, I thought they wanted a story editor, but they more wanted a secretary. They were really nice guys but the job was quite boring and being there from 9am-8pm really drained me creatively. My mom saw this and told me I should to do something exciting, something fun - and it was right around this point when I started baking my feelings!
After a long day of being frustrated or annoyed, I would start tinkering around in the kitchen. I got very much into food history and would find old recipes and retool them, play around, and I started baking stuff and bringing it into the office. My mom suggested a food blog – which is hilarious since I still have to help my mom put attachments to emails, so I have no idea how she knew what a food blog was!
I started Kitschy Kitchen. Not understanding how the Internet really worked, I had assumed that there would be an audience there already but there wasn’t. For the first three months I started picking up the camera and started to shoot food, still deciding what kind of food this blog was going to be about.
I decided that this was going to be about original recipes as well as my photography because I knew that if I was going to put something out there it was going to be about something new and truly original. I do love restaurants and I do love chefs, but I’m not into restaurant gossip, which is big in LA, so I thought that I would focus on my goofy stuff that I found really interesting. The blog all of a sudden started getting really popular because of my photography and I was able to get a job as an assistant food stylist on different shoots. Soon after I started work as a food photographer. Meanwhile, I picked up any odd job I could possibly get in food, so while I was a food photographer I became also a personal chef for some families in the entertainment industry, I was a hostess – I did whatever I could to make a buck. That kept me busy, but as I kept working on the blog I decided to create some cool food videos.
They began as interviewing people or talking to the camera while doing different recipes. One day a good friend came over with an HD camera that could shoot live action the way I shoot films, and everything changed from there. Before the DSLRs, the only real options to shoot food the way I wanted to shoot was to use something like a wedge, which, unless you’re a very professional photographer, that’s a very expensive camera to rent.
I taught my friend how to shoot food the way I wanted to shoot food, so we posted that video and it became my calling card very shortly after. I started shooting food the way I saw commercials do it, in short, to the point, 30-45 second intervals. Since I’m not a trained chef, I thought that if I could take a recipe and show people how to make it in under a minute, it’s going to make me want to make it regardless of skill level. If you can be taught it in under a minute, there’s a good chance you will want to do it. I liked the idea that even for people who weren’t going to make the food it was entertaining, it was a quick bite, and you don’t have to sit there for five minutes and watch a boring demo. You could watch something with beautiful visuals, fun music and cool graphics. You don’t have to listen to anyone explain it to you – you just watch and enjoy it.
In the last 10 years there’s been a big change; the mainstream has become very interested in food and you can see it on the food network and all these different YouTube channels, Pitnerest food blogs and the like. It makes the consumer want to see food in a way that feels natural, organic, fresh and accessible, like something they would see in their own kitchen. And that’s how I shot food.
Tell me more about the show.
The show’s fantastic! It’s really exciting for me because the show and my blog are so very different, and it allows me to get back to the basics. I get to focus on foods that are really delicious, simple, and yet fun to cook. My blog was initially very regional, about a foodie who lives in LA, and because this show speaks to a national audience I needed to connect with everybody and try to let everybody feel like they can make the food and be a part of the experience.
When the show first began, I asked if it was cool for me to take over the Facebook page. Since then I have been on the Facebook page every single weekend, every Saturday morning, responding to questions and connecting with fans. I remember when we got our first one hundred fans I was so excited - I couldn’t believe 100 people were watching my show! And now we have over 26,000 fans on Facebook and it’s amazing to see this community growing and I’m able to relate to people and their families from anywhere in the world. The fact that every weekend they would watch me with their family and let me be part of their week in that way is so special. It’s a very emotional thing for me that people are trying and liking my recipes since they are so personal. I’m always asking people about how my recipes turned out and to get them to take a photo because it’s so exciting when a family posts something they cooked of my recipes and post it to the Facebook page! it makes my heart skip a beat.
How do you compare the food and restaurant scene here in contrast with LA?
I love New York! I get to go about four times a year and this past year I spent a month in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. I rented a little apartment to work on my first cookbook. I figured that if I could recipe test and shoot the majority of my cookbook out of a small apartment in Williamsburg, than everyone can make these recipes! And I was just using Ikea equipment that any 20-something would have in their apartment.
I love New York food, but it’s very different than LA food. I think that New York has this history and there’s a level of expectation that comes with New York. There’s a certain way that you see things done. There are so many good restaurants that come from this rich history and culture, like Sauce on Rivington Street, which is very new, but it feels like its been there for 100 years. I don’t think you would have that experience in LA. New York food is a slightly different palette; you can tell that it’s food that exists in weather. You can tell that there’s a fall, there’s a winter, a spring and summer, whereas in LA it’s the land of perpetual summer.
There are lots of fresh greens, lots of fresh flavors and they pack in a lot of different cultural references. In New York there’s a heavier palette, richness, and you know that if there’s a way to be over indulgent they’ll go for it and it will be so fun and so fabulous. Eating in New York is one of my favorite things to do – well, eating in general is my favorite thing to do – but LA and New York are different, but two sides of the same coin. The coin being delicious food, of course.
If there was one misnomer about being a home cook, what is it?
It’s probably that you can’t cook exciting food. I find that people think that a home cooked meal means a crock-pot has been used, or that it’s heavy, or flavored with fat and salt rather than with fresh herbs, spices and lacks an interesting flavor palette. For me, I love “homey” food. My mom’s chicken potpie is absolutely delicious. But I love making food that I like to eat without having to go out every night. I like making exciting and surprising flavor profiles that maybe I hadn’t thought of before. For me, its all about going to the farmers market, getting what’s in season, talking to the farmers about their produce and figuring out how to make it the best it can be. Never be afraid to experiment. The nice thing about food is that it’s just food. It’s not this thing that needs to be super precious or something that you should worry about ruining.