The Small Kitchen College Cooks Share Their Secrets
Aug 24, 2011
Everyone gets busy, and sometimes it seems like there's no time to slow down and enjoy a healthy meal. Phoebe Lapine and Cara Eisenpress, the founders of cooking websites Big Girls Small Kitchen and Small Kitchen College, want to spread the word that no matter who you are or what you do, eating right is easier and more affordable than most people think - and it's a lot of fun!
By Eric Garneau
After earning degrees in comparative literature from Harvard and urban studies from Brown, middle school best friends Cara Eisenpress and Phoebe Lapine came together in 2008 to launch Big Girls Small Kitchen (BGSK), a culinary blog aimed at 'quarter-life cooks.' Its mission: to show a generation of recent college graduates that making home-cooked meals is achievable, affordable and delicious. From that blog came the recently-released cookbook In the Small Kitchen: 100 Recipes from Our Year of Cooking in the Real World, as well as the website Small Kitchen College (SKC), a college student-driven enterprise that provides simple yet satisfying dorm room and apartment recipes submitted by a veritable army of student contributors. The Education Insider Blog caught up with the girls to procure some cooking advice for you, our loyal readers. How can you make the most of limited money and time and still cook great meals?
Education-Portal.com: What are the origins of your cooking sites? You started BGSK about a year after you left school - had you given something like it any thought while you were actually undergrads?
Big Girls Small Kitchen: Our philosophy is that people should cook regardless of their limited resources, whether it's money, space, skill or time. College students probably have less of all of these things! But that doesn't mean the philosophy doesn't extend to them. We think there's something so warm, satisfying and nurturing about home cooking, and it's something college kids - especially today's foodie students - are hungering for. There's no reason not to bring cooking into your life, even if you're living in a dorm, are on a meal plan and are constrained by a student's budget. We definitely wish there had been a resource like this when we were at school - perusing it would have been more fun than complaining about the dining hall!
EP: Around how many recipes in total does your site host? What are some of your favorites?
BGSK: SKC has a hundred recipes and is rapidly growing - we're adding nearly ten more each week. BGSK has a really vast resource of recipes, at least 400 delicious and classic sweets, mains, dips, vegetarian dishes and more. We absolutely love Sarah's Microwave Cashew Chicken, Chloe's Banana Bon Bons and Kelsey's Homemade Cracker Jacks.
EP: Many college students, finding themselves with both limited pocketbooks and limited space, probably don't think it's within their means to cook healthy, fulfilling meals. What would you say to them?
BGSK: Budget cooking starts at the supermarket. If you become a good shopper, you'll be able to save enormously on at-home breakfasts, lunches and dinners. First, you'll want to stock your pantry or bookshelf with oils and vinegars, grains and pasta, cans of beans and tomatoes, spices and baking essentials if you love mixing up quickbreads, cakes and cookies. We've got a list of essentials for the mini-fridge on the site too. The initial shopping run can be expensive - ask for a spice assortment for your birthday and Christmas (basic kitchen equipment also makes a great gift) to lessen the burden. After that, you'll pretty much always have simple dinners like lentil soup, spaghetti with marinara and rice and beans available to you at your fingertips. Even if you want to make something a bit more involved, you'll have main ingredients, so your grocery bill won't be a huge expense. Eating take-out, even meals that are individually cheap, can really zap your wallet, whereas simple home-cooked food won't.
EP: Similarly, recent college graduates might not have an easy time adjusting to having to prepare food for themselves in the real world. Any tips for young adults who suddenly have to provide all their own meals?
BGSK: Cook for yourself. Even if you're not confident, give it the old college try. You can certainly start with the basics, but you should also have fun experimenting. If you're just feeding yourself, you can deal with slightly over-cooked steak or undercooked rice. It may not be the best meal ever, but you won't feel any pressure from others. Then, as you improve, you can share your new specialties with friends. Before long you'll be awesome at an array of pastas, eggs, sandwiches, salads and simple chicken dishes - and you don't need an enormous repertoire to be a great cook.
EP: SKC has a humongous number of contributors. How does having multiple voices on staff help your growth, and how can interested readers join your team? What kind of things are you looking for in writers?
BGSK: There are so many different types of college foodies: the city gal who loves dining out, the dorm room-bound student who makes the most of the dining hall, the off-campus dweller with her own kitchen, the sorority girl who shares a stove with 15 others, the traveler on semester abroad. We wanted to make sure that all these voices were represented on our site, and we also wanted geographic diversity among the colleges our writers attended. This has let us build our audience because each writer can recruit her own family and friends to the site. We're also in the process of fleshing out our local section with cheap eats and college town tours so that the site is important to students everywhere.
We have three application periods at the moment. We're pretty much at capacity for writers for the Fall 2011 semester, but we'll begin recruiting for the Spring 2012 season in November - you can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you're interested in writing or marketing opportunities! We're looking for students who love food, are great at food photography and are really into social media (if you have your own blog and loads of Twitter followers, you're golden).
EP: You recently released your first cookbook, In the Small Kitchen: 100 Recipes from Our Year of Cooking in the Real World. Did the book grow out of your experiences with the site, or was it something you'd always had an eye on?
BGSK: In the Fall of 2008, we were working at entry-level jobs: Cara in editorial at a book publishing house, Phoebe in global marketing for a women's fragrance brand. Obviously not culinary fields, but we were both cooking a lot for friends and families - and whining to them a lot about the dull aspects of our jobs. Though we weren't thinking quite so long term as a book deal, we immediately saw we had found a niche among 'quarter-life cooks' - our peers, who had apparently just been dying to find an accessible way to make better use of their kitchens. That led to good traffic on our first site, BGSK, and eventually the book deal for In the Small Kitchen, which came out in May. There, we finessed our expertise and created a book that's a comprehensive encyclopedia for entry-level cooks feeding themselves, entertaining and shopping for the first time.
EP: Now that you're published authors, what comes next both for the website and for yourselves?
BGSK: As soon as we finished writing the manuscript for the book, which - believe it or not - was already more than a year ago, we dedicated ourselves to making BGSK more than just an anecdotal blog. We revamped our cooking content to make it more accessible through a multifaceted recipe index, we added an extensive 'about' and FAQ section and, perhaps best of all, we started to include weekly menus and guides so that users have more straightforward information about hosting different kinds of parties and approaching all sorts of cooking dilemmas.
That's when we also really sank our teeth into SKC, recruiting writers, designing the site and perfecting our editorial process. As we move into the Fall semester, we have an incredibly talented team of cooks and writers who will be making SKC the place to be for college foodies. We'll be working on getting the word out, strengthening our partnerships and bringing our audience the best-ever accessible recipes. We'll also be traveling to many college towns to host events with our student writers.
Besides authoring a cookbook, how else might you turn your interest in cooking into a career?