In this episode, Dani Colombatto talks about how to live a more colorful life by bringing color to your surroundings whenever and wherever you can. She discusses the importance of being your own champion and trusting your intuition. We talk about cultivating your own personal style rather than simply following trends. This episode is all about trusting your instincts and owning your brilliance.
Dani’s childhood influenced her career as an author, food stylist, and food blogger. We chat about it in this episode of the podcast. We also talk about how her first two cookbooks came to be and what she has planned for her third.
Dani’s career began in 2014 as a food, fashion, and product stylist, and since then, has taken on many forms. Dani’s gone on to art-direct, photograph, and style campaigns, as well as develop recipes for many brands, including Veuve Clicquot, Urban Outfitters, SKYY Vodka, Method Home, West Elm, and many more. In 2020, she wrote her first cookbook, titled, The 30-Minute Pescatarian Cookbook. In 2022, she followed it up with her second, titled, The Complete Fish Cookbook, both published by Rockridge Press. She is known for her eclectic, vibrant, colorful style, and bright, punchy recipes. You can find Dani’s recipes on her Instagram and website, both titled “Dani Goes South.” She lives in Austin with her husband, Benjamin, and two cats, Greg and Lou.
What it was like to grow up with a family that loved food and how that influenced Dani’s writing.
How Dani’s cookbooks came to be and the best piece of career advice she received that’s helped her in her career.
Don’t forget to listen to Mica’s Interview with Aaron Clift from The Accountable Artist.
[00:00:00] Mica: Welcome to the fourth episode of The Savory Shot. My name is Mica and I'm your host with the most. In episode three, we had Aaron Clift from The Accountable Artist as our guest. And it was phenomenal. If you haven't listened to that episode yet, go back and give it a listen. Aaron dropped some incredible wisdom on how to run your books and make a living as an artist.
But let's talk about today's episode. Today's episode is going to be packed with energy, laughs and so much insight into adding color to your life wherever and whenever you can. I hope you're ready because it's coming. Today's guest, Dani Colombatto. She's a multihyphenate artist. Seriously y'all. [00:01:00] She's.
She's a food stylist, food photographer, food blogger, and author of not one but two cookbooks. She's on fire, y'all! She's known for her eclectic, vibrant, colorful, and punchy style. I met Dani back in 2020, I think. When I hired her for a big shoot. It was my first big production with a large enough budget to hire food stylist, which I was pretty nervous about because I'd never hired a food stylist before.
I didn't know what to expect. And like I said, I was pretty nervous about it. I'd been doing things on my own for cheese for so long that it seems strange to hire someone else to take over the styling. So y'all, I searched and searched all over the internet, looking for a food [00:02:00] stylist whose styles spoke my language.
[00:02:03] Mica: I wanted color. I wanted punchy. I wanted drama. Then I landed on Dani's website. I saw her portfolio and y'all, it had all of those things and more. From our very first conversation, Dani blew me away. She was creative. She had a flare for fresh ingredients and her styling was, muah, chef's kiss. We were besties from day one.
I could tell that she and I would work on so many shoots together. She has an amazing story to tell about how she started out as a blogger and then turned her blog into a business that now includes getting two cookbooks published and food styling for large name brands. But, before we get into that, let's start the show.
[00:03:36] Mica: I just wanna start off by saying thank you for being here and for being a guest on The Savory Shot podcast. There was a weird pause there.
[00:03:47] Dani: I was you froze for a second. I was like, Wait, are we on? No, thank you so much. I'm so excited for you. And so happy to be here.
[00:03:54] Mica: I just wanna dive right into this because we've got a lot to, to go [00:04:00] over. And I just know that this podcast episode is just gonna be jam packed with so much fun stuff. So I wanna get right into it. One of the first things I noticed when I found your website was just how vibrant everything was. And I love that. The first shoot that we did together was with Round Rock Honey and I was looking for a food stylist and I've been searching and searching and searching. And I found your website and I was just like, "Holy crap, this is amazing. This is what I'm looking for." With that being said, your website, it says you're a recipe developer, food stylist, photographer, writer. What else is there to know about you?
[00:04:43] Dani: Ooh, what else is there to know about me? Are we talking like career wise or are we talking in general?
[00:04:51] Mica: The sky's the limit.
[00:04:53] Dani: Well, what else is there to know about me? I would say that the thing that's hard to [00:05:00] convey about yourself, just like through your work is just the level of meaning behind the stories, behind a food or a particular photo. I don't think anyone would follow my Instagram if I was shoehorning in a blog post in every single caption explaining every story.
But I suppose, the thing that I would most want people to know, I guess about my work is that I earnestly put so much thought into each recipe or each shot. It all comes from a place of usually very like sappy, nostalgic, inspiration. I really care a lot. I'm not sure if that's something that you can easily convey to people through a photo.
It's easy to assume a lot about people on social media and it's also easy to create a beautiful photo nowadays. There's so many people doing it.
[00:05:58] Mica: I totally agree with you. [00:06:00] There is a way to show that you care a lot in your photos, just by the amount of detail that goes into the actual photo itself.
[00:06:11] Dani: Sure. Yeah, I definitely feel that. It's definitely been an interesting journey balancing, "Oh, these are elements that should be here style wise versus things that come from like a deep place of inspiration." Which is what I enjoy so much about creating recipes of my own and selfishly doing my own little work in my bubble and letting the inspiration flow and not necessarily having like an end result in mind, but enjoying the process. I truly love what I do. That's so integral to choosing to do something every single day to living any sort of happy life. That I guess would be my super long winded response.
[00:06:56] Mica: There are no such things as long-winded [00:07:00] answers in this podcast.
[00:07:02] Dani: Long winded answer.
[00:07:04] Mica: That's why I ask open-ended questions, you know? You started styling and shooting recipes back in 2013. You said during a much less happy time in your career, take me back to that moment. What was your life like at that time?
[00:07:21] Dani: I was living in a place it's called Oceanside North County, San Diego, close to where I grew up. I graduated college in 2012 and went to school for fashion. I was working in fashion at the time. Hearkening back to the whole, I care a lot thing. Not that people in the fashion industry don't care, but just for me and what I was doing personally, it didn't feel like the most meaningful pursuit. It was a little soul draining. I was in a different relationship at the time and just all, all in your twenties things, right?
Well, at least in my case. I would come home from work at the [00:08:00] end of the day and just be a little drained and not stimulated creatively. I was working as a corporate visual merchandiser for Tory Birch. While I knew it wasn't what I wanted to do in the long haul, I knew that it was informing me for what I wanted to do in the future in some way, just didn't know what. So I'd come home every day and I had a friend who she was on Instagram all the time, and she was like, I'm telling you, you would love it.
You would have so much fun. You've gotta get on there. If you posted your food, like you'd have so much fun. And I was like, you know what, forget it. I'm doing it. I'm a very late adopter with social media. I really dig my heels in. Like I don't wanna do it. I finally did it and started getting like poster boards at Staples and started mostly with like pretty cocktails.
Cause I'd come home from a long day and be like, "Ugh, I wanna cocktail, but make it super beautiful." And I started experimenting with different things and flowers. I've always loved [00:09:00] thrifting and vintage things. So I was beginning to collect props little by little. And so these little pieces started coming together and it began to be a really excellent creative release for me.
At the time I had no plans of where that would take me, but I started getting some sort of interest because God bless the lack of algorithm back in the day.
[00:09:26] Mica: Oh, the good old days.
[00:09:33] Dani: Yeah. So I began getting like some fashion clients and lifestyle clients, and I'd been doing fashion styling, like on the side for a while, but it was a real schlep. Like hauling rack of clothes. It was a lot. So I just little by little started getting these clients and then I'd have clients that instead of wanting just styling, they would be like, "Well, we like your photos. What can you do in that department?" I'd be like, oh my gosh, [00:10:00] guess I better learn photography. So I had to-
[00:10:03] Mica: I could do whatever you pay me to do.
[00:10:05] Dani: Exactly. I just, I said a lot of yes, for better or worse. Like a lot of times, of course, in hindsight, you look back and you go, uh, shouldn't have done that for free, or shouldn't have done that for this price or shouldn't have taken that client period. It was a huge, huge learning time. That period of time was very jam packed with so many jobs, so much like grinding every single day. And I was still working my day jobs.
[00:10:31] Mica: Man, I feel you on that one. I feel you on that one. You're going to college, you do the college thing, you get the job for the degree and then you realize, "Wow, this isn't at all what I expected it to be and maybe I should not be doing this." When did you realize that your work had become a calling instead of, you know, something that just made money?
[00:10:59] Dani: That's a really, [00:11:00] really great question. You know, honestly, I was gonna go back further, but I really don't think, like I fully realized that until probably like 2017. Until I like moved to Texas, which is odd because that's almost five years of doing all of that and not really coming to a place where I felt like, "Oh, I, I belong here." And I'm not a type of person that really believes I'm entitled to this. I deserve this. So getting to a spot where I really felt like, "Okay, I have a, I have a space of, of my own here. My work has value and I enjoy it. Most importantly." I think it took a lot of, of growth and self-reflection and I guess, moving to Texas apparently to, to really discover that about myself.
[00:11:50] Mica: I love that. I love that. I think it's, so it's such a realistic answer to say it, that calling didn't come right away because that's just such a woo woo thing. It's like, [00:12:00] "Oh, I, I knew the moment that I picked up a camera. This was what I was meant to be doing.
[00:12:10] Dani: Yes, it wasn't very romantic.
[00:12:14] Mica: You spend those first few years feeling it out and deciding, is this something I could see myself doing? Or what do I really want? Just the idea that anyone will pay you to do something creative. Once you get out of that shock, then you start to go, okay, now it's time to get real. Time to think of longevity. Is this my calling? Is this what I wanna be doing? I started as a family photographer or just like a generalist. I don't even say as a family photographer. I was like, you got the money. I'll go shoot.
I did everything. You mentioned earlier about how you said yes to a lot of things and looking back in restrospect, some of those things you're like, "Hmm, maybe I shouldn't have done that." But that's [00:13:00] how you have to be that first year. Try a little bit of everything out. And that's how you figure out what niche you fall into and where you land on the, on the little corner of whatever profession you find yourself in. That's the only way you're gonna find out.
[00:13:16] Dani: Yeah. Failure is a very underrated learning tool. It's been such a good teacher and every time it came along, it was in those young years of career. It was like, so devastating anytime something didn't work out. What does this mean?
Like about me? And it's like, nothing you need to keep, keep going. Keep working, keep honing that skill and that inspiration. Honestly, nothing great really gets created from a place of distrust and like duress within yourself.
At least that's been my personal experience. So just quieting those inner noises that can pop up when you [00:14:00] have those moments of no. To be like, okay, this is, for a reason, this isn't going to ultimately serve me. And it's not for me, it's for someone else, it's for something else. And let's pivot and not waste our precious energy.
[00:14:13] Mica: Absolutely. Absolutely. And I completely agree with you that failure is valuable lesson. People don't like to fail because of the discomfort that comes with failure. But once you get past all of that, I feel like you come out stronger.
[00:14:30] Dani: It's like the perceived failure, right? Cause it's like in the moment, that's what you're feeling. But then in hindsight, a lot of times you can look back and it's like, oh, it's not a failure at all, but it's just, yeah. Those moments are such good teachers.
[00:14:45] Mica: The thing about failure is that it doesn't mean it's the end. My background is in theater, uh, can you tell? We used to do this theater exercise. It was an improv and you have a topic, [00:15:00] you'd do the exercise and everyone like cuts in whenever.
And if you flubbered, you would take a bow and say, I failed and then you'd move on.
[00:15:12] Dani: Yeah.
[00:15:16] Mica: The idea is, especially in theater and in the world of improv, is that not every time you do something, it's gonna be this spectacular thing. You will make mistakes, but the point is to grow and move on. Accept the failure I failed and then move on. What do you wish people understood about what it's like to be a professional food stylist?
[00:15:41] Dani: That's a great question. Other than hearkening, back to the level of care and detail that goes into each shoot.
I mean, there's just so much value in it. That's not really the direction my brain goes automatically, but it really [00:16:00] makes such a difference when I'm able to like, just focus on styling. Like I am all in it, I can make this shot so detailed and dynamic and ideas creep in that wouldn't necessarily, I was focused on six things at once. If I was focused on my lighting and doing X, Y, Z .To do all of those things and make it great. It really requires a, a lot of time to dedicate to each of those specific things within one shot. We're thinking about textures.
We're thinking about colors. There's just a lot of mental gymnastics.
Sometimes I feel like I'm like pulling from mental bulletin boards, like 15 years back and I'm like, "Whoa, where'd that even come from?" But it'll spark entire campaign or whatever it may be.
[00:16:49] Mica: Most of the clients I've worked with have never worked with a food photographer. And when I insist on a food stylist, they kind of look at me and they're like, " Isn't that what you do?" [00:17:00] And I tell them, "Well, no, I'm a food photographer." Food stylist is the Robin to every Batman. It's the stage manager to every director. They take the ideas of a food photographer and put it on paper. And that's just such a, a detailed, hard mental gymnastic thing to do.
You're doing all of those things at once. Man, I don't know about you, but Lord, I take a nap after.
[00:17:28] Dani: Oh, it's so weird. How sore you'll be in just like weird places. And it's like, wait, I wasn't in a squat for 10 hours, but why are my legs atrophied? It's really?
[00:17:46] Mica: When I do like portfolio work, I like to practice my own food styling skills. In order for me to tell a food stylist what it is that I'm looking for, I need to understand how to communicate that properly. But afterwards I'm just [00:18:00] exhausted and I just knock out. Do you ever get frustrated by how much time it takes to be both food stylist and photographer?
[00:18:10] Dani: I'd be lying if I said no. Sometimes I'll get like 45 minutes into setting everything up and styling it and starting to take the pictures. And I'm like, "What is not clicking here?" And I'm like so frustrated. It's like a weird, those moments I actually enjoy in hindsight because it feels like a little like, "Oh yes. Like you didn't let that crush you. You pushed through it and you ended up making something."
A lot of times those have been like some shoots that I've been most personally inspired or happy with. So while it is a lot, I'd say the frustration to like joy level is like frustration is at like a 10 joy is like a 90, most of the time. But I have my moments. [00:19:00] That's for sure.
[00:19:02] Mica: It's a lot to do. Sometimes with portfolio work, I'll just think to myself, I'm like, oh, I need to do portfolio work, but I don't feel like taking out all of my equipment and-
[00:19:12] Dani: Yes. I know. I'm like, do I want to get my lights out? Do Ugh. Is that, is that what I'm doing? Ugh. But. That's inspiring in the kitchen because just personally, sounds like a little diva, but like, I just can't create from that place.
I just, ultimately, I just end up not loving my finished product and I've learned for me, if I'm in that kind of like one foot in one foot out with a project, I'm like take a nap. Do it tomorrow morning.
Reset that because creating from that place for me, just doesn't, doesn't turn out pretty.
[00:19:53] Mica: Not at all. So what do you do when one or the others starts to overwhelm you?
[00:19:59] Dani: Take a [00:20:00] break and go out. We got our garden back here and I just go out there and look at all the produce. This sounds so, so stupid, but honestly, just being out in amongst the colors and the flowers and fresh air, getting away from.
I love my home, but I also work here. So I need a separation of church and state, if you will.
So doing that is fantastic. I like to try and inject like posi positivity, excuse me, inject inspiration into my routine in a way that is not Instagram, is not TikTok.
Going to those things when I'm in moments of creative frustration tends to just deplete me more.
So I really try and go outside of that. And sometimes go outside, literally. Sometimes just get outside of myself and my own thinking with whatever project it is and redirect that [00:21:00] creative energy. So if I'm frustrated with styling that I still have a bunch of stuff on my to-do list. Okay. well let's pivot from that.
Let's answer some emails. Let's do some admin, we'll get back to it. It really is just giving yourself those moments of space and not being so rigid.
And that's something I didn't realize for a very, very long time. So I try and stay on top of reminding myself with when those moments creep in.
[00:21:27] Mica: Give your brain a break. You can't force creativity. It needs to happen organically on its own. And when you find yourself in that kind of rut, removing it from the equation and just getting out there in the world and finding other sources of inspiration. You come back refresh renewed and ready to go.
Not every shoot will turn into this Oscar, Grammy, whatever worthy. You just get frustrated. When I saw your portfolio and how [00:22:00] vibrant and colorful your work is.
You say that in your bio, that you're known for colorful, vibrant portrayal of food. When did you first discover your love for vivid colors?
[00:22:14] Dani: Ooh. I mean, toddler dumb.
Always loved the color um, I was always painting my room, aggressive colors. Very aggressive as in super bright.
[00:22:28] Mica: I love that you said agressive colors. I've never heard that term before..
[00:22:32] Dani: Oh, only because once you've lived in a magenta bedroom as a teen, you can only look back and say that was aggressive. It was a lot. My poor parents. That's something that's always been intrinsic to my personality is enjoying colorful, bright, vibrant things. When I would get home from my day job, like back in two, [00:23:00] between like 2013 to 2015, that was one of the things that first really sparked that for me was color. The job I was working at at the time had kind of a, an interesting perspective on styling and the things that they like a general directive would want you to do. So there was like a lot of color blocking involved. And I was doing a lot of work with color theory. I started really playing around with those concepts of, "Oh, this balances this, and this is complimentary to this. This color looks very beautiful with this ingredient or the texture of this vintage plate." That's what started inspiring that. Ever since I was super, super little, my favorite thing to do was look through cookbooks. My favorite book as a kid was this little, this illustrated Burt and Ernie book where they went to the grocery store. It was called Don't Forget The Oatmeal, highly recommend. I should have put that in my [00:24:00] book rack. It was very beautifully illustrated with all of the colors of the produce and fruit.
And I just used to stare at that page and the way that my little wheels were turning and I'm like, it's not that different to the way I think of things now.
I really started to lean into, "Oh, I can really play with color with food." during that young time in my career. I began making friends with a lot of florists in my area and that was like a major component of my work. That's why I'm very inspired by flowers now.
It ended up being a very non-linear journey to a very colorful portfolio. So I wouldn't say it was just one thing, but just melding nostalgia with kind of retro elements that I've always enjoyed. Early on, I would try and do pairings that were more unexpected to me and experiment and say, what would this look like?
What would it be [00:25:00] like if I made this fresh pasta and I didn't put it on a board. What if I just used this colorful service? What if I got a little bit more messy? And I think learning that I could get a little bit more messy with things was another turning point in terms of styling and making things more vibrant in its own way.
[00:25:20] Mica: I love that. I love that. What did it feel like when you first started developing your style?
[00:25:26] Dani: Really exciting. It felt like every day was a new, new opportunity for ideas. And I was very deep in a lot of collaborations. It was really exciting to think tank a lot of things with close friends at the time and come up with these ideas that felt so big. Every idea was like the most amazing idea at the time. And, and, and they were [00:26:00] great. There were great ideas in there and great shoots. It was definitely a very energizing time creatively, but in conjunction with that, there was some rapid growth that happened on my end that I wasn't necessarily prepared for.
[00:26:18] Mica: Mm-hmm
[00:26:19] Dani: I think I was, I don't know, 24, 20, I don't know, like, it feels like a million years ago. I'm getting these jobs and there's this growth and you get these features and whatever. It wasn't something I knew how to harness.
I wasn't even a hundred percent sure what I wanted to do out of this. So getting these things thrown at you, it can be a lot when you're not prepared for it. So very exciting time. Lot of milestones during that time, lot of scary things during that time, too.
[00:26:52] Mica: You mentioned that the more jobs that you get, the more you could develop your style. In photography school, [00:27:00] they told us the difference between a good photographer and a great photographer is that great photographer can take any trend and adapt it to their style. It took years for me to understand what it meant to develop your style. I get it now. It's, it's something that happened organically. It's not just something that happens instantaneously. It develops over time. And I know that's not the answer that most beginners wanna hear. Cause we, we live in a world of now and instantaneous gratification that the idea that it takes time is mortifying.
[00:27:45] Dani: First of all, no one wants someone else's experience like projected on them. And these cliches are cliche for a reason, cuz they're all true, but we don't wanna believe them in the moment. And, and I think if someone would've told me [00:28:00] at the time, "Hey, you're gonna have this many things that don't, don't work out the way you want necessarily.
And it's gonna take this much time for you to really feel like you know what you want and what you're doing." Oh my gosh, I don't know if I would jump in with the blind faith required in the beginning there to do that. It's interesting what you're saying about the trends and I completely agree with your professor on that.
[00:28:32] Mica: Trends come and go, styles don't. It's important that every person in a creative field openly talk about their style and what they like and the kind of work that they like to create. But the only way that you can really get to that point is A, if you often talk about your work and B you walk away from each experience and you reflect on it.
I believe in going back and looking at older [00:29:00] photos that you've done and see how your work has evolved and how you've evolved. There's no such thing as overnight success, just as there's no such thing as overnight style.
[00:29:12] Dani: A lot of people can really get into a trap with, I'm gonna sound like such a grandma here, but with like talk it's like, "This is the trend! This is the trending audio!" Okay, before trends just existed, we didn't have to call them out every 10 seconds saying this is a trend.
This is a trend. They were a trend because they were in the ether of the zeitgeist and now it's very much we're being told what these things are outright over and over. And with art being such a subjective thing and there's always going to be someone that's done, quote unquote, what you're doing in some small way, shape or form.
So if your goal is to [00:30:00] know, be authentic to yourself and your vision and stay away from being quote unquote derivative, to me the antithesis of that inspiration is TikTok and Instagram and all of these things, because I don't want too much of the noise pollution of other people's ideas.
I want those people's ideas to exist on their own outright, shine on their own, and not get too much into my own mood board in my brain, if you will. Knowing what the trends are, knowing where things are going is, is super, super, super valuable but like you're saying evolving with it. It's not only valuable to you as a stylist and photographer, but it just makes your career a lot more joyful.
[00:30:47] Mica: What I don't like about social media in particular is that when they say this is what's trending, it's like we are in a world of replication. We just need to [00:31:00] replicate what's trending. What I love about TikTok is that you have one sound and so many different varieties of how people use that sound. That's a perfect metaphor of what photographers should be like. Don't replicate, what's trending. Look at what's trending. Think about what you like about the trend. Think about what you don't like about it and find a way to make it your own.
Let's talk about balance. What I mean by that is how do you balance your own personal style with the style of the publication or the brand that you're working with?
[00:31:41] Dani: Yeah. That can be really hard, right? Because we want to take their considerations, their specific brand image, their vision into account, but also not abandoning your sensibilities as a photographer or [00:32:00] stylist, and just saying yes, yes, yes. It is very much a balancing act. For example, I did some work with Edible Austin a few times over the last few years.
The first time I did a cover for them, I was shooting a potato recipe and normally I would've gone probably brighter. In this instance, I decided to pair down a little bit what I would normally do in terms of competing colors, textures, adding in floral elements, things of that nature, and just really focusing on the ingredients, keeping things in a pretty, pretty cohesive, neutral color way. That was a situation where I can look back and say I definitely catered to them without compromising my general style. Anytime those situations pop up, I generally start big and then I whittle away. Sometimes when I'm doing my own stuff, I start bare [00:33:00] bones and I add, and I add, and I add. If I'm working with a, a client with a specific brand vision, I tend to work backwards. There's been so many times I've done too much. And I early on gotten responses from clients saying, "Hey, we love this. This is rad, but we can't use it because it's too much." And I had to go, okay. Yeah. Point taken. It is a lot. And you know, you gotta, you gotta whittle it down. That has been my best method for finding that good balance.
[00:33:33] Mica: Let's talk about your cookbook author, your authorship. That's weird. Let's talk about your writing as a cookbook author. Let's start with your familiia. In your bio, you mentioned that you grew up in a family that loved food. What was that like? What was it like growing up with a family that loved food and how did that influence your, your writing?
[00:33:58] Dani: My family has [00:34:00] always been a family that food is at the center of every conversation, every gathering. It's always like, "Yeah, but what are we doing for dinner?" And then we just like work around that.
My dad passed away in 2007, but he was an extremely talented home cook and he also had a very high powered, fast paced career.
But cooking was where he really found a lot of joy and artistry. And my mom has so many natural gifts in that area and they both were born hosts. And now my stepdad too, he is such a, such a hospitable man who also owned a restaurant for 35 plus years. So a lot of food background.
[00:34:48] Mica: That's that's amazing.
[00:34:50] Dani: Yeah. It wasn't like an every single night, my dad's rolling out the pasta dough, but it was like every weekend when he was able to take [00:35:00] a break, that was his respite. From a young age, there was no such thing as not eating what was presented at the table.
It was just not an option. And if you wanted to get a little adventurous with it, you were like, oh, rewarded. In like a, "Oh, you're such a like-" Like they wouldn't give me kids menus. So I would always order off the adult menu and they would just be like super stoked. And as a young kid, I was like, "Oh, this means I'm an adult, basically."
So I was very into it and I always just wanted to help. There were so many things. So many vivid food memories just with my extended family. It goes back farther to my dad's grandma, who is a first gen Italian immigrant. She spent a lot of time with my dad when he was little and my aunt and uncle, and she was super matriarch. Pasta queen. Sauce queen. Just did it [00:36:00] all. And she facilitated these very warm, cozy family gatherings. My dad, I think really latched onto that. And that's something he really carried through into our family. I think we've done our best at keeping that vibe alive in general. It's not just, we're eating this delicious meal, this is reminding us of intrinsically what we value in life and in each other. And it also has to be really freaking delicious. So that's great too. Plus encouraging a lot of experimentation in that department and not being afraid of food and like getting my hands dirty from a really young age was huge.
And now I, now I'm 33, almost 34, and I just got married and we're thinking about having a kid in the future. It's weird when we have people over to feel like I'm, bringing that same experience to other [00:37:00] people that I had growing up.
[00:37:02] Mica: I love that. I love that. That's a beautiful story of your dad bringing that influence on to you and having that connection and being able to carry on that memory of him. Tell me about your cookbooks. How did they come to be?
What was it like? The writing process, but let's start with how did they come to be?
[00:37:21] Dani: When was this? In 2020, right before the Rona. Ever heard of it? Um,
[00:37:29] Mica: It only shut the whole world down.
[00:37:32] Dani: Hardly know her. Uh, so yeah, I was reached out to by a publishing company who had a very specific ask for a cookbook. They were a- are a data driven company that looks into what the high performing categories are in terms of cookbooks books. In general, I know they have pretty
wide range [00:38:00] of what they published, but I was working with a team of people that specifically did cookbooks and they wanted for this first cookbook to be very specific. 95 recipes, 70% of them vegetarian, 30% pescatarian. I always reversed them accidentally. They had read my blog. They saw my work on Instagram, which is how most people end up finding me. And they noticed that I did a lot of seafood, a lot of Mediterranean inspired things.
They asked if I had ever thought about writing a book and I feel like I've like only ever thought about writing a book. That's always been a very big goal. But for a while, felt too big of a goal. And I was not sure really how that would happen. So the fact that I was approached with this was interesting and something I had to think about in terms of timeline.
I decided to sign on for the project. This particular [00:39:00] team had everyone in house. They have an in-house photography team and all of that.
So this was how it was presented to me from the get go. It was very transparent, very specific set of objectives and goals and outcomes for the book . At the time, a huge, huge, huge goal of mine was to get into publishing after I think I had done like four articles or something and I found that I enjoyed the tangibility of holding my work. That was very exciting to me. So I decided to sign on for this book, wrote it in really record time.
It went by like blink of an eye, so fast. So that was in like January and then in September or October of 2020, it came out.
[00:39:50] Mica: Whoa.
[00:39:52] Dani: Such a fast turnaround.
[00:39:55] Mica: Wow. Wow That is fast.
[00:39:58] Dani: So fast. Because of [00:40:00] the specificity of the objectives, were they different, I don't know if that's something that would've necessarily aligned with where I was at, but they hit me at the right time. And then a year later, the same people reached out again with another pretty specific ask.
They wanted a very comprehensive, just seafood cookbooks. So.
[00:40:24] Mica: Which I have, and it's amazing.
[00:40:27] Dani: Thank you so much. They both have done really well and that's something I divorced myself from a little bit. As soon as I was done writing it, it's like, okay it's done.
Like, it's up to you marketing. Like fly.
[00:40:40] Mica: It's out there in the world. What's the most exciting part of developing recipes for your cookbook?
[00:40:49] Dani: I love the beginning stages of gathering the inspiration, pulling out my recipe box, looking at old family recipes, thinking about what's seasonal, [00:41:00] thinking about colors. What props I'm inspired by. Like honestly, one prop can spur me being like, I need to make lasagna and an entire recipe will happen.
I love the testing portion of getting feedback from people that I'm giving the food to. I'll send like my mom a recipe and she'll try it. Or they'll tell me like, oh, I'm making X, Y, Z tonight. And they'll let me know how it went.
The best part has to be when you're done testing and finally getting to shoot it and write about it. You've got all these ideas and all of this energy channeled towards this one thing. And it's like, okay, let me just get the story out.
I feel like I just said the entire process was fun cause it's like, I enjoy, I enjoy all I really do! I love testing. I like just being in the kitchen.
[00:41:52] Mica: How does food photography influence the recipe, recipe development process?[00:42:00]
[00:42:00] Dani: Like I was saying, I can get inspirationally triggered by a particular mood, a color palette. I love looking at like old, old vintage food photography.
[00:42:15] Mica: Oh, that's the best.
[00:42:18] Dani: Pretty funny in a lot of cases. Um, but there's some things that it's so interesting. You can look at this old, old spread and it looks so antiquated and dusty, like literally and figuratively, but then you can see, oh my gosh, that's where this came from.
[00:42:41] Mica: I love that. I don't look at magazines. I look at newspapers. Uh, you, you know me in my obsession with vintage Dear Abby. Back in the fifties and before the internet days and television days for that matter.
There was like a section in every newspaper that was strictly recipes. [00:43:00] Housewives sharing recipes or housekeepers. In one newspaper, it's like the housekeeper's corner and they're all recipes. And they're very vague instructions, so if you're not like a cook you might have a hard time I'm pointing at myself cause I'm not a cook, but um.
[00:43:17] Dani: But like a pinch what?
[00:43:18] Mica: Yeah, there was a recipe it was like a cake and they're like put flour. Put egg. Put I guess bacon soda and they're like bake.
[00:43:31] Dani: Playing with fire.
[00:43:35] Mica: I'm like, uh, how much flour?!
[00:43:38] Dani: Nice. Ugh. I love that.
[00:43:40] Mica: Also in the housekeeper people would reply. They would provide feedback. They'd say to the person who shared this recipe, I really liked it. Or if they made a tweak to it or something, it's just really interesting to see how food was talked about back then.
What's the best piece of career advice you received [00:44:00] from another either author or a food blogger just in general?
[00:44:06] Dani: I feel like there's been a lot. The one thing that's been an echo chamber throughout my career from different people is you need to take confidence. I don't think that's advice I took for a very, very, very long time. But over and over and over again, that's been the same advice, take confidence into myself, to lean into my own vision and creativity because you don't need a sounding board to validate your ideas. Your ideas can be amazing and wonderful and come to fruition without a cheer squad behind you saying amazing idea.
Amazing idea. Is it good to have people in your life that champion your ideas and say, Hey, you're awesome at what you [00:45:00] do, a hundred percent. Everyone needs that but you ultimately, at the end of the day, have to be your own champion of your creative vision.
Cause no one else will. And the moment you start watering that down with a lack of confidence or the outside noise, then you're distrusting your innate abilities and creativity got you to this path.
[00:45:21] Mica: Yes. Yes.
[00:45:21] Dani: And it's advice to remind myself of every day. This isn't like a, oh, it clicked and, and now we're confident all the time.
[00:45:32] Mica: Yes. Yes, you are. You are, you are a preaching gospel, man. That is so, so true. Being your own champion.
[00:45:42] Dani: Yes.
[00:45:42] Mica: Trusting your own choices. Taking other people's opinions as just that. Opinions. All you need is a little, a little ting of confidence.
[00:45:54] Dani: Yep.
[00:45:55] Mica: It's a little seed and then it blossoms into something bigger and better.
[00:45:59] Dani: I was just [00:46:00] literally going to say that, like, I am always guilty of a garden metaphor, but it really is so true. Like even you can have the ugliest little seed that looks like nothing and no hope. And it turns into this blossoming, gorgeous plant that you had no idea you wouldn't have known. If you wouldn't have just planted and watered your own freaking seed.
I don't know how that sounds. But you know what I'm saying? Like-
[00:46:28] Mica: I, I know what you're saying.
Confidence comes from within, you have to nurture that. It's not gonna be someone else's job to gas you up. It's great to have that, but it shouldn't be the only thing that keeps you moving forward. You have to find it from within.
[00:46:45] Dani: Oh, like this is gassing me up a little bit. Like I just, that's a reminder we all need and recognizing that you could champion yourself more is like a great first step.
And if you are not doing [00:47:00] it, who are you expecting to. You just have to find that from within, and it's not cute all the time, but it's ultimately ultimately the most, most fulfilling thing.
[00:47:12] Mica: For sure. For sure. I totally, I I'm right there with you. It's important also because when clients are looking to hire you, they wanna know what makes you different? What makes you stand out as a creator. And if you can't answer that or you go, well, I don't know.
I mean, I kind of do. It's like, no, you gotta stand up and say, make a self declaration. I am this. And that's what makes me different. The work obviously shows that you can do it, but the confidence is what sells you as a creative.
[00:47:46] Dani: I agree a hundred percent you need to stand like with both feet planted in that confidence and will it like waiver from time to time a hundred percent.
[00:47:56] Mica: Whenever I'm doing something, like for example, [00:48:00] eating healthy. I ask myself what does eating healthy look like to me?
And how do I feel when I eat healthy? Well, it's the same thing with inspiration. When I don't feel confident in myself, what do I do to go feel confident?
So it's just going back to that base and finding that source. But no matter what it has to come from within, it can't be an outside source. It has to come. It has to come from within.
I wanna close out today's interview with your third cookbook. Do you wanna dive into a little bit about that?
[00:48:35] Dani: Yeah. I mean, yeah, very little, um, yeah, stages. Uh, so when I was in the middle of writing this last book, I was approached by someone to talk about what a third book might look like and what those goals would be and what it would take to get there. And that wasn't necessarily a process
I was ready to dive [00:49:00] into during that second book. So I needed to take a beat and really think about what I wanted to do. And ultimately I've decided to just begin outlining this third book concept, which the concept is heirloom recipes. Some of which already are heirloom.
Some of which I hope will be heirlooms, after I'm long, dead and gone. But really drawing on that core familial inspiration and my food background. There will be things that don't take just 30 minutes. So a little bit more artisanal, a little bit more, get your hands dirty, a lot more stories.
I will be styling it. The photos in, in my last two books were so awesome and I was so lucky to have the team that I did behind those two books. Could not be more thrilled with that. But for, for something that I'm gonna [00:50:00] write, that'll be much more personal I've I've already got so many ideas for specific shots for different dishes.
And again, that's, that's the creative in me getting to 20 million steps down the timeline, but that helps inspire me now, as I'm thinking, what are these categories? What will this look like? I don't think this is something I would've just started on my own years ago, but I've come to a place where I've learned. Okay, I can write a book. I can write two books. I can style shoots. I can develop recipes. These are all, these are doable things. And like we were just talking about setting those confidence wheels in motion and just saying, Hey, I don't know what the route is going to be for this, but I know everything that I hope and dream for it to be.
So I think it's just very much in that seed, sewing [00:51:00] stage nitty gritty of an outline but I'm very, very excited for what the future holds.
[00:51:07] Mica: I'm excited for you. I'm excited for you. Last question. What do you hope listeners take away from today's conversation?
[00:51:17] Dani: Anyone listening to this podcast is obviously a, a creative. So I just would encourage you no matter what point you're at in your career, but especially, especially, especially if you are in those early days where you're grinding it out, to stand in a little, doesn't have to be a big pool, but little pool of your confidence and skills, and really think about what you enjoy about what you do.
Because if you're producing from a place of joy creatively, that's really gonna shine through. Those authentic unique [00:52:00] traits that make your work, your work. And like we were saying, not getting too admired in the noise of, of trends or social media or what, what your peers are doing.
We can admire and be inspire and be inspired all day long. But at the end of the day, know who you are as an artist. Really bet on yourself, and be your own champion for your own vision because there's value in it. And the more you lean into that, the more you'll hone your skills and the better it's gonna be.
[00:52:31] Mica: Thank you so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so much for being a guest. Where can listeners find your books? Where can they find you on the internet? Where can they find you and support you?
[00:52:46] Dani: Yeah. So you can purchase either of my cookbooks, The 30 Minute Pescatarian Cookbook or The Complete Fish Cookbook, both of which are on Amazon and Target and [00:53:00] Barnes and Noble. If you look up bookstores near you, some local bookstores carry it, can't speak to that on a large scale level. But other than that, you can find me most of the time on Instagram at Dani D A N I Goes South and my website is danigoessouth.com
Feel free to reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org
[00:53:23] Mica: Thank you so much again for being a guest on The Savory Shot podcast.
[00:53:28] Dani: This was awesome. I'm so excited for you.
[00:53:29] Mica: Ah, I am too, and I'm really excited about this, this episode. It it's gonna be great. And I know that listeners are gonna get so much value out of it.
I know I did.
[00:53:40] Dani: Me too.
[00:53:41] Mica: All right. All right. Y'all thank you so much for listening to today's interview and we'll catch a catch a next time.