With a background in journalism and an eagerness to build her online portfolio like many writers, Helen Yee kick started Grab Your Fork in 2004 after stumbling upon a Hawaiian food blog and realising there was an opportunity for self-publishing.
“Writing has always been something I’ve loved doing, and funnily enough, I was already taking photos of my food before I started blogging!” she said.
“Food blogging combined all three passions: food, photography and writing. I thought of blogging as a way to connect with like-minded food obsessives, but I also had a long-term goal to get into food writing.”
Yee turns to chefs like Jamie Oliver who chooses flavour over styling; social entrepreneurs such OzHarvest founder Ronnie Kahn; and her mother who taught her how to be resourceful; for inspiration on how she approaches food in a ‘cheap and cheerful’ way.
“Good food doesn’t need to be expensive, but it does need to be treated with respect,” she said.
“More often than not, cheap and cheerful meals are about food being placed in the middle of the table and shared, and it’s this style of communal dining that I love best.
“Good food is often about having good company, and having everyone muck in with their plates, ladle out food to others, share the experience, laugh together and chat, is my idea of an awesome night out.”
The idealistic view Yee has about food is rooted from her childhood memories of growing up in a frugal Chinese home and spending the occasional Sundays at yum cha as a treat.
“I still love the chaotic din of yum cha houses, and there’s still something quite magical about a whole army of bamboo baskets suddenly piled up on your table, with quivering dumplings cloaked in steam.”
Grab Your Fork, which receives more than 60,000 unique visitors per month of mainly Aussie readers, has always and still is an after-hour gig for Yee who refers to as a “labour of love”. Plenty of hours have gone into her stories, including staying up until 3 a.m. on school nights to finish up one post.
The streak of hard work however has opened up professional opportunities for the food writer, who has had her work published in two Chinatown Food Guides, Voracious: The Best New Australian Food Writing and now is a regular columnist for Time Out Sydney.
But it wasn’t just professionally satisfying; creating Grab You Fork has unlocked a “vibrant online community” where Yee unexpectedly met one of her now closest friends, Susan Thye, who also runs her own food blog called Chocolatesuze.
“I never expected to make as many friends as I have through blogging, but really it makes sense that you find yourself getting along so well with people who have similar interests to you,” Yee said.
“I met fellow blogger Chocolatesuze in 2006 after two years of following each other’s blog. Four years later, I was chief bridesmaid at her wedding!”
Having been around in the space for so long, Yee has become an expert and a witness to Sydney’s evolving food landscape that she describes is “blessed with an abundance of multicultural options”.
“I think Sydneysiders have really started to appreciate and seek out our local heroes – producers and artisans who showcase good quality products,” she said.
“For example, people like Pepe Saya who makes cultured butter from single origin creams obtained from grass fed cows and Gena Karpf, from Sweetness the Patisserie, who makes beautiful little treats like marshmallows made with natural fruit purees and old-fashioned candied oranges dipped in dark chocolate.”
As for what she has learnt through all this?
“I think there’s a lot of truth in the saying: ‘the more you learn, the more you realise how little you know’,” Yee said.
“I’m always keen to try new foods, and to appreciate where food has come from, not just in terms of its energy resources, but understanding its historical and cultural context as well.”