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A Moveable Type feast

Clotilde Dusoulier, who writes the Chocolate & Zucchini blog, talks about food and the Silicon Valley experience that sent her back to Paris.

Candace Lombardi
In a software-driven world, it's easy to forget about the nuts and bolts. Whether it's cars, robots, personal gadgetry or industrial machines, Candace Lombardi examines the moving parts that keep our world rotating. A journalist who divides her time between the United States and the United Kingdom, Lombardi has written about technology for the sites of The New York Times, CNET, USA Today, MSN, ZDNet, Silicon.com, and GameSpot. She is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not a current employee of CNET.
Candace Lombardi
8 min read
LONDON--As anyone who reads the "Chocolate & Zucchini" blog knows, Clotilde Dusoulier is no snob when it comes to food.

It turns out, she feels the same way about language. English suits her just fine when it comes to blogging, even though French is her native tongue.

Dusoulier has gone from writing software for marketing tools in Silicon Valley to blogging and photographing the inspiring food markets of Paris and the dishes she creates from her finds.

CNET News.com caught up with Dusoulier at a London cafe between book tour appearances to discuss food, blogging and the dot-com experience that brought her to a new way of life.

Q: What gave you the idea to start a blog about Paris and food?
Dusoulier: Initially, I started it as sort of an online food journal to keep track of my cooking and also to share my recipes and ideas with other cooks because I had been cooking with growing passion for a few years. After a while just cooking wasn't enough...I had so many things that I wanted to say and share that I needed to channel this energy and these ideas and turn them into something else. The blog was a good format to do that.

Where did you get the idea for the name "Chocolate & Zucchini"?
Dusoulier: I chose that name because it illustrates the two aspects of my cooking, the two sides of my cooking personality, so to speak.

Which are?
Dusoulier: I'm very drawn to anything with fresh produce, organic ingredients and healthy eating, but also to sweets and baking and chocolate. So chocolate and zucchini were a good illustration of the kind of topics that I was going to talk about.

You started this blog in September 2003. How long did you blog before it really started to pick up and you could do it full time?
Dusoulier: The readership grew gradually. It took about two years for me to feel confident enough to quit my day job and do this full time, which coincided with my signing a book deal. That was two years ago.

How did the book deal come about--who found you?
Dusoulier: I found them. I took an agent and worked on a book proposal. Then we shopped it around and found several publishers and chose the one that had the most interest in us.

You're Parisian by birth yet choose to write in English. Why?
Dusoulier: When I started the blog in 2003 there were very few food blogs and almost all of them were written in English. There were not any blogs in French and no blogs about food in French, that's for sure...Since there's quite a strong sense of community between bloggers, when I started mine it was to join that little community of food bloggers that did exist at the time. They all wrote in English, so I wrote it in English as well. I had also come back from the U.S. about a year before that and I missed speaking English on a regular basis. So this was a nice way of doing that.

There's no universal advice that you can give to any blogger at all except to stay true to your voice and what you're interested in.

That's right, you worked in Silicon Valley. How long were you there, and what brought you to California to begin with?
Dusoulier: Two years between 2000 and 2002...I had graduated in computer science from my university in Paris (Dauphine University) and at that time, and still now, in software development Silicon Valley was where things were happening. My boyfriend and I wanted to try and do our end-of-studies internships there, which transformed into full-time jobs for both of us, in different companies though.

What did you do while you were there?
Dusoulier: I was a software engineer for a dot-com company, called IQ.com. We had an e-marketing platform that we sold to other companies so they could serve marketing offers, sweepstakes, scratch-offs and surveys from our servers. So you can use this sort of marketing platform where you have an interface in which you type your questions and then you just have this little piece of code that you insert on your Web site. Everything else is taken care of. Then you can go and look at the results and how many people have clicked and what they have answered...a marketing tool for Web sites.

What happened to IQ.com?
Dusoulier: We got bought over by an Irish company in mid-2001 and so IQ.com does not exist as such anymore. Although, the original owner, I think, reacquired the name IQ.com. But the company as I knew it does not exist anymore and the whole engineering department was moved to Dublin and so that was the end of that.

No interest in going to Dublin then?
Dusoulier: No, not really. I mean, I had lived for two years in California and if I was moving anywhere it was home, not Ireland.

Now you have two books out, one in the U.K. and one in the U.S.
Dusoulier: Yeah, it's the same book, but different editions. The American version uses cups and spoons and the British version has metric measurements, and the French version is coming out later in the fall.

So you are translating for the book. Do you have a French translation of your blog, now?
Dusoulier: No. If you have to translate the entire content, everything you write, if you have to write it twice, it's twice more work.

What advice do you have for other professional or aspiring bloggers?
Dusoulier: There's no universal advice that you can give to any blogger at all except to stay true to your voice and what you're interested in. I don't think anyone can set out to start a blog and decide that it's going to lead to a book deal. I think it just kind of happens if you're lucky, but I think you should first and foremost have a blog for yourself because it's something that you want to do and not necessarily have an ulterior motive.

Do you consider yourself a personal blogger rather than a journalist?
Dusoulier: My blog is a personal blog and when I do freelance writing, then I'm a journalist. It depends on the venue and whether I have an editor or not.

Did you make any big mistakes along the way?
Dusoulier: Well, history will tell us. But so far I can't think of a big mistake that I've ever made. Things work well or they don't work as well. You know, not every post is as popular as the other, but overall I just blog about what I'm interested in. And that's my only editorial line I would say.

I have to ask for the record, not meaning to insult you, but do you accept any sort of advertising within your blog, such as using a certain product or anything like that?
Dusoulier: No. I sometimes get e-mails from people. Initially, I would say OK but I can't guarantee that I will write about your product. When I occasionally did write about it, I would always mention that I had gotten the book, or the product, or sample for free. Now I very rarely accept, only if I really think that the product is going to be interesting to me, because I find that if I got it for free I'm just not very inspired to write about it. For some reason it doesn't have the same value. I'd rather discover things for myself rather than have them sent to me by a PR person. But transparency is definitely something that I find important when it comes to blogging.

What publishing tools do you use for your blog?
Dusoulier: Moveable Type.

What made you choose that?
Dusoulier: At the time, there wasn't really much of a choice. It was either that or WordPress. I wanted to host it myself and so it was Moveable Type because we had a server at home that we could host it on and because I have a technical background I was able to take care of that.

I host it myself and the design of it is my own, but it's nothing really complicated...But if you don't have any technical background you can still blog; the success of it won't be determined by your technical skills level.

You're known as much for your photos as you are for blogging about Paris markets and food. What kind of camera and photo editing software do you use?
Dusoulier: I have a Nikon D70 with a Sigma macro lens and I use Photoshop to correct the levels and light and that's it...We initially had a Nikon Coolpix 950. Then when I signed the book deal I decided to get a DSLR because since I was going to shoot my own pictures for the book, I needed professional equipment to make sure the photos were good enough to be published.

All right. So, what's next for you?
Dusoulier: I've recently delivered the manuscript for my second book, which is going to be a guide book to Paris restaurants and shops. It's called Clotilde's Edible Adventures in Paris and it's going to come out in the spring.

OK, but what is unique to that? There's a lot of restaurant and shopping guides to Paris.
Dusoulier: Not that many and not current and not written by locals. I mean a lot of guide books are written by teams of people without much of a sense of who is talking to you. This one has a personal tone to it. I mean, it's my favorite spots so there's a common voice to all of it, and it has recipes in it.

Are the recipes from the restaurants?
Dusoulier: They're inspired or shared by chefs and bakers. So every once in a while you'll have a restaurant review and you will say see recipe on page blah-blah and there's a recipe for that dish.

And you're going to continue blogging?
Dusoulier: Yeah, yeah. That's not going anywhere. I mean it's been four years now and I can't really imagine my life without having the blog. It's definitely become a big part of how I live and what I do. It's quite an important part of my life.

What are your habits? Do you write in the morning? Do you write in the evening?
Dusoulier: I write mostly in the morning for the blog, but the process for my blogging is quite spread out because there are different phases: when I cook, when I take pictures and when I correct the pictures, when I write the recipe and when I write the story. Then everything comes together. So it usually happens over a few days.