A zest for the food world: Chatting with Corie Brown from Zester Daily

My favorite drawer in the kitchen is my “gadget” drawer. It’s almost like an adventure hunting through that drawer, trying to find a specific tool while cooking. Part of the fun is coming across an odd uni-tasker and experiencing that “why the crap did I buy THAT” moment (everyone needs a garlic peeler, don’t they??).

One of the more useful tools in my “gadget” drawer is a zester. It’s a simple tool, really. Scrape it against the face of a lemon, an orange or any other citrus and you get a punch of flavor in a pinch. Taking it beyond its culinary functionality, though, a zester can also serve as inspiration for an incredibly great idea.

Several weeks ago I had a chance to speak with Corie Brown, co-founder and general manager of Zester Daily, a very unique site for food, wine and travel enthusiasts with a focus on smart writing (one of my favorite sites to check in on, to be honest). In Corie’s own words, “Our name, Zester Daily, does refer to the kitchen utensil, but not literally. We use it in the sense that we like to get beneath the surface of things in our stories.”

During my conversation with Corie we were able to “get beneath the surface” of Zester Daily to find out more:

Corie Brown – Co-founder and General Manager of Zester Daily

Foodie Journal: So talk to me a little bit about what Zester Daily is?
Corie Brown: It started out with very modest ambitions, but has become much more ambitious as time has gone on. At it’s core it really is a support system for writers, professional journalists, cookbook writers, and really for any professional writer in the food and wine space. What we eat and drink is of fundamental importance to our world, and we choose to write about all aspects of those things. We have a team of editors that help to edit material that comes in from our contributors. While to some that may not seem like a big deal, to writers it really is important. To know that what you’re putting out there really is as good as it can be, it’s a huge service. There is a promotional support system as well to help our writers get the attention they deserve.

FJ: So, what type of response has there been? Have there been folks really looking for this type of support in the food writing space?
CB: Well, it’s just a really difficult time for writers. What we discovered was that this was a service that people wanted and needed. Right now we have 50 writers around the world, and we have this sense of possibility that we can have 50 more. We’ve already got a substantial network, and we wanted to build on that. So we needed a site that would really support that. So that is why we relaunched Zester Daily in its current form. We are indeed very ambitious with what we’re trying to do.

FJ: From the food writers point-of-view, what’s the investment on their end?
CB: Well, we are very focused on being of practical help. I mean, all of our contributors make an investment in the site by putting in the time to write. That takes time and effort to contribute in that way. But, most of our contributors seem to feel that they really are getting more than they give by being a part of the site. So, we’re very practical in our approach to what people need and how to help writers succeed.

FJ: As far as the readers are concerned, how does Zester Daily end up benefiting them?
CB: We are very focused on serving our readers. We’ve come to appreciate that we need to write stories that work for people. We have a loyal following of people that don’t want their news and information dumbed down. In the same way that we are aspirational, our readers are as well. They want stories that help them to understand more about the world and not just, you know, “5 meals in 5 minutes for $5”. We know that stories like that are beneficial at times, but we really wanted to bring our writing up to the next level. So we strive to write for people who are intellectually engaged with the idea of what we eat and drink. We’re pretty excited about it, and we’ve had a great response from it. We have syndication deals in place with Yahoo and with the Huffington Post, and that brings in a good number of new readers to the site.

FJ: I know you’ve won awards for your writing. You’ve worked for the LA Times, for Newsweek, and Premiere magazine. How did you make your way to the food beat, and how did that lead to Zester Daily?
CB: I’ve been a journalist for my whole career and have written about a variety of topics: Nuclear power, environment, and entertainment. I covered Hollywood for many years. After a while I really just got tired of it. I was ready to move on to something new, so when I had a chance to jump over and cover food I was like, “Sign me up! That sounds like a great job!” I feel in love with it.

I always appreciated Hollywood because it was always the small-talk of the world, you know? People who didn’t really have much in common could sit down and talk about American television, movies and music. It really was a way for people to connect. But then with food, I found that same kind of connectivity but on a much deeper scale. People could talk about food in the same detail, but also bring something of their own to the table making for a much deeper conversation. It really was the best beat I was ever on. I loved it.

So when I left the LA Times I found that I really wanted to continue writing about food. I thought, “Well, I don’t really want to write a blog. Everyone has a blog these days.” I really wanted to do something more challenging and interesting, and I liked the idea of creating a collective of people like myself. I managed to find people who thought along the same lines, and that’s how Zester came to be. It’s been fun!

FJ: So why should people check out Zester Daily?
CB: It’s a site that is really easy to find your way around. We hope that people will come and take full advantage of what we have. We have over 1,000 stories in our archives, a lot of really fun and interesting stories that are all original to Zester Daily. This isn’t an aggregation of someone else’s stuff. It’s original content that is fun and really thought provoking. So I’d say come play and enjoy the site!

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