Cyber spice: Local food blogger finds international audience

SPICE GIRL: One of the reasons Sommer Collier started her popular cooking website, A Spicy Perspective, was to encourage families to eat dinner together. Photo courtesy of Sommer Collier
SPICE GIRL: One of the reasons Sommer Collier started her popular cooking website, A Spicy Perspective, was to encourage families to eat dinner together. Photo courtesy of Sommer Collier

When Sommer Collier was teaching third grade at Jenks Elementary in Tulsa, Okla., it’s a safe bet she didn't see herself running a commercially competitive food blog and having companies like KitchenAid remodel her home kitchen just a few years later here in Asheville. But these days, the website, operated out of her Kenilworth home, sees heavy national and international traffic and has earned her major sponsorships from Gold Medal flour, KitchenAid, OXO, Land O’ Lakes butter and many others.

From the beginning, A Spicy Perspective went beyond just listing recipes. Collier's "Where to Eat in Asheville" profiles local restaurants and chefs and includes "easy to make at home" versions of favorite menu items (check her page for a do-it-yourself version of Cúrate's famous gambas al ajillo or White Duck Taco's carnitas). But after seeing the page's rapid growth on the West Coast and in Chicago, Texas, London and Paris (garnering as many as 3 million hits per month), she and her husband, Dan Collier, re-evaluated their focus and realized that their regular followers were really there for Sommer's home recipes.

"A lot of people see cooking as such a chore," says Sommer. "Hopefully, giving them an endless stream of recipes will help them feel creative and inspired instead of coming home to something that they dread."

After leaving teaching to spend more time at home with her kids, however, Sommer soon found herself succumbing to cabin fever. "I was a stay-at-home mom, and I needed grown-up time. It was just a good excuse to have people over." She would invite friends for dinner, and afterward, "they would always ask, 'How do you do this? Everything comes out at the same time and the right way?' And I thought, I can show them how this happens!"

The classes began as cooking sessions for friends, though they were staged more as a dinner party than a structured lesson. Before they knew it, however, the Colliers were cramming more than 30 people per class into their home kitchen, and Sommer came to realize that the format might need changing. "It got to the point where some of these girls would be at the grocery store and didn't have the recipe with them, so they would call me and say, 'Hey, I'm at the grocery store, what do I need?' And it started happening all the time!" Taking her tech-savvy mother's advice, she turned her classes into a blog that now features more than 600 recipes.

"One of the real purposes of the blog was just to encourage families to have dinner together," adds Dan, who runs the blog’s business side. "It was always about giving people confidence — making them feel like they could cook, and helping them realize that it didn't have to be supercomplicated to make a good meal. You know, the whole point is to encourage."

In a culture where the iPhone seems to have replaced the cookbook, it’s easy to run to the grocery store and do a cursory Google search to come up with a recipe for dinner. Most often, we wind up on major sites like Epicurious or Allrecipes that feature user-contributed, usually only faintly tested recipes. But in the spirit of keeping things local and supporting our neighbors, it’s good to know about the wealth of knowledge, diligence and quality home cooking that is coming out of the Colliers’ kitchen right here in Asheville — and that is easily accessible on the Web.

For recipes, stories and more from the Collier home, head on over to aspicyperspective.com.

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