How I Did It: Aida Mollenkamp, TV Host, Writer and Culinary Creator

Some people plan their journey toward entrepreneurship. I was not one of those people.

My career happened to me as a result of some good luck and very spot-on timing. It was 2008 and I was working as the Food Editor at CHOW.com, where I developed recipes, food styled, and acted as on-air talent.

Out of the blue, I was approached by Food Network to screen test and that eventually lead to my cooking show, Ask Aida.

At the beginning, I looked at it as just another job, albeit a very fun and slightly glamorous one. But then I had to leave CHOW to make it work and I jumped feet-first off of the secure, 401K and health insurance-clad path.

I had very little in the way of a safety net, but, after almost 5 years, I’ve landed on secure ground.

Becoming an entrepreneur was more of a mental shift than anything else. When I got in front of the camera, I naively followed everyone’s lead.

I had a great time filming Ask Aida but the show was more about the concept — where people called in with their cooking conundrums — than it was about me. It was great to help people get in the kitchen because that is my true passion, but who I was got lost in translation.

It took moving on to my next show, FoodCrafters — which celebrated quality handmade foods and the people behind them — to recognize that I needed to change.

Up until then, I had been working for other people, channeling the voice and beliefs of their brand, be it CHOW or Food Network. I was a sort of editorial Wizard of Oz hanging out behind an imaginary curtain and writing relatively (and happily) anonymously.

I could blame this on a variety of things — I don’t like self-promotion, I like working as part of a team — but the bottom line was that people weren’t getting to know me.

That’s when I realized I wasn’t just building a brand, but I was on a mission. I was creating a brand that was about more than me so it wasn’t about self-promotion but about evangelism.

My goal is to get people to know their food –- be it through cooking, eating, or traveling -– and I was merely the spokesperson for that cause. That was the day I began to launch the brand that I am still very much growing today.

I published my first cookbook, Keys To The Kitchen, last month and that has kicked everything into high gear.

I’m on a quite aggressive 100-day book tour and have seen first-hand the power that comes from truly connecting with my audience.

By having a book that conveys my vision and the ability to meet people face-to-face, I’ve been able to make friends and build an audience that shares my common passion for quality food, creative cooking, and adventure in the every day.

These are the key principles I’m focusing on to make this happen:

I concentrate on my core values: Empowerment, Enrichment and Adventure…

Whether it’s been a hands-on class, a cocktail party at an urban farm, or a cooking demo at the local cooking store, I’ve concentrated on hitting as many of my core values as possible.

The readers who already follow my website, my shows, or my social media platforms, are likely expecting these elements from me so I try to reiterate them through the in real life experiences.

Speaking of which, there is a underappreciated power to in real life experiences. Since I’m a media brand, I aim to be very multi-media — with presence on television, in print, and online — but it’s those intimate, real-life experiences that still matter the most.

By taking my brand offline and getting to interact with people, I’m able to make more lasting connections and give them an unfiltered view into me.

I follow the C.A.R.D. Principle…

My strategy for work comes down to the C.A.R.D. principle. My graphic designer-cum-marketing maven friend came up with this term but, no matter where it’s from, it works for me.

C.A.R.D. is an acronym that stands for Consistency, Authenticity, Reliability, and Diligence and I interpret it as follows:

Consistency

The focus is on providing consistency across any and all channels that your client, customer, or reader might engage with. For me, that not only means having visual consistency across everything from my personal style to my social media channels, but also a consistent voice and, in my case, a consistent recipe style.

Authenticity

Just as important as having a consistent voice and recipes, it’s important to keep them authentic. My voice will never be uber-professorial or as witty as Stephen Colbert, but it is friendly, contemporary, sometimes witty, and a bit nerdy and I embrace that. In terms of my recipes, I make sure that each recipe I publish and food photo I take are true to my vision of interesting, wholesome, elegant food.

Reliability

Whether your product is makeup, an artisan food, or in my case, recipes, make sure they work and work well. I test all my recipes three to five times and have them cross-tested to do as much as I can to make sure they’re reliable.

Diligence

The greatest tweeting, marketing, and work in the world is for naught if you’re not diligent about it. When I say diligent I’m talking about the regular creation and production of new work. There is no point in writing one amazing blog post or making the world’s best cake if you only do it once.

About the Author

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Aida Mollenkamp is California-based food expert, TV host, writer, and culinary curator. She studied at the Cornell Hotel School and Le Cordon Bleu Paris before joining CHOW.com where she worked as Food Editor. Eventually, she moved to television where she hosted her Food Network show “Ask Aida” and later the Cooking Channel show, “FoodCrafters.” Over the years, she has authored more than 1,000 original recipes, including those on her site (aidamollenkamp.com) and in her just-released cookbook, Keys To The Kitchen. She aims to inspire creativity in the meals you craft, the gatherings you design, and the food adventures you embark upon.

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