Gaby Dalkin didn’t always have the sophisticated palette we associate with talented chefs of her caliber. In fact, her culinary adventure started with grilled cheese and pasta. With the help of culinary school, a lot of hard work, and one particularly straightforward teacher, Dalkin became a wildly popular food blogger and cookbook author.
Dalkin learned early on that in order to succeed in creating content online, one has to fully commit. Years later, she’s preparing for the release of her second cookbook, creating her own product lines for Williams-Sonoma, and inspiring hundreds of thousands of followers on her blog and Instagram account with her recipes.
We caught up with her to find out more about her journey to success in food blogging, her favorite way to use avocados, and what’s next for What’s Gaby Cooking. Read our exclusive interview below.
Can you tell us the story of how you got into cooking? What inspired that journey?
I was the pickiest eater growing up. I ate pretty much only pasta and grilled cheese until I got to high school. In high school, I started watching a bunch of cooking shows and was obsessed with making chicken parmesan. That’s the only thing I made for the first few years and trust me when I tell you that I make the best chicken parm ever.
When I got to college, I got chubby real fast. Freshman 15? I wish. It was more like the Freshman 20 and I was playing tennis every day, too. I had 4 square meals a day (in college we’d go eat a second dinner at 9 pm – super healthy…NOT!) and eventually took matters into my own hands, started cooking and ditched those 20 lbs.
After college, I moved down to Los Angeles and got a regular office job. I hated it, and the company eventually folded. I was only there for about 9 months and rather than get another job right away, I decided I would go to culinary school and put off the real world for just a bit longer.
After culinary school, I went to pastry school and did the blog as a hobby. I started working as a private chef and the rest is history. I’ve always loved feeding people and bringing people together over food so I think at my core, that’s why I got into food.
Photo Credit: Matt Armendariz
What gave you the idea to transition from being a personal chef to a full-time professional food blogger?
It was right before my first cookbook was coming out and I decided that if I was going to make a go of it, I needed to jump in headfirst. It helped that the blog was generating a modest income at that point, so I knew it was possible. It was incredibly scary at first but ended up being the best decision I’ve ever made.
Your taste in food did a 180 from pasta and grilled cheese to mushrooms, fish, and more. What inspired that change in you?
My culinary school teacher kicked me into high gear when she told me I’d never make it in the food world if I didn’t learn how to eat fish and mushrooms. Never one to back down from a challenge, I took it in stride and here we are!
Nearly all of your Instagram photos and many of your recipes feature avocados. What’s your favorite way to use them?
I mean, I do love an avocado! I eat them on a daily basis, so it’s no wonder why my first cookbook was called Absolutely Avocados. But I’m a purist — the best way to eat them is smashed up in guacamole with a big pile of tortilla chips and some of my favorite salsa!
Why do you think California (and LA, more specifically) is the ultimate food destination? Do you have any favorite food spots in LA?
I could tell you that it’s because LA is this melting pot of food cultures (which is totally true) but I also think it has a lot to do with the fact that we have incredible produce coming out of California and the laid back vibe of LA lends itself to enjoying food.
We like to eat outside, take leisurely lunches (even if it means working late) and try new things. So all of that certainly plays into the fact that LA is killing it in the food scene.
I have lots of favorite places to eat: Bestia, Sotto, Cassia, Milo and Olive, Don Antonio’s, Gjusta, Rose Cafe, Sugar Fish, Bay Cities, Norah, the What’s Gaby Cooking kitchen…I could go on for days!
How does traveling inspire your culinary endeavors?
It’s one of the main ways I stay inspired. Going to a new destination and experiencing a new food culture keeps me on my toes. It also allows me to meet people from all walks of life who like to eat different things and thus expands my interest in food!
What is your foolproof go-to dish for entertaining?
If it’s summer time I’ll do a grilled pizza and a farmers’ market salad. If it’s fall or winter, I’ll opt for a lasagna with a 3 meat bolognese sauce, and if it’s spring I’ll do a whole roasted side of salmon with basil vinaigrette!
Surf or turf?
Sweet or savory?
Favorite celebrity cook or food show?
3 elements that make the perfect food photo?
Color, abundance, and avocados
Other food bloggers that you follow?
I love Heather Christo! Her recipes are insanely good and they all just happen to be allergy free!
Do you have any advice for aspiring chefs or social media influencers?
Find your voice and go for it. No one can tell a story the way you can, whether it’s through food or writing, so figure out what you want to share and then dive in!
Can you tell us about the writing, editing, and testing process for your cookbook?
Writing a cookbook is the quickest way to gain 10 pounds. But that aside, this upcoming cookbook (which is due out in Spring 2018) was such an incredible experience. Like all the recipes you’ll find on my website, each recipe in the book was tested a minimum of 5 times before it was finalized by myself and my team.
After all the recipes were good to go, we gathered up my version of a glam squad (food photographer, food stylist, and prop stylist) and shot each and every recipe that will be featured in the book! We eat with our eyes first, so it was super important to me to make sure every recipe had a visual story!
Once all that was done, I put finishing touches on the headnotes (the blurb that comes before each recipe with a quick backstory on why I love it) and then sent it off to my editor!
What else do you have in store for the future?
Aside from the upcoming cookbook, I just came out with my own product line with Williams-Sonoma. It’s a line of 3 salsas that can be used as salsas (obviously) or guacamole starters (just mix 1/3 cup with 4 ripe avocados) or marinades, salad dressings, sauces etc.
I love products that have multi-uses so this was SO exciting to create and I love that everyone I’ve met through my social media channels has an opportunity to bring a little piece of me into their kitchens!
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Photo credit: Matt Armendariz.