Shortly after I founded Serious Eats in 2007, I asked James Beard Award–winning cookbook author Dorie Greenspan if she'd serve as our first baking columnist on the site. Serious Eats was an unproven proposition at that point, but Dorie signed on.
As it turns out, that willingness to try new things, meet new people, and learn from it all along the way has been one of cornerstones of this renowned food writer's success.
"What I've always done, and what I always advise, is to say yes," says Dorie, whose tenth book, Around My French Table, is just hitting bookshelves now. "I'm not an organized person and I've never had a 'life plan,' but if an opportunity came along, I'd always take it."
That perhaps-unwitting strategy has paid off for Dorie, a contributing editor to Parade magazine and a longtime contributor to Bon Appetit. She's the food critic for the Louis Vuitton City Guide to New York, and in the last past 20 years has written 10 cookbooks and won five James Beard and IACP awards for them.
"I've always been lucky to have had the opportunity to say yes," she says. "It's kind of like the chicken and the egg. Are you born lucky or do you make your own luck? If you put yourself in the world with wide eyes and enthusiasm, things happen."
Dorie started out on the ground floor of number of successful organizations. "I said yes to a lot of things when they were just starting out," she says. She was Elle's first food writer and recipe tester when the U.S. version of the magazine launched in 1985. She worked at the James Beard Foundation during its founding in 1986 writing the newsletter; it started at four pages and had grown to 40 by the time she left.
By 1991 she had written Sweet Times and then, "In 1994, I went to work at the Food Network," she says. "I had to buy a television and get cable. That was new, but, you know, I'm always excited about doing something new and working with new people."
After the Food Network came a string of books written with some of the biggest names in the culinary world—Julia Child, French pastry chef Pierre Herme, Manhattan chef Daniel Boulud—all brought about in some way through her willingness to meet new people and learn new things.
In 2007, after winning a James Beard Award for Best Baking & Desserts Cookbook for Baking: From My Home to Yours, a whole new opportunity to say yes, meet new people, and learn new things presented itself. That's when a woman named Laurie Woodward approached Dorie with an idea. Woodward wanted to start a weekly bake-along blog in which she would bake from the book and post about it on her site, Tuesdays with Dorie, encouraging other food bloggers to do the same.
"She wrote to me and said, 'Would it be alright if I did this?' Which was sweet, because it seems like nobody feels they have to ask permission to do these things anymore," Dorie says.
Dorie said yes.
From there, Tuesdays with Dorie took off, with about 400 bloggers participating each week at its peak, all baking from her book and posting the results on a different "host" blog, round-robin-style, every Tuesday. Already well-regarded and established in the print-cookbook world, Dorie became an Internet baking icon. Saying yes to what was then a relatively new medium raised the profile of Dorie's personal brand, spreading it to thousands upon thousands of home bakers around the world.
But it's also a two-way street. Dorie says she checks in at the various blogs posting their results and is inspired herself by what people are doing with variations on her recipes. For instance, "I'm loving the burnt salted caramel sauce that Chez Us added to my Parisian apple tart recipe," she says.
"So many people who joined TwD had never baked before and they learned through this. To me, that's so powerful—and it's just this combination of the work, the Internet and trying something new."