Partner Spotlight: Chris Cockren of Shared Appetite
Here at Ahalogy, it’s no secret that our influencers are at the core of everything we do. From their gorgeous imagery to their unique creative vision, we would be lost without our Ahalogy Partners—a network of over 5,500+ content creators across the Food & Drink, Health & Beauty, Lifestyle, and Parenting categories. Just as no two blogs look the same, each of our influencers have a different story to share. Check out the following Partner Spotlight interview to learn more about what it takes to become an Ahalogy Partner.
Is there such a thing as a work hard, eat hard mentality? If so, Chris Cockren of Shared Appetite embodies it. A fan of big, bold flavors in his cooking, Chris is also a full-time teacher and part-time wedding photographer in addition to running his own successful food blog. Fans of Shared Appetite can expect to get a variety of tasty recipes that are perfect for entertaining friends and family alike. Be sure to head on over to his blog and give him a follow to keep up with his latest kitchen creations.
What inspired you to start blogging?
I’m also a teacher full time so around 8 years back, a colleague of mine was always seeing me post on my personal Facebook account the things I was cooking at home and—whenever I ventured into the city—what I was eating. She said to me, “you should start a food blog.” I honestly had no idea what that was. I had never even heard of a blog, went to a blog, had no idea what they were. But I was intrigued with just trying to have all of my recipes all in one place for me to have a digital recipe box so I knew what I was cooking. And also just kind of a virtual ‘where I’ve been eating’ so I can remember. I decided why not try it and from there it just blossomed into this, into what it is now which is an actual place of mine on the internet. Which is really cool.
When I first started out, no one came to my blog, like not even my mom. So, I was like huh, I must be doing something a little bit wrong if even my own mother isn’t going. The person who helped me start my blog, who is still my kind of my techy person who does all of my coding and everything, I asked him, “how come no one is coming to my blog? I don’t understand.” And he told me, “Chris, your photos are terrible. It looks like vomit.” He’s like, “no one would want to eat what you are photographing.” So I was like huh, ok, maybe I should try to learn a little about photography. From just those simple words I started to teach myself about using a camera and that’s how I got into also photographing weddings. That’s actually the guy who I photograph weddings with now.
What’s it like being a male blogger in a largely female-dominated space?
It’s kind of a double edged sword. On one hand, it’s awesome. Especially for working with different partners and brands. I think being a male definitely helps set myself apart automatically. So, it’s great with working with different brands because I feel like they’re looking for a male voice. So in that respect, it’s pretty awesome. It’s also been really great in that there’s not a lot of us so we’re all friends with each other and we attach to one another. You know, I’ve made some really great meaningful virtual friendships and real-life friendships just through reaching out to other dude food bloggers and saying, “hey, you know, we exist.”
And then the other side of that is the majority of the readership is definitely female as well. Sometimes you can feel it’s a little bit harder to connect with your audience. But as a whole I kind of like being a little different. It’s kind of setting yourself apart a little bit. It’s pretty easy being a male food blogger. You know, you don’t have to necessarily have your own food niche. It’s kind of like you’re male and that in itself is your own niche in the food world.
But at the same time, I have a different view on how to connect with my audience and just being authentic to being me—to being a male food blogger and owning it. I bring my spin to it of, hey, I love big bold flavors. I love grilling. This is what I want to present to you and it’s been really great so far.
What’s your process for creating a new recipe?
Basically what I make is what I want to eat. Which sounds really simple but what I’m drawn to 90% of the time is Mexican/southwest flavors or some sort of Korean-esque flavor profile. A lot of times it’s just I had something at a restaurant or I saw something on a menu or I got inspiration from another food blogger or a recipe I saw and it’s like, huh, I can do that with a Southwest twist. I can do that with a Korean twist.
I went through a phase where I was really into Greek food so I did a lot of Mediterranean-type things. The way I develop a recipe is very much what I feel like eating in that particular point in time. And basically what I do is I just experiment. At this point you kind of know. I don’t do a ton of baking which is definitely much more scientific, trial and error, doing it over and over again. And I don’t do a lot of baking recipes because of that, especially because I’m a full-time teacher and also because of the wedding photography. I just don’t have the time to develop my scientific baking know-how type of thing.
So a lot of times in cooking—especially with the Mexican flavor profile, Southwest, Korean—you know what’s going to work. I have a working idea of what I want the recipe to be and I kind of tweak as I go. I taste and then I say, oh, we need more of this, we need more of that, we try it again. I also have two built-in taste testers at home with my wife and my toddler. So it’s pretty much if they both like it ,I know it’s probably a win.
Is your toddler a picky eater?
She used to be. She also has a peanut allergy so my wife and I were very scared for a while to have her try anything. But now we’re starting to get a little, not relaxed with it, but we understand that we can’t have her in this bubble forever. And she’s also been really into ramen lately. Which, we’re really excited about. And not the instant ramen but actual ramen in restaurants and stuff. If the server tries to give her a spoon she always asks, “no, where are my chopsticks?” So she’s finally venturing into trying a lot of new things and a lot of new flavors. She always will now at least try it.
What’s something unique that you’ve learned from working on sponsored posts with brands?
I guess working with some brands the challenge is sometimes there’s a lack of clarity in what the brand wants or in what the agency wants. With Ahalogy it’s really not like that. You guys always make it very clear in your briefs what you’re looking for, which is fantastic. It makes my life so much easier.
Sometimes you kind of go back and forth or even the contract is very vague. A lot of times brands, you know, working with bloggers is very new for them so they’ll send me out a contract and the contract just doesn’t make sense from a food blogging standpoint. A lot of times brands don’t even know what language should be in a contract. When I first started out, I was very much like, oh, whatever you want! You want to work with me? Fantastic. I’ll just do whatever you say. And now, you know, I’ve been doing it for awhile and it’s kind of like, no, this is standard practice right now. This is my policy on ownership rights and whether or not you can alter my images—which is always a no—and things like that. And brands are always very receptive to what your personal preferences are in contracts and things like that.
Sometimes the lack of clarity is just not there in what they’re looking for in the post or in the recipe but with Ahalogy, it’s always very clear—even with your video work. All that stuff really helps in creating our posts and knowing exactly what the asks are ahead of time.
The only other thing that I have pretty much shied away from at this point is I’ll only accept a sponsored post if I’m really excited to work with that brand and the brand gives me freedom in creating a recipe that will work for me. In the past, sometimes brands were like, “we want you to make this.” I knew that the short term payoff might be good, but in the long term there’s no way that I’m going to be able to get traffic on this post or SEO quality on this post because of what they want in the title or what they want language-wise. It’s not going to work. But again, Ahalogy has been fantastic with just allowing me the freedom to create what I want to create and make it work for both ends.
How do you balance brand expectations against your obligation to yourself and your readers?
Something that I think speaks to this is a post that I recently worked with Ahalogy and Frito-Lay on. I was doing a Doritos-Crusted Mac and Cheese Bowl for the big football game and just the way I photographed it, I didn’t want the Doritos bag to be in your face, this is sponsored content. When I have readers look at a photo, I want them to know what they’re eating. By just having the Doritos bag in the background, off to the side, with some chips laid out, it was very apparent with what the mac and cheese bowls were crusted with. I had a friend of mine who’s actually a graphic designer, he texted me and he was like, “was this a sponsored post?” And I said, yeah, you know, it was for Doritos. And he was like, “you did such a great job with that because I stopped and I looked and I didn’t even know it was a sponsored post. I just instantly said, ‘wow, I have to go get Doritos and make this.’”
I think that’s kind of important because readers are really smart. They know when something is not authentic and even with just how you can present the brand’s team messaging, if you don’t make it your own, if you don’t prep a story around it—and that kind of goes back, I think, to why you need to work with brands that you really believe in. That gives you freedom to really let your own creativity shine because when there’s so many restrictions that are in place from the brand, it’s going to sound fake. There’s no way around it. Working with the right brands or agencies and just being authentic to your own voice is how I found success with that so far. It’s not about, “oh here’s a product I think you would like.” It’s “here’s a really great recipe that you need to really have this product for.” And that makes a big difference.
What’s some advice that you would give to someone who’s trying to find their blogging niche?
I think the number one thing in blogging in general right now is when blogging first started out, it was much easier to become noticed and to quickly amass a large following because there wasn’t a lot of noise out there. Right now there’s a ridiculous amount of blogs, especially in food. I’ve seen so many blogs come and go where they were really excited for 6 months or a year and then they realized this is a lot of work and they gave up. So, I think the number one thing to be successful in blogging is you have to stick it out. You have to not be afraid to take breaks.
There are times where I get burnt out and my wedding season with photos is just in full gear and I’m a music teacher so I have concerts. That December area and that June area are just swamped so those are two months where I’m ok with letting Shared Appetite take a back seat. At first I thought, what happens if I let it go for a month? Is everything going to be gone? And no, everything is still there when you come back. If you’re crafting your post with SEO in mind—which that, for me, is number one. Social media is great but for me it’s not the most important thing with crafting blog posts because with Twitter and Facebook, you’re not going on Twitter and searching for a recipe. You’re going on Google. So for me, SEO is the most important thing. When I’m blogging and I’m creating posts, I’m doing it for the long-term game.
If I was going to start all over again, I would definitely have a much smaller focus in what I was creating. What I’ve found over time personally is, for me, I really love creating entertaining recipes with big bold flavors. That’s what I’m trying to stick to. Be as specific as possible and do something that you’re passionate about because if you’re not passionate about it, you’re going to have a really hard time doing it for that long term.
There you have it. We hope that you enjoyed this inside look into what it’s like to run a successful food blog in today’s influencer marketing space. Like Chris, all of our Ahalogy Partners bring their own unique perspectives to the table when it comes to creating authentic content for their readers to enjoy. Be sure to check back in next month for more tips and tricks from our newest Partner Spotlight.