Ashley Blom never thought of herself as a chef. Growing up in Hatfield, a small town in western Massachusetts, her mother would constantly make fun of her for not knowing how to cook. Now, the Emerson alumna is gearing up to publish her first book.
Blom’s book, “How to Eat a Lobster And Other Edible Enigmas Explained” is due out April 4. It represents the culmination of years of hard work, in addition to Blom’s transformation from reluctant chef to full-fledged food writer.
“Whenever I come home to visit, my mom has me cook dinner at least once,” Blom said.
One of the professors Blom connected with most during college was Steve Himmer.
“I knew she was a strong writer in class,” Himmer said. “I’ve followed along even after she graduated. What’s really exciting is to see her stick with it.”
At Emerson, Blom was a writing, literature, and publishing major who preferred to write fiction. The turning point in Blom’s eating habits came when she was faced with an obstacle familiar to many Emersonians: a necessary move to off-campus housing. In 2008, Blom moved into an apartment with a few friends—without any meal plan.
“I learned to cook because I had to, you just can’t get takeout all the time,” she said.
Soon, she was known amongst her friends for making incredible homemade macaroni and cheese.
Blom graduated in 2010 and had planned to move to Los Angeles with her boyfriend. But work was hard to come by for an aspiring writer fresh out of college. She moved back home to Hatfield and decided to start a food blog while saving up money for the move.
The relocation to Los Angeles never happened. Blom lived at home and saved her money, but she broke up with her boyfriend around the same time an emergency gallbladder surgery eliminated her savings. Instead, she focused on her blog. She taught herself photography and built up the site she had named Quarter-life Crisis Cuisine. Eventually, her break came in the form of a social media contest in 2013.
The Lisa Ekus Group, a public relations company based in Hatfield specializing in the representation of culinary talent, put out a challenge though their Twitter account. The group was looking for potential authors to pitch their ideas for a cookbook in only one tweet. Blom, seeing it as a hometown opportunity, submitted her pitch.
“Life advice for lost 20-somethings with recipes designed to save your sanity while you're trying to figure it all out,” Blom’s initial tweet to the Lisa Ekus Group read.
After the field of entrants was gradually narrowed down, Blom emerged victorious. She won agent representation from the Lisa Ekus group and prepared to find a lucrative book deal.
However, publishing can be complicated. Blom spent the next two years pitching her book idea to various publishers with the help of her new agent. Blom said that although she gained valuable knowledge on how to create and sell a book pitch during her time at Emerson, she had no luck in the years following her contest win.
Blom moved to Austin, Texas and started at a day job in marketing while still maintaining her blog and trying to find a book deal. At the behest of her agent she changed the name of her blog to “Forking Up: the Frequent Forkups of a Haphazard Home Cook.”
“Even though my day job was taking me in one direction, my blog was taking me in another,” she said.
Eventually, years of steady exposure paid off for Blom. Quirk Books, an independent publisher based in Philadelphia, approached her with the general concept for a book they wanted to publish. The idea was a cookbook centered around a series of “how-to’s” that applied to various dining situations. Blom was a natural fit.
She spent the next six months working. Blom took ideas from Quirk and added her own tips and personality to the project. She picked out quotes on food she liked from the internet and collaborated with Lucy Engelman, an illustrator Quirk had already signed to the project.
“The writing process was really easy,” Blom said. “It was a real collaborative effort with Quirk.”
The resulting book is How to Eat a Lobster, an easily understandable guide on how to handle unique foods and certain situations involving proper dining etiquette. Topics range from “How to eat noodles” to “How to recover from a tongue burn.”
In the months before the book’s release, Blom is focusing on gaining publicity. A publicist from Quirk is sending out early review copies to various publications as well as teasing the book online. Blom still has her day job in marketing and updates her blog regularly. She has ideas for other books similar to “How to Eat a Lobster,” but no has no deals in place. From a cook that once struggled to make even the most basic recipe to a nationally published food writer, Blom’s career is just getting started.