Throughout her career in technology, Kristi Willis was focused on identifying the needs and finding the solutions to complicated problems. It took nearly twenty years for her to do the same for herself. In 2009, the chestnut-haired native of Austin, Texas combined her desire to write about food and cooking, her technology expertise, and her need to make a living. She founded KW Solutions Group, a company that creates technology training courses for corporate clients, and also affords her the flexibility to write two blogs, Kristi’s Farm to Table and Ditch the Box, act as Evernote‘s Food Writing Ambassador and teach a course, Writing in the Cloud, at CookNScribble.
“I keep busy,” says Willis, in her speed-talking drawl, “My technology background is what makes me unique as a food writer. I can’t imagine doing one without the other.”
Kristi’s family was the first on the block to have a computer, and possibly the last to embrace unfamiliar foods. ”I grew up eating processed food and a rotation of about eight different vegetables, mostly overcooked,” she says, “but I was always attracted to the kitchen, always wanting to make things.”
During college at the University of Texas at Austin, Kristi wanted to be a writer, but her dad encouraged her to earn a business degree. “He was concerned that writers don’t make any money,” she says, so after graduation she got a job helping write computer textbooks for a technology company, which began her life-long love of adult education.
Kristi ventured into food writing by accident 7 years ago. “I was broke one Christmas and I was trying to find something I could do that would be meaningful to people but not expensive,” she says. She created and printed a cookbook for her family and the response was encouraging.
“Across the board, everyone was like ‘Oh My God! I love this so much!’” she says. She did it again, and then again. By the third year she was out of recipes, so she started writing about her forays at the weekend farmers market.
In 2008, “I started a blog to help my family shop at the market and cook what they found, which many of them didn’t know how to do,” she says. The blog, Austin Farm to Table, also insured that she attended the market every week and created recipes from the ingredients she found.
“It was the first time I was really writing about what I wanted to write about,” she says, “It was really cool how responsive people were.”
Kristi was thinking “help my family” not “monetize my recipes and words” when she started her blog. But the organizers of the farmer’s market started spreading the word and within months, Austin Farm to Table had become an indispensible tool for farm market shoppers in Austin. Kristi also began tweeting from the market what she was buying and what was available that day, and people went nuts. “What this told me, as someone who works with computers and adults,” she says, “is that if they’re asking me, they can’t find the answers anyplace else.”
In 2011, she renamed the blog Kristi’s Farm to Table to appeal to a wider geographical audience, and started her second blog, Ditch the Box, a response to the numbers of non-cooks who approached her with questions and requests for easier recipes and cooking tips.
“The adult educator in me said anyone can do this, it just needs to be demystified a bit,” she says. The same is true of technology. In addition to technology consulting for corporate clients at KW Solutions Group, Kristi worked with Molly O’Neill, founder of CookNScribble.com, to create the Food Writers Toolbox, a streamlined practicum in tools that help food writers organize their desks, their content, their recipes and their minds.
“Suddenly my technology background was serving my love of food,” said Willis, who will teach her class online at CookNScribble again this winter and will also offer the seminar in February at the Edible Communities Conference in Santa Barbara.
The various hats Kristi wears pay the bills and feed the soul. At the very least, in her quest for a well-balanced life, “I now eat a rotation of about forty vegetables,” she says.
“It all comes down to figuring out what makes you happy and combining that with what makes money,” says Kristi. Food and technology change constantly. “Lately,” she says, “I’ve been thinking a lot about e-publishing.”
But of course. Once dinner is cooked and your virtual desk is organized, publishing would be the logical solution to all the well-ordered content one has created, right?
“It’s important for all food writers to find out what makes them unique and not try to be someone else. The food writer’s toolbox is what makes me unique. Finding this was a good thing.”
“Content and usability are the keys to a good blog. Think about the taxonomy; how the blog is structured and what you want in the menus. People will come back to the site if they know they can find exactly what they’re looking for.”
“It’s important for food writers to be clear about their goals. Once you’re clear about what you want, try to put together a plan. One of the great tools for me over the past year has been creating my editorial calendar.”