Plate The Slate is an ongoing series profiling some of our favorite chefs, mongers, and producers, and the creative ways in which they use our slate in their establishments and beyond. We hope you enjoy!
A lot of people do a bit of a double take when we mention that Brooklyn Slate Company is a family business. It might be a little less common for people our age to follow their parents down a career path, or it may be that most people have never heard of slate cheese boards, so their curiosity piques at the thought of a legacy built on them.
Elana and John Iaciofano.
But, because of these common 'mis-truths' (sure, we're a family business; no, we don't do the same thing the parents do), we found kindred spirits in John and Elana Iaciofano, the founders, editors, and authors of up-and-coming food blog John and Elana Talk About Food. They too are in a family business, being siblings and all, and followed their passion for Italian food, and inspiration for publicly writing about pasta, after getting advice from their mother.
"Our family has always been really big into food. Our mom is an excellent cook, and currently runs cooking tours to Italy. So, she's been a big influence, and she actually suggested the idea," said Elana in a recent conversation. Elana currently has a day job as a graphic-designer, and trains regularly with a triathlon group, something she's not shy about sharing with her public.
"I kind of enjoy sharing the personal information [on the blog]. I try not to get too personal, but I like sharing family stories or being funny about what's happening in my life."
Which is, in fact, what sets their blog apart. Sure, there are a ton of great resources out there, if you're looking for fine or casual dining and need an instant review, or just got back from the grocery and are kicking it in your kitchen. John and Elana know it, which is why they've decided to make the blog about them, in a good way.
Elana's small obsession for food photography has led her to take classes in the art. In this shot, John and Elana's collection of bruschetta recipes are featured for Memorial Day festivities.
And it works. "There are a lot of just restaurant reviews. There are a lot of just recipe blogs, and we feel our strength is really in our dynamic," says Elana. "Life isn't just going out to eat. Life isn't just cooking at home. There's food culture all around you, and I think that's what we wanted to bring to our blog."
This dynamic seems to be connecting with their readership as well, which peaked this spring and has held steady since. As the blog grows, John and Elana have also raised eyebrows in the cooking community. WordPress, their blogging platform, and Food52, the online home of Amanda Hesser, the former New York Times Food Editor, have both featured them. The real kicker came when Saveur magazine, one of the most popular and well respected of food glossies, mentioned them in an article titled, "50 More Food Blogs You Should Be Reading."
It's hard to make a blog about yourself and not get carried away, especially when you become a minor celebrity in the indie food world, but it hasn't seemed to go to their heads yet. For John, success is measured more in the feedback from their readers than in the positive press.
"Even something simple like an e-mail from a friend who says, 'We went to the restaurant that you just went to, we got exactly what you did, and your recommendations are right on. I can't wait to read the next review,'" says John. "I like that just as much as the Saveur magazine stuff, or Food52 giving us a shout-out."
The majority of the photographs and graphic design at John and Elana Talk About Food are original compositions. Here, inspired by Alexandre Dumas of "The Count of Monte Cristo" fame, are timeless ingredients for the Nineteenth Century Lardo Pizza That Illuminates All.
Although this casual attitude toward the food world may seem natural for a man who's day job is in commercial law, it's more impressive when you learn that John's enthusiastic about making the blog a full-time gig. "I really do have a passion for eating food," he says, with Elana providing a knowing giggle in the background. "Me and Elana went out last night, and I genuinely got excited for piping hot lasagna to be served in front of me. And, I love to write about things that I love."
Elana continues, "One of the strengths, between the two of us, are the different personalities that we bring, and the balance of a male-female perspective. It's very easy, because I write a lot on the blog, for it to get a little female-heavy. So, it's good to have John in there to bring that male perspective every now and again, and make it a little bit more accessible to a broader audience."
We tried to goad them into giving up stories of discord between the two, but came up short. It seems they truly enjoy working together, and get a lot out of the experience, both individually and as siblings. Their schedules don't always match up, and Elana is contemplating a move from their now mutual home of Hoboken, to New York City, but not much has trumped their ideal to create, as Elana puts it, "a humorous, family-oriented, brother-sister take on life with food."
It doesn't seem their readers have a bone to pick with them either. Restaurant reviews can make chefs livid, provoking the plastering of photocopied faces of journalistic scoundrels in public places (see Buddakan’s bounty on New York Times food critic Sam Sifton), but John and Elana's opinions have been overwhelmingly embraced.
John admits that for a family start-up like theirs, home kitchens serve as studios, and Elana's background in design helps to get them noticed by some of the bigger names in food.
"Occasionally, I'll have some dialog with Twitter followers, where I ask them, 'Hey, I didn't really like this,'" said Elana. "For example, we had somebody in California who's been a Twitter follower for awhile, and who has talked about In-and-Out Burger, and how he really likes it. So, I was like, 'Tell me why, because we are underwhelmed here. Sell us!'"
While the goal of John and Elana's blog may not be about setting any records, or inciting any riots, they do take it seriously and are dedicated to posting reviews regularly (up to five a week), and creating a unique experience that isn’t replicated elsewhere. John has devised a unique restaurant rating system ("One of my other passions is movies. Even before the blog started, in my head I would analogize my experiences eating out in a restaurant with movies I have seen," he says), and Elana is currently working on a pizza cookbook, available on the blog this November, with proceeds going to a local food bank ("John and I think we're very lucky that we can walk into Eataly and buy a $6 pint of figs. So, it'd be nice to give back,” says Elana).
Really, John and Elana Talk About Food is about those things we can't imagine anyone taking issue with, which is probably why no one has. Good food? Check. Family recipes? Check. Witty writing? Check. Sharing life experiences with those you love most? Well, we can cheers to that.