So, what happens if you take an “alternative story form” and use it as a cooking column?
Let’s find out. The topic for this one is how to make a steakhouse thickburger:
Not only does that graphic recipe work well, but the story behind the graphic is a fun read as well. Find that here.
The cook, writer and designer for that piece is Justin Gilbert, based in Churubusco, Indiana. His weekly print column, called Man Bites, is self-syndicated.
A 1997 graduate of Ball State University, Justin spent nearly four yeas as a graphics reporter for the Associated Press and then six year as the same for Newsday in Melville, N.Y. He moved to Bloomberg in 2006 and left in 2010 to move back to Indiana and begin his food column.
Click on any of the columns you see here today for a larger view.
Justin took a time out to answer a few questions for us.
Q. How long have you been writing this “visual column”? Were did the idea come from? Is this something that’s been percolating in the back your head for a while?
A. I started it in June of 2010. (I left Bloomberg and New York the month before) I saved and planned on departing New York City for months. I cut my expenses to a minimum and relocated to my hometown of Churubusco, Indiana where the cost of living is next to nothing.
I went to the editor of the local paper (the Churubusco News) and ask him if he would run my food column. I had a couple of prototypes with me. He asked me to do a few more, and once I did, he started to publish it free of charge. I had originally planned to start a catering business and thought a “visual recipe” would be a great way to attract local business.
About 14 years ago, I began designating one day a week to make a dish from scratch. It was a way of tuning out the rat race of New York City. Over time, I started making dishes to take to parties and would invite people over to eat. I loved cooking and people really enjoyed the food I was making. Eventually, I was being asked to make food for special occasions by work colleagues and people I knew. The bass player in my metal band wanted me to create a salsa named after the group called Sweet Magma!
Anyway, That’s why I wanted to go into a food career.
The catering thing was much more of a challenge than I realized. In the process of ruling it out as my next career, I got more and more into my column. The challenge of an original dish each week gave me my food fix and I actually fell back in love with visual storytelling.
I had spent years making good money with big corporate media and I was approaching it as a day to day job. I still did good work but, I began channeling my creative passion into my hobbies of drumming and stand-up comedy. That led me to trying a career in food.
After my 8th or 9th column I knew that this was a calling. I approached it just like I approached getting into journalism — building a portfolio. I quietly did my column week after week. I took a job waiting tables at the Texas Roadhouse so I could hold onto my savings. In January, I started the blog — but I was really just posting my column to the page in pdf format and writing a back story.
My goal was 50 recipes. I reached that this past June. With a nice portfolio to show and one year of experience, I quit the Roadhouse and started focusing on growing a web presence. I also invested a little money into my photography set up in hopes of becoming a better food photographer.
Over the last four months, I have customized a simple Google Blogger site into Behind the Bites, an in-depth version of my print column which I now call Man Bites.
My philosophy is that the visual explanation makes a recipe so easy to make that even a man can do it. I also try to concentrate on things that I like to make, which a lot of times is food people eat while watching sports and/or drinking beer.
Q. Do you write and design it as well?
A. It’s all me, I create every aspect — I’m a one man band now!
Q. Is this distributed via Bloomberg as a wire graphic? If papers were interested in buying this feature, how might they do that? Can they buy it separately or do they have to sign up for an entire package of stuff?
A. As previously mentioned, I’m no longer at Bloomberg. Like Andy in the film Shawshank Redemption â€“ some birds just aren’t meant to be caged. I am freelancing, but I have really been focusing on the food as of late.
I have two plans: Any paper or magazine interested can subscribe to the weekly print column or just purchase separate recipes. The weekly subscription is sent at noon every Tuesday and contains a visual recipe, 200 word introduction, and an artsy photo of the dish. From time to time, I make posters of entire meals that are roughly the size of a newspaper page. I’m finishing up a holiday meal poster now and have a full-page Super Bowl special planned for January.
I’m currently looking for a book agent and publisher. Together as one volume the recipes make a beautiful cookbook.
Anyone interested can contact me at behindthebites [at] gmail.com.
Q. What kind of feedback are you getting? Are you hearing from readers? From editors?
A. Feedback has been amazing! Mostly from Facebook, blog comments and the readers of the Churubusco News. I hear about the design and how yummy or easy it makes a recipe look. People that have actually tried a recipe say that the visual approach takes away the mystery of when to add ingredients or move to the next step. Most of the feedback I have heard within the business is from the art side.
I would like to hear more from food editors about it. Especially If they are interested in publishing my work. I’m trying to evolve into a “visual food guy” in the journalism business. I’ve always been a “graphics guy” or as the great Jimmy Breslin used to call me when I worked with him at Newsday â€“ “The degenerate in the back.”
Find the online version of his column — in which he gives the backstory behind some of his projects — here.
Again, Justin is looking for a) newspapers interested in buying his column or perhaps his holiday meal full-page special and b) a book publisher or agent to help him find a publisher. Justin’s not necessarily looking to be syndicated, but frankly, this column ought to be syndicated. So let’s add c) a syndication deal into the mix.
If you like what you see here and you can help with any of these, please contact Justin right away. The email address, again, is:
behindthebites [at] gmail.com