Q&A #3: Jared Paventi of Al Dente

We’re going to try something new here at Al Dente. Rather than just write about the beer I drink or food I eat, I want to learn more about the people that make, grow, and get the food and/or drinks to us. And, I want to share what they know with all of you. I’m working out the kinks, so if this is a little long, I apologize. I also don’t know what to call this yet, but all in due time.

In an effort to make this even more strange than normal, this Q&A is an exercise in self-flagellation.

Al Dente has been around since January 2011. In its first post, I wrote:

Today, through all of it, cooking is a therapeutic release. I can’t fix a damn thing. I can’t change my car’s oil. I’m useless with a golf club. But, you give me a couple of hours notice and I’ll assure you that you will eat well. It’s my art. It’s my release. It’s what gets me through. And I’m happy to share it.

As we close in on the fifth anniversary of Al Dente, I’ve been thinking a lot about this site, what it means and what I think it should be.

So, why exactly did you start this blog?

I have always needed a distraction. At St. Bonaventure, as an undergrad, I worked on the newspaper staff and in the athletic department’s PR office. Both were needed distractions from the reason why I was there. In grad school, I went to classes to distract me from my indentured servitude/graduate assistantship in the athletic department. When I don’t have some balance or distraction for a long period of time, I seem to veer off course. But, sometimes that counterweight becomes counterproductive. For seven years, I adjuncted at Bryant & Stratton. By the end, I was so bored out of my mind that I was mailing it in. The Kid’s birth gave me my exit. My stated reason for leaving was that I needed to be home more for her and not for some other person’s kid. The real reason was that I could not care one way or the other about the classes I was teaching. I spent more time coming up with assignments for them to stay busy with than I was actually teaching them what they needed to learn. It made me a bad instructor and I needed to get out of the classroom so that the students paying to be there had someone who gave a shit. So, my exit was made.

Yes, but you didn’t answer the question. Why did you start the blog?

Fair point. I’m honing my presidential debate skills, filling air with words that don’t actually answer a question.

Don’t let me stop you. Evade away.

Ha. So, the reason why Al Dente came to pass was that I needed something to funnel all of my excess attention into. Yes, I had a newborn that got a lot of my attention, but I still felt like I needed a creative outlet. With teaching gone, I was without one. So, I started a WordPress space where I could work some things out. It’s still there, but I’m not going to link to it. Finally, I decided that I wanted to dip my toe into the waters of food blogging. I had no idea what I was doing, but I knew that I really liked to cook and that I could write well. Why not pair the two together?

And?

And, I did. It started small with a few dozen readers a day. At my peak I had hundreds of people clicking through to see my work. It was gratifying and I felt like something good was happening.

Did something good happen?

Yeah, sort of. I had an explosive post about two or three years ago on the things that made Syracuse a great food town. That continues to be talked about and visited. I think it opened me up to a larger readership in the Syracuse blogosphere.

Did that post lead you to self-host?

Absolutely. I realized that the biggest error I made with that post was that I drew thousands of visitors to that post and I didn’t have a lick of advertising on my page. The stats were gratifying, but I wasn’t able to make a dime on it. So, I started exploring options for self-hosting and including ads on the site. It was in October or November 2014 when I decided to flip the switch on the new, sleeker format with display ads and the like.

Did you weigh the pros and cons to ads?

I did. I definitely wanted to monetize my content, but I was concerned with it looking like Nassau Straw Market with ads for crap screaming at you from every turn. I’m not 100 percent satisfied with how the ads are delivered but it’s livable.

I get the sense from our conversation that you just are not satisfied.

Well, yeah. I’ve had walls here where I feel like I’m talking and no one is listening. Right now I’m in a cycle where not only do I feel like no one is listening, but I’m just slapping posts up here for the sake of producing content. That’s no way to do this.

How long have you felt this way?

I think for the past month or two. Usually, I get into these modes where the only thing stopping me from writing is time. I could sit at the laptop for hours and just write all night long. Sometimes, I look at my computer and growl that I have work to do. I haven’t felt the former since some time this summer. Right now, I’m on the back side of that peak and really feeling like this blog has no purpose or meaning.

So, do you have a plan for fixing that?

Not really. I think what’s going to happen is this. I’m going to post this, then step away from Al Dente for a little while. I’m going to try and enjoy cooking again. Right now I feel like I’m cooking to create content, not cooking to enjoy food. That’s not healthy, or at least it isn’t for me. So, Al Dente is going to take a rest, until after the holidays, probably. I need a rest, it needs a rest, and I need to figure out what I want this space to look like.

Are you going to get away from food writing?

No, not necessarily, but this has been largely a recipe blog. I still like doing that, but I think I want to do more Q&As, reviews and the like, and less recipes. I spend a lot of time cooking other people’s stuff, adapting their recipes, and writing about it. It’s become boring. Rote. Trite. Totally not interesting.

I can see that.

I want to get back in the kitchen and cook without worrying about taking a photo at the right time or if the light by the stove is right. I need to get out of my cooking comfort zone, not because it makes good content, but because it makes me a well-rounded eater and cook. I want to try cooking more Korean food. I want to try Vietnamese food. I want to broaden my Mexican, Spanish and South American cooking. But I want to do it for me and not because I need to see my daily readership hit 200 visits.

So, back in January?

I don’t know. I think that is my goal. That would mark 5 years of Al Dente. Hopefully by then, I’ll have come up with some direction for here. If not, it could be longer. I still owe everyone a post from the Chain Challenge, and that will happen. I’ll still be on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, but just not so much here. Here and I just need some time apart.

It sounds like you breaking up with your blog.

It’s does, doesn’t it? It’s not you, it’s me, right? I just need a break to figure out what I want from this relationship. Until then, we’re free to see other people.

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