Meet the 2014 BFBA Winners: Pen and Palate

Each year we’ve hosted the Best Food Blog Awards, we’re astounded at the depth, variety, creativity, and ingenuity of the food blogs nominated, and this year was no exception. Through this series of interviews, the 2014 winners share the stories behind their blogs, deepening our appreciation for their work that much more. Here, Lucy Madison and Tram Nguyen talk about their site Pen and Palate, the editors’ choice for Best Writing. **[See the rest of the winners »]

Blog Name: Pen and Palate

Category: Best Writing, Editors' Choice

Running Since: July 2013

Geographic Location: Tram lives in Chicago and Lucy lives in New York

When and how did you become interested in food writing? There are two of you, so how did you come up with the idea, together or separately?
Tram: Lucy lent me a copy of Nora Ephron's Heartburn when I was visiting last year, and I fell in love with the writing, the humor, the sense of intimacy. I liked how she peppered her stories with recipes, and how they were written in this really loose, casual style. It sounded like the way people actually cook, the way you share recipes with your friends, and I wanted to read more food writing like this. But I couldn't find a lot like that out there. So the natural obvious solution was to start a food blog with my best friend.

_Lucy:_Tram and I had been wanting to collaborate on something like this for ages, and because we've spent so much time throughout our (15-year!) friendship cooking together and sharing recipes, the whole process felt really natural. Our artistic tastes have always been pretty in line with one another, so it didn't take long to hammer out what we wanted the site to be. I knew I'd like to write cozy, personal essays about my experiences with food, and Tram had a strong sense of what she wanted the site to look like.

Tram: The illustrations were a deliberate choice: There's something so human and compelling about images that are hand-drawn. The eye wants to look longer; there's a sense of permanence. Even though you're looking at a screen, it feels more real, like paper.

What are your favorite posts?
_Lucy:_I still laugh-cry every time I read "How to Start a Grease Fire," because I remain basically traumatized by the experience that inspired it. I also just love food writing that's about screwing up. It makes me feel closer to the writer, and it can be so funny. I love Tram's Cioppino post. The style is wonderfully intimate, and it makes me laugh a lot.

What is your process for developing a post?
Lucy: I wish I had a more scientific way of developing my posts. My "process" is heavily influenced by feelings I've had in relation to food. I often start with the story I want to tell and let that lead me to a recipe.

Tram: I usually wait until I get the first draft of a piece from Lucy, marinate on it for a while, let my mind wander, and then see what associations arise. With the less editorial pieces, I will actually style and shoot ingredients for reference photos, and then kick myself for insisting on a "no photography" rule—because my work is only half done and I have eight more hours of painting ahead of me. With my own writing, the process is less linear. I might have a particular image in mind, or an ingredient I'm obsessed with, and then I'll figure out a recipe from there.

What do you draw ****inspiration from?
Lucy: I grew up in a very food-oriented household, so I draw a lot from childhood and family experiences. I'm also inspired by ingredients, interactions I have with people, things I eat when I'm traveling—I try to stay as open as possible.

Tram: A great deal of my time in the kitchen is spent trying to capture certain taste memories of the Vietnamese dishes I grew up with. My favorite way to discover new foods is through shared meals with friends, hearing about their family traditions and bossily demanding recipes. I'm kind of obsessed with learning how other people eat. I also love The Splendid Table podcast, SAVEUR, Gather Journal, Jeffrey Steingarten, Luxirare for her food styling, and Mimi Thorisson's blog Manger, for showing us plebs that there's a better way to live.

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